Saturday, 19 July 2014

Triple Eagle: A Review of the Variables Involved in the Pursuit of Kevin Hayes

For ardent Calgary Flames supporters, Kevin Hayes is a fellow that needs no introduction.

Having spent the past four years at Boston College with Bill Arnold and the last three years as a teammate of Johnny Gaudreau, Hayes really climbed onto everyone's radar starting in December last year when longtime Eagles coach Jerry York decided to take his three top players and put them together on the same line.

It began as an experiment in the third period of BC's home game against Holy Cross on Nov. 29. Trailing 5-1 at the time, and coming off a 5-1 drubbing to Maine the previous weekend, York decided he needed to shake things up. It worked as the Eagles scored three unanswered goals in the third and although they still lost 5-4, York saw enough to keep the line together for the following Saturday's game versus New Hampshire and the magic began at that point.

BC's 6-2 victory that day kicked off a 19-game unbeaten streak for the school that would last nearly three months. Leading them the whole way was the trio of Gaudreau, Arnold and Hayes, which remained a line for the remainder of the season and man, did they ever put up some gaudy numbers. In their 26 games together, they racked up a combined 54 goals and 134 points.
  • LW Johnny Gaudreau - 24 g, 31 a, 55 pts
  • C Bill Arnold - 11 g, 24 a, 35 pts
  • RW Kevin Hayes - 19 g, 25 a, 44 pts

Overall, Hayes finished the year with 65 points in 40 games (27 goals, 38 assists), good for second in NCAA Division One scoring behind Gaudreau's 80 points. Hayes was also named one of the finalists for the Hobey Baker, which of course was eventually won by Gaudreau.


Why Kevin Hayes is in the News

Hayes was drafted in the first round, 24th overall, by Chicago in the 2010 NHL Draft. At the time, he had just completed his second and final year of high school hockey at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts. Bound for Boston College, it was quite a grade 12 year. Hayes had 25 goals and 67 points in just 28 games.

Fast forward four years and here we are today. Hayes has graduated from Boston College and now is on the clock to sign with the Blackhawks by 11:59 pm ET on August 15 or he he will automatically become a unrestricted free agent and be free to sign with any NHL team.

So, who and what is Kevin Hayes?

For one, he's huge at 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds and as you know -- with special thanks to the Los Angeles Kings, 'big' is in style right now in the NHL.

There have been question marks about his skating but how big of a red flag is it? I've heard and read a range of opinions. Keep in mind that recently hired Troy Crowder, who is working in a player development role with the Flames, is a guy who specializes in improving a player's skating.

Are Hayes' goal and point totals misleading and more a byproduct of spending two-thirds of the season alongside the offensively-gifted Gaudreau? Certainly playing with the best college player in the country by far is going to inflate your stats. However, if you look back, what's reassuring is he made huge strides offensively every year -- even when not skating with Gaudreau, so his bust-out fourth year can also be viewed as merely a natural, continuing progression.

Worth pointing out is one can't get caught up in the raw goals and assist totals. Hayes suffered a freak quadriceps muscle injury two years ago that required three separate surgeries and cost him the final couple months of the season. As a result, he only played 27 games. In fact, it's been speculated he may have left school and signed with Chicago after that third year had it not been for that injury.

Recapping his four seasons at Boston College:

  • 2010-11: 31 gm, 4-10-14 (0.45 points per game)
  • 2011-12: 44 gm, 7-21-28 (0.62 points per game)
  • 2012-13: 27 gm, 6-19-25 (0.93 points per game)
  • 2013-14: 40 gm, 27-38-65 (1.63 points per game)


Why Hayes is a Good Fit for the Flames

There are three reasons.

First, the past connection with Gaudreau and Arnold speaks for itself. That line had tremendous chemistry and even though it's highly unlikely they'd remain a line in the NHL, it's nonetheless a fun possibility for fans to dream about. Being a line together in Adirondack this upcoming season would be a far more realistic possibility.

Secondly, his size is obviously something Calgary would covet. In a point reiterated ad nauseum by Flames management is the desire to be a bigger and more physical team. You do that by adding guys, who are 6-foot-4. Remember that in the most recent draft, the Flames did not select anyone shorter than six-foot and at their recent development camp, only three of the 36 skaters were under 6-foot. In fact, of the 18 players invited on a try-out, all of them were 6-foot or taller with a majority of them 6-foot-2 or bigger.

Thirdly, you have the Flames lack of natural right wings. The team seems less concerned about this than fans, claiming many of their left wingers and some of the centres can play on the right side, but it's clearly the position on the club with the least depth right now and the left-hand shooting Hayes would be a really nice add in that regard.


Evaluating and Understanding Chicago's Options

There are a few different ways the Blackhawks can proceed on the Hayes situation. Here's a quick review of their three options:

1. Sign Him - There have been reports earlier that Hayes will not sign with Chicago. This speculation grew when he did not attend the team's development camp this July. However, bear in mind there's always rumours and conjecture with these things. Just yesterday, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman told the Chicago Tribune that the team remains "hopeful" that they can sign Hayes.

2. Let Him Become a Free Agent - This isn't as bad of an outcome for Chicago as you might think. Because Hayes was a first round pick (and this caveat in the CBA only applies to first rounders), the Blackhawks would receive compensation from the NHL if they cannot sign him in the form of a second round draft pick in the 2015 draft. That pick is relative to where he was originally taken in the first round so would be pick No. 24 in round two or 54th overall.

3. Trade His Rights - Calgary's dealing away of Tim Erixon on June 1, 2011, is the best comparable here. Had then GM Jay Feaster let the 2009 first round pick just walk away, the Flames would have received compensation from the NHL in the form of the No. 23 pick in the second round (No. 53 overall) in the 2011 draft. Instead, the Flames got more than that by dealing the rights to the Swedish defenceman to the New York Rangers, who offered up two second round picks -- No. 45 and No. 57 along with Roman Horak (Calgary also sent a fifth round pick to New York). In hindsight, that would turn out to be quite a shrewd move by Feaster, who used those two picks to select Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon, two of Calgary's top prospects, who look like they're both on their way to long NHL careers.

Revisiting that situation, the Rangers were taking a chance but they were confident they could sign Erixon. Plus, if they didn't, they would have been the team that received the second round compensatory pick so they were essentially willing to deal one second round pick and Horak for the chance to have exclusive negotiating rights. It worked out in the sense that Erixon signed with New York, although Erixon the player did not work out.

The other example that comes up but is not an apples-to-apples comparison is the Corban Knight situation from last summer. When Calgary traded a fourth round pick to Florida to get the rights to Knight, who the Panthers had drafted in the fifth round pick in 2009, there was no fall-back compensation option. In the current CBA and it was the same in the previous 2005 CBA also, there is no compensation for not being able to sign draft picks from rounds two through seven.

In that situation, the Flames took a calculated gamble but given Knight's High River upbringing, they made the trade fairly confident they could sign him and sure enough they did. In that case, Florida was highly motivated to deal his rights because at least that way, they got something for him.


Other NHL Teams Hayes May be Eyeing

In addition to Calgary, there are a few other teams you would think would be near the front of the pack when it comes to courting Hayes:
  • Florida Panthers - This is where Kevin's older brother Jimmy now plays, after being traded away by the Blackhawks last year in a trade for Kris Versteeg. Jimmy, also a right-winger, is two-and-a-half years older than Kevin and is two inches taller. The two got to play together for Team USA at the most recent World Hockey Championships in Belarus. It was their first time together on the same team since a one year overlap in their careers at Boston College.
  • New York Rangers - The Rangers are short on cap space but in need of position players and could offer Hayes something the Flames cannot, which is not only a shot to step right into the NHL but also to do so on a team that just went to the Stanley Cup final so is clearly a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The other New York connection is Chris Kreider, who played two seasons with Hayes at Boston College. 
  • Boston Bruins - He's a local kid forn in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The idea of playing for the hometown Bruins would have to be pretty appealing you would think. Around Calgary, one can relate to that desire considering the number of southern Alberta kids that so excitedly have come home to play for the Flames -- Mason Raymond, Corban Knight, etc.

Will Hayes be Hard to Sign?

The hardest part is being a team he wants to sign with as at this point, Hayes is very much in the driver's seat of his own destiny. The actual contract terms will not be that hard to agree to given the term (must be two years) and his maximum base salary ($900,000) are all dictated by the CBA.

The negotiations would revolve around signing and performance bonuses but even at that, there are guidelines in the CBA to what those performances bonus options can be be and there are also limitations to how much in bonuses can be offered.

In Calgary's situation, they certainly have the cap space and if they see a fit, they would surely be willing to ante up as necessary to get a deal done.


Crystal Ball: Speculating on Mark Jankowski

A question that came up recently while talking about Chicago's situation with Hayes was would Calgary, in two years time, potentially choose to not sign 2012 first round pick Mark Jankowski and instead take a second round draft pick from the NHL as compensation.

Good thinking but it's not that simple.

In order to receive compensation, the team holding the player's rights must make the player a bona fide contract offer. You can't just choose to not sign a guy and be compensated. The spirit of it is to be compensated only when you try to sign a player but are unable to.

What "bona fide" means, and this phrase is a common one that appears 108 times in the CBA, is that the team make a legitimate contract offer that meets the minimum requirements for salary and term as set out in the CBA.

Typically, when team is making a bona fide contract offer out of necessity -- like the Flames just did with 2013 draft pick Eric Roy to retain his rights for another season, that offer can be viewed as essentially a minimum wage offer by NHL standards with no signing bonus, no performance bonus, nothing extra. Roy rejected it, and so do most players when they get such offers -- assuming they're of the ilk that the player feels a better offer will be forthcoming.

Depending on Jankowski's progression -- and at this moment he's still very much in the Flames picture as Wes Gilbertson from the Calgary Sun covered off here, if he does tumble off Calgary's prospect radar, the Flames could find themselves in a position in two years of deciding between two options:

  • Not signing him (and not even offering him a contract) and ending up with no compensation.
  • Offering Jankowski the mandatory two-year deal. With that, if he takes it, working with him in the AHL for a couple seasons, or if he rejects it for some reason, then taking that compensatory pick, which would be 51st overall in the 2017 NHL Draft.


However, that's a long, long way away. For now, Flames fans should hope Jankowski builds off last year and has a breakout third year for Providence College, which is supposed to be one of the best teams in college hockey this season.


Conclusion: So, What Do the Flames Do?

In my eyes, Calgary should wait until August 16 and hope Hayes also makes it to that date and doesn't sign before that with either Chicago or another team the Blackhawks might trade his rights to.

I would not trade for Hayes' rights because if you're Calgary, what are you prepared to give up? There's a good possibility the Flames finish in the bottom three in the NHL this season so would you trade a second round pick for Hayes' rights knowing it might turn out to be the 33rd overall pick? Is the reward of potentially signing him big enough to mitigate the risk of falling back to the compensatory 53rd pick if you're unable to sign him? Not in my eyes.

Could Calgary flip Chicago a prospect?  It would have to be a good enough prospect for the Blackhawks to be interested in giving up that second round pick fall-back and is that too much to surrender if you're the Flames? The bigger question, what prospect are we talking about? Patrick Sieloff? Granlund? Risky.

There has not been any indication to what Calgary's interest level is in Hayes and that's expected considering his rights do belong to Chicago still and you get into tampering if you start commenting on such matters publicly.

Many feel the chance to reunite with Arnold and Gaudreau is a huge attraction but that's maybe being oversold considering how unlikely it would be they'd actually play on a line together anyway. The reality is they only played together for 26 games last year and it was NCAA hockey that they dominated. Where they slot in at the NHL level could be very different roles.

Gaudreau would be the first one ready you'd think and is a top-six guy. Is Hayes with his size more suited to being a third line player, at least initially? Arnold with his defensive prowess, tracks to be more of a Matt Stajan-type in my books so if he ascends to the NHL and he may be a couple years away, would it be as Gaudreau's centre? Perhaps, and that's sure fun to think about that dynamic duo playing together again but putting away the rose-coloured glasses, I'm not sure that's a long-term fit.

The good news is we won't have to wait long for an ending to this story as August 15 is not that far away. If you're a Flames fan, keep your fingers crossed. Soon we'll know what Kevin Hayes feels about all this and at this point, that's all that matters.

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Related Flames Reading
  • The Ben Hanowski Barometer - The recent re-signing of forward Ben Hanowski provides a window into how quickly the Flames have improved the depth in the organization.
  • Flames Scrimmage No. 2 - Eight observations from a wild and woolly 30-minute scrimmage at Flames Development camp, a game in which many prospects stood out and in a good way.
  • Flames Scrimmage No. 1 - Five players that looked good in the first of two Flames scrimmages planned for development camp. In short, Calgary's best prospects -- Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett -- were their best players.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Ben Hanowski: A Sign of Positive Change with the Flames

The Ben Hanowski signing by the Flames on Saturday to a one-year, two-way deal (valued at $67,500 in AHL, $850,500 in NHL) didn't come with a lot of fanfare and that in itself is testament to how far Calgary has come in just the last couple years when it comes to building up depth in the organization.

There was a time not that long ago where the kind of year Hanowski just had in the American Hockey League -- 13-18-31 in 55 games, would have made him one of the Calgary's top prospects. However, that isn't the case any longer.

To the credit in particular of former general manager Jay Feaster and his shrewd drafting during his three years at the helm, the days of looking in the Flames prospect cupboard and having not much to choose from other than Kraft Dinner are in the past. Suddenly, there is depth, there are options, there are plenty of reasons for fans to get excited, and a guy like Hanowski -- a former third round pick by the Penguins, who was acquired in the Jarome Iginla trade, can be looked upon as a fringe prospect. Perhaps he does blossom into a full-time role in the NHL but it's not as if the Flames are in trouble if he doesn't. They have other options now, which has not always been the case, especially recently.


2013-14: The Restocking Begins to Show

Among Flames prospects, which I define for the purpose of this article as players age 23 and younger and on NHL contracts (so excluding journeymen like Ben Street, Brett Olson, Blair Jones), Hanowski ranked fourth on Abbotsford in scoring last season. He was behind:
  • Max Reinhart - 66 gm, 21-42-63
  • Markus Granlund - 52 gm, 25-21-46
  • Corban Knight - 70 gm, 18-26-44

While he did play 14 additional games, it's worth noting that Hanowski had the same number of goals as former first round pick Sven Baertschi and finished with two more points.

If you look back, you realize it's been a long time since Calgary has had such riches in the minors (again, I'm excluding non-prospect minor league veterans like Krys Kolanos, Ben Walter, Matt Keith, Jon Rheault). In fact, during the two AHL seasons prior to last year, 31 points would have made Hanowski the Flames highest scoring prospect.

Here are Calgary's top-scoring prospects with Abbotsford over the previous four years:
  • 2012-13 - Roman Horak - 59 gm, 16-14-30
  • 2011-12 - Greg Nemisz - 51 gm, 13-16-29
  • 2010-11 - TJ Brodie - 68 gm, 5-29-34, Greg Nemisz - 68 gm, 14-19-33
  • 2009-10 - Mikael Backlund - 54 gm, 15-17-32

It's surprising how closely Hanowski's AHL numbers -- in his first professional season after graduating from St. Cloud State, resemble Backlund's in his first pro year in 2009-10. Although, Backlund was two years younger. I wouldn't read too much into it, it's just interesting.


A Make-or-Break Season

To have a shot at having a long NHL career or at minimum, to earn himself another contract with the Flames at the expiration of his current deal, skating is an area that Hanowski acknowledges he needs to get better at. He showed last year that he is a more than capable AHL player and will be even better in his second pro season. But is there enough there considering he turns 24 in October to stay long term in the NHL? Specifically, can he score enough to play a third line role or bring enough belligerence for the 6-foot-2 winger to eventually secure a fourth line role? We'll have to wait and see.

In this piece from Wes Gilbertson today in The Calgary Sun, Hanowski acknowledges there are inefficiencies in his skating stride. One can assume he's already been in contact with newly hired Troy Crowder, who in his player development role with the Flames, is all about improving a player's skating. I would guess Hanowski will become one of his projects.

Hanowski had two stints with the Flames last year. He played a total of 11 games amassing just two assists. That gives him three points in 16 career NHL games.

My guess is Hanowski plays a majority of the 2014-15 season in Adirondack. Again, as a reflection of how much better stocked the pantry is now, it's quite possible he won't even be in the top seven or eight scorers amongst Flames prospects. Others in the mix I'd expect to finish ahead of him if they are in the AHL would be guys like Emile Poirier, Corban Knight, Kenny Agostino, Bill Arnold, Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart, Johnny Gaudreau, Sven Baertschi and Michael Ferland. A few of those guys may end up in Calgary but still, you can see the positive direction this organization is headed.

This is not so much a slight on Hanowski as it is a tribute to the Flames and how quickly they've turned things around, with even more organizational help on the way in the next couple years in the likes of Morgan Klimchuk, Sam Bennett, Hunter Smith and a high draft pick in 2015.


A Final Thought

The best case scenario for Calgary and for Hanowski is he has a great year and becomes an asset that the Flames can work with. Whether he becomes something of value the Flames can include in a trade or if his emergence makes someone else expendable, nothing bad comes from young players developing into good, solid hockey players.

They may not end up realizing their full potential in the organization in which they were groomed, but that team can end up better off as a result. Young, legitimate prospects are currency and the more you have of them, it gives you leverage and that's how you continue to improve a hockey team, especially a rebuilding one. Better yet, it can even shorten up the length of said rebuild and playoff-starved Flames fans can only hope that will be the case in Calgary.

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Related Flames Reading
  • Flames Scrimmage No. 2 - Eight observations from a wild and woolly 30-minute game at WinSport in which many prospects stood out -- and in a good way.
  • Flames Scrimmage No. 1 - Five players that looked good in the first of two Flames scrimmages planned for development camp. In short, Calgary's best prospects -- Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett -- were their best players.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Development Camp: Eight Observations From Scrimmage No. 2

Well folks, that's it, that's all.

Calgary Flames development came came to a close on Wednesday morning at WinSport with a second scrimmage, which wrapped up the six-day camp. You can now go outside and weed your garden. Oh joy!

It was another good turnout as the stands were once again packed with fans eager to see what the future might hold and I do mean future. With one notable exception -- and you know who that is by now, that NHL future I'm talking about is at least a year away and for some -- if it happens at all, could be 3-5 years down the road. Nonetheless, there was a lot of talent in town, significantly better prospects than Calgary got used to seeing at these camps a few years ago when they were quietly held at Don Hartman Arena. There is certainly reason to be optimistic if you're a fan, who has grown tired of watching other teams play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

With the Flames 2014-15 season opener against Vancouver less than three months away and with rookie camp starting up in two months, there won't be much down time. Like it or not, winter will be here before you know it.

I'll leave you with eight observations from today and the overall camp on the whole. I'll be working on some longer player profile pieces over the summer and if you're following me on Twitter at @DarrenWHaynes, I'll certainly let you know when I have them completed and posted.


1. Space Up, Offence Up

In contrast to Monday's scrimmage (my recap here), which was mainly played 5-on-5 and produced only two goals, there was much more space to move on Wednesday morning at WinSport as the 30-minute game started with 4-on-4, then went to 3-on-3 after about 12 minutes and ended up an exhausting-to-play-but-fun-to-watch 2-on-2. What we learned is opposing Johnny Gaudreau with only four skaters on the ice is like chasing a squirrel around a football field.

The final score in the game was 5-5, I think. Or, maybe it was 6-5 for the Reds. Regardless, the fact I lost track of the score in the end is exactly the kind of problem you hope to have when you open up the ice like that and give guys space to be creative. The resulting offence speaks to the quality of the players in camp -- particularly the ones already in the organization, most of whom accommodated themselves very well.

The game zipped by really fast and was once again high-tempo and with its fair share of physicality. The excitement created when you get into pond hockey with two or three skaters aside certainly leaves you wondering if it's just a matter of time before the NHL at least experiments with that in the AHL as an alternative to the shootout to decide tie games during the regular season.


2. I Think We Should See Other People

In the spirit of Ross and Rachel, maybe Boston College duo Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold are just on a 'break'.

It was certainly an interesting dynamic this week with Gaudreau wearing white in both scrimmages and his best buddy playing on the reds. For much of today's game, Gaudreau's wing-man was hulking Milan Lucic-look-a-like David Wolf, who like everybody else, came away impressed.... or make that mighty impressed with Gaudreau's high skill level.

"He's just pure talent," said the 24-year-old German. "He's so smooth on the ice. At his size, he's probably the best player I've ever seen."

Gaudreau, as you come to expect every game, did score a goal and it was a dandy. He made a nice deke and deftly slid the puck through the five-hole on Mason McDonald after he was sprung on a breakaway by Kenny Agostino.

Meanwhile, at the risk of sounding more like a Hollywood Insider from TMZ, I can confirm that Arnold was spotted playing with Morgan Klimchuk in both scrimmages. Yes, it would seem they're now an item. Klimchuk scored twice Wednesday -- both set up by Arnold, who also had a goal of his own.

"I didn't really know Billy that well coming into this week," Klimchuk said. "But to sit next to him and to be on his team and be around him all week and do off-ice activities with him, you really do build chemistry and I thought that definitely showed in the game today."

Klimchuk had a great chance at his hat-trick at one point but from a prime shooting area, he unselfishly sent a pass back across the slot to Arnold instead.

"He's a lot of fun to play with, a real skilled, fast player. We've been playing together a lot this week and I think it showed out there," said Arnold. "We were clicking and we had a good feeling for where each other was going to be on the ice."

Gaudreau and Arnold did find themselves back together again at centre in the shootout -- both shooting at the same time but in opposite directions. And in a twist of fate, Gaudreau was thwarted by McDonald while Arnold scored on a deke against Doug Carr. "Bragging rights for the summer," said a delighted Arnold, with a chuckle.


3. I'll Be Back

If I played you a clip from my voice recorder and asked "Who is this?" Your first guess would be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, I can definitely confirm David Wolf is German and speaks just like Arnie, or... I suppose... like many Germans do. I can also confirm that he is quite a character. Firstly, he's pumped about Germany's 7-1 rout of Brazil in the World Cup on Tuesday. Flying back to Germany tonight, he'll be home in time and looking forward to the big party that will be Sunday's final. I also discovered Wolf is a personable, funny and very engaging fella off the ice.

When the 24-year-old was signed in May, much of the discussion revolved around his size -- 6-foot-2 and at least 216 pounds, his truculent style of play, and how he led the German League in penalty minutes in two of the last three seasons. However, lost was the fact he was also second on his team in points each of the last three years.

"I stand up for my teammates when I have to, I fight when I have to, but I'm not out there looking for it," said Wolf, who had a few good scoring chances during the game but was not able to capitalize. In the shootout, he was also denied but just barely as he raised eyebrows by pulling out the only spin-a-rama move we saw. He just couldn't jam the puck past McDonald's outstretched pad as he completed his 360.

"I do have some finesse too, although I've got 'summer hands'," laughed Wolf, who says he hadn't skated in nearly three months before this week. "I've got to get on the ice more and more and then I'll get my hands and my conditioning back."

"David's an interesting guy. He's like a walking fridge," said Flames GM Brad Treliving. "He's got a straight-ahead approach and he's a big body, who does everything well. He'll be an interesting guy to see, come training camp."


4. Johnny B. Goode Again

Watching Gaudreau on the ice is just so darn enjoyable. His creativity is off-the-charts and the failed attempts by others to cover him, hit him, catch him, get the puck away from him, or do anything to stop him -- it's like watching one long, endless Keystone Cops routine. Flipping through my notebook from this morning, I have references to No. 53 scribbled on every page with enough stars written besides those references to resemble the constellations in the northern sky. Some examples from today:
  • Speeds down the wing, turns away slickly from Keegan Kanzig, makes a nice toe-drag around Austin Carroll and snaps a quick shot on goal.
  • Gains the zone, does a sharp curl towards the board to lose the defender and give himself time and space. Then, zips an absolutely perfect saucer pass across the slot that lands on the tape of Chris Dienes for a one-timer.
  • On a 1-on-1 rush, he's stood up just inside the blueline and knocked down by a good, physical defensive play by Allan Caron. However, you're messing with the wrong guy, Allan. That same shift on another one-on-one between the same two guys, a nice curl-and-drag move by Gaudreau results in Caron flopping to the ice and sliding helplessly out of the play. Gaudreau then strolls in for a dangerous shot.  Later that same shift, with Gaudreau buzzing around like a mad hornet, he regains the puck again with a lightning fast stick lift and steal of the puck from unsuspecting Damian Bourne.
  • While playing 2-on-2, Agostino and Gaudreau had possession of the puck for nearly their entire shift. They scored once and essentially just teased the helpless red pairing of Scott Allen and Brandon Vuic, who looked like a pair of Wile E. Coyotes chasing a pair of road runners in the defensive zone.  

Gaudreau won't dominate like he did at this camp at Calgary's main training camp starting in mid-September but it will be intriguing to see how he fares. That will be the real test to see if he is ready to be an NHL player right now or if some seasoning in the AHL is the route the Flames will opt to go. Consider this one of the top story lines to follow heading into training camp.


5. Sam Being Sam 

Sam Bennett is going to be a fan favourite, no question. He doesn't care how big you are, he's going to get in there, and get in there fast and he's just so damn determined to come away with the puck. A couple times on the forecheck, Bennett pursued a guy behind the net and if he didn't succeed in stripping the puck from the panic-stricken defenceman, he then chases him up the ice relentlessly like a pit bull.

He's not afraid to get to those so-called dirty areas either. In one sequence in front the opposition's net, he had a gruelling 8-10 second battle for positioning in front with massive 6-foot-6, 245 pound defenceman Keegan Kanzig. Bennett did not back down and was determined to get to and stay on that patch of ice at the top of the crease.

The same two met again later along the sideboards and while Kanzig was first to the puck, it was Bennett that came away with the puck for a dangerous scoring chance. All it took was an aggressive, physical play from Bennett to pop Kanzig into the boards and then strip the puck from him. "Like a dog on a bone." -- that's how I'd describe Bennett regarding his pursuit of the puck.

On a side note, Bennett and Klimchuk will both be at Team Canada's World Junior orientation camp later this summer. It's a decent bet that both could be on this year's team and if so, it would be the first time the Flames have had two forwards on Canada's World Junior team since 1999 when Rico Fata and Daniel Tkaczuk were part of Canada's silver medal-winning team. (I know what you're now thinking and stop thinking that way. I have zero doubt that the future of Klimchuk and Bennett is much brighter than it turned out for those other two Flames 1st round picks.)

In the last 15 years, the only three Flames forwards to play for Canada at the World Juniors have been: Greg Nemisz (2010, silver), Dustin Boyd (2006, gold) and Chuck Kobasew (2002, silver).


6. 'D' Depth Chart

None of the defencemen that were on the ice at development camp are immediate threats to play in the NHL. However, look 2-3 years into the future and you may have something.

For me, the top three that were on the ice this week in terms of future potential are:
  1. Brett Kulak
  2. Keegan Kanzig
  3. Ryan Culkin

Because I said "on the ice", this excludes Patrick Sieloff, who was at camp but did not dress for the scrimmages as he continues to work his way back from being injured almost all of last season. Sieloff has the potential to be ranked right there with Kulak.

Both Kulak and Culkin, who have offensive upside, sniped goals on Wednesday and they could be a couple key figures in Adirondack this year assuming that's where they land. Kanzig has impressed me all week and while he'll be back in Victoria this year for sure, his future looks bright as long as he can continue to improve his foot speed. Even with the wide open ice today that comes with 2-on-2, I thought Kanzig looked just fine. He's a better skater than you would expect.

As for Eric Roy, he's tall enough but that's his best quality. At least in this week's sample, he's just not at the same level as the other three. Also of note, making an impression on the Flames was undrafted Jason Fram. At the camp on a try-out from Spokane (WHL), where the 19-year-old has played the past three seasons, Fram was the lone player singled out by Treliving today, who the Flames have already decided to bring back to rookie camp. At 6-foot-0 and 195 pounds, Fram saw his offensive production skyrocket from 2-13-15 in 60 games in 2012-13 to 6-51-57 in 72 games last year.


7. Nervous Mason McDonald

It's so hard to evaluate goalies in this type of setting considering the odd-man rushes that naturally occur in a pond hockey format, which was the second half of today's game that 2014 2nd round pick Mason McDonald played. Also, allowing a breakaway goal to Gaudreau as he did hardly puts him in an exclusive club.

In the shootout, it didn't start off so good as McDonald was beaten five-hole by Agostino and again in the same spot two shooters later by Collin Valcourt. However, he stopped the next 11 shots including Bennett, who after scoring on a spectacular deke move in Monday's shootout, tried a similar move only this time did not convert.

"It's a big jump from junior to this," McDonald said. "The pace is so much faster, guys skate so much faster, the shots are so much faster. Everything is bang-bang. It's great to have the experience of it and going back to junior, it will help me."

And next breakaway, he vows to stop Gaudreau.

"He's really shifty, he can shoot the puck. He's got everything to be a pro hockey player. He was definitely the best out there," said the soft-spoken 18-year-old. "It's too bad, he got me through the five-hole. Next time I'll have him."


8. What Will Development Camp Look Like in 2015?

This year's camp was just like last year's camp, and also the camp the year before because it was the format already in place when Brad Treliving was hired by the Flames as general manager. However, expect Calgary's development camp to look a little different next year.

"It's safe to say there will be changes," said Treliving. " I don't think it will be radical changes but we'll tweak it."

Calgary's camp is certainly one of the longest if not the longest in the NHL. The players are on the ice for five consecutive intensive days. Arizona's development camp -- and that would be the organization Treliving just left, consists of only three on-ice sessions of 90 minutes each.

Shortening it certainly sounds like one of the things he's considering.

"I want to continue to place the emphasis on education," Treliving said. "It's development, it's giving these guys the tools. Yes, you want get a little glimpse and see how they move and do those things but in a lot of ways, the emphasis on doing too much heavy-lifting on-ice and evaluating in the middle of July, it can be a dangerous thing."

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Related Flames Reading:
  • First Impressions from Scrimmage No. 1 - The Flames best players were their best players on Monday as Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett were two of the five players that stood out for me. 
  • The Polarizing Selection of Goaltender Mason McDonald - Selecting a goaltender with pick No. 34 infuriated a lot of Flames fans. Why take a goalie so early? Well, I've done the homework and I will explain to you why it was the smart choice for Calgary at that point in the draft. 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Scrimmage No. 1 - First Impressions from Development Camp

The stands were packed at WinSport on Monday morning and everyone got what they came for -- an excellent show from Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett, who as you would hope, were two of the best players on the ice.

While there's a chance both will be Calgary Flames this season, the more likely outcome is Bennett returns to Kingston for a third year in the OHL and Gaudreau begins his first pro season in the AHL with Adirondack. However, by 2015-16, I would be surprised if both of these players aren't fixtures in Calgary's line-up and really, that's only 15 months away.

Flames General Manager Brad Treliving addressed the media afterwards and as he's been doing all week, he tried his best to keep expectations in check despite the obvious reasons fans had to be excited.

"Obviously a lot has been talked about with Johnny and what he's done in college and what he did in the World Championships so it's nice for our fans to get a little glimpse, and obviously see Sam too," Treliving said. "We are excited about these players but let's also keep in context what time of year this is."

With so many guys on try-outs and unfamiliar jersey numbers everywhere, and with an odd number of forwards on each side making line combos a constantly changing thing, it's hard to get a read on a game like this but from my vantage point -- ice level in one of the corners, here are five players that stood out.

53 - LW Johnny Gaudreau

He's the shortest guy on the ice, by far, but he also had the puck more than anybody else, by far. Flames fans got exactly what they were hoping from the 5-foot-8 offensive dynamo as he controlled the play whenever he was on the ice -- and set up both of the game's goals.

With the speed he has and his ability to pivot and turn on a dime, he's got that elusive quality that will make him hard to hit and that quality will be a must-have when you're his stature in the NHL.

Just like Sean Monahan had the chance to play with Gaudreau at this same camp one year ago, Sam Bennett played with him a bunch in Monday's scrimmage and afterwards he had nothing but complimentary things to say.

"He's got unbelievable vision and he's a smart hockey player. You combine those two and you have a real special hockey player. His skill set, it blows me away," Bennett said.

63 - C Sam Bennett

You know that expression, your best players have to be your best players? Sure enough, at Monday's scrimmage, they were as Bennett also had a solid game including neatly snapping a shot top corner for the opening goal.

Playing with a variety of linemates over the course of the game -- as well as seeing power play time and time on the penalty kill, the 6-foot-1 centre showed why many draft pundits ranked him as the No. 1 prospect coming into the draft. Getting him at No. 4 certainly met the approval of Gaudreau.

"I can see why the Flames drafted him," Gaudreau said after the game. "He's a great hockey player and an even better guy off the ice. You can tell he's going to be a great teammate from the second you meet him."

Gaudreau says it's Bennett's all-round game that impresses him the most.

"He's smart on the ice, he knows where everyone is at, he makes plays, he has a great shot, great speed and great vision," Gaudreau said.

51 - LW Kenny Agostino

This week isn't his first rodeo. In fact, it's development camp No. 4 for Agostino although just the second one with the Flames. Of course, he came over in the Jarome Iginla trade to Pittsburgh two years ago.

He likes to shoot and being an older guy in this particular camp (at age 22!), he is a little more calm and poised with the puck. He is around the net a lot and seems to be one of those guys that always seems to be in the right spot at the right time and will always get his chances.

"It's awesome how high the pace has been so far in camp. It's even higher than last year and I thought last year was fast," said Agostino, who took a few seconds to get up at one point after being on the wrong end of a heavy open-ice thump from Keegan Kanzig. "It was a great game pace. It was physical, it was high-tempo, guys are making plays and guys are really pushing for July. "

After graduating from Yale, his first pro season is coming up and playing close to home, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to life in the AHL and if he can develop into a 20-25 goal scorer with the junior Flames.

73 - D Keegan Kanzig

Sometime, have your buddy stand on top of the kitchen table and then you, while standing on the floor, pretend to interview him. That's what it's like to interview this guy when he's got his skates on. He's massive. The 6-foot-6 feels more like 8-foot-6 when he towers over you like that.

Foot speed will always be the issue for the Flames 3rd round pick in 2013 but it's better than you expect when you consider he's hauling around a 245-pound chassis. With the puck, he's never going to slickly spin his way out of trouble ala TJ Brodie and breakaway passes are not going to very plentiful, but when he doesn't have the puck, you better have your chin strap on tight when you go down his side because he will staple you into the glass and I can attest as I was ringside for a couple loud crunches, that glass shakes for about 30 seconds after one of his crushing body checks.

One highlight for fans -- and for Kanzig for that matter, was seeing Gaudreau go at him one-on-one on a rush down the wing midway through the second period. To Kanzig's credit, he denied him.

"I know he's a quick player, really good side to side. so I just tried to steer him wide, get him going that way and keep him out there... and it worked out well, so I was happy about that," said Kanzig, who is not yet old enough to play in the AHL so will be returning to Victoria (WHL) to play for coach and ex-Flame Dave Lowry for another season.

I'll have more on Kanzig later in the week. Keep an eye on the blog.

97 - RW Tim Harrison

Firstly. I must begin with the obligatory Stampede Midway update after the racket he had going last year where he kept winning mini BMX bikes and turned into a profitable one-night business. Unfortunately, sounds like this year -- all the players went at the Stampede on Sunday night, it didn't go nearly as well. "I wasn't feeling it," said Harrison, who has an infectious Craig Conroy-like chipperness to him off the ice. "I had a couple throws but I'm getting old and I threw out the shoulder a little bit."

Harrison, who stands 6-foot-3, was noticeable in the scrimmage if for no other reason that he saw a lot of time running shotgun with Bennett and Gaudreau -- so he was around the net a lot. The Flames 2013 6th round pick, who is coming off his first year of NCAA hockey at Colgate, took advantage as well by scoring a goal. Potentially, that was his first goal since last development camp considering he failed to score a goal in 35 games in a limited role as a freshman last season.

"It was a blast playing with Gaudreau and Bennett, two dynamic guys. To be able to play alongside them was unbelievable," Harrison said. "(Gaudreau) slows the game down so easily. He just stops the puck and it's a walk in the park for him. He just picks and chooses whoever he wants to give the puck to."


Other Loose Ends
  • G Doug Carr - He got in a late-season cameo last season with Abbotsford after his season at Hockey East's University of Massachusetts-Lowell came to an end. Done his four years of school now, he is in camp on a try-out and so far, so good, as he did not give up a goal in his half-game and he also stopped two penalty shots -- one off Kanzig and another off energetic winger Adam Chapie.
  • C Bill Arnold - Playing on the opposite team from Gaudreau for the first time that he said he could remember, which must have been weird, he showed that his commitment to defence is year-round by getting down and blocking a hard point shot, which left him hobbling briefly.
  • D Brett Kulak - I really like his mobility and he seems really comfortable with the puck, always looking for the open diagonal pass but not afraid to whistle a shot on net either. While eligible to return to the WHL as an over-ager, I'm betting he reports to Adirondack and don't be surprised if his year plays out similar to how last year unfolded for Tyler Wotherspoon. I'll also have more on Kulak later.
  • G Mason McDonald - If my math is right -- there's no scoring summary to audit against, the only goal he allowed was Bennett's tidy snapper from the slot in playing the first half of the game. In his portion of the exhibition shootout after the game, which consisted of eight or nine players, Bennett scored another really nice goal on him but I think that was the only one he gave up. One thing you notice immediately is he certainly is tall. The roster says 6-foot-4 and I'd say at least that. Reminds one of Ben Bishop.
  • LW David Wolf - This guy is fairly unique in how he's built and how he plays. He's stocky, really big around the shoulders -- resembles a football linebacker. But he moves around pretty good and he's sure not going to let up when he tails you into the corner, that's for sure, so head's up. It doesn't take long to see why the Flames were attracted to his energetic and physical style.

The next scrimmage goes Wednesday at 10 a.m. and once again will be at WinSport. We'll see who steps up in that game. As a warning if you're coming to watch, don't show up last minute or you'll be searching for a long time for a parking spot!

Friday, 4 July 2014

Ten Players To Watch at Flames 2014 Development Camp

It’s July. The sun is out and the heat is up. Calgary’s version of summer is well underway. Why then, in a city where summer is such a limited showing, are we still talking about hockey?

It’s simple. Calgary Flames development camp has arrived and for this organization, a post-season spectator the past five years, this is where the future lies. Excitement, promise, hope… it's all here at WinSport in the form of 19 Flames draft picks (from 2010 to 2014), who along with 22 other young players, will be putting their skill sets on display for Bob Hartley and his coaching staff, as well as eager fans.

When the Flames finally get back to being the type of perennial playoff team and Stanley Cup contender they were back in the mid-to-late 80s and early 90s, it will be kids on the ice these next five days at WinSport that are going to be part of the core of that team. Here’s your chance for a sneak preview, a glimpse into what’s to come.

The entire Flames Development Camp schedule can be found here along with the player rosters.

Meanwhile, here are some players in particular that I will be keeping my eye on. Look for recaps next week of the two scrimmages, which go Monday at 10 a.m. and Wednesday at 10 a.m.


Ten Players to Watch

45 - LW David Wolf – You want truculence? You got it with this Duesseldorf-born German who had more penalty minutes in the German hockey league the past three years than anybody else. Rumours about him potentially signing with Calgary swirled for months before the rugged 6-foot-2, 215 pound winger finally, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Flames in May. Is the 24-year-old a legitimate threat to crack the Flames bottom six or is he here for a one-year tour of upstate New York and other scenic locales around the AHL? I’ve never seen him play so I look forward to seeing what he brings.


50 - D Patrick Sieloff – This 2nd round pick is a guy that everyone is high on. Through his year in the OHL with Windsor, his time with the U.S. national junior team and with the Flames at their camps last year, Sieloff has done nothing but impress. Thick, ornery, his NHL debut quite likely would have come at some point last season if not for a scary staph infection that ended up costing him virtually the entire year. In the end, he only played two games with Abbotsford, the last was way back on Oct. 5 so there's bound to be some rust. More importantly, where is he at physically and is the injury behind him? If you’re a forward, try carrying the puck over the blue-line with your head down and we'll all find out.


52 - LW Morgan Klimchuk – Reflecting back on the Flames trio of 1st round picks last June, Sean Monahan -- as we all know, is already a staple in the Flames line-up. Emile Poirier had a terrific season in the QMJHL last year, then followed that up by making a strong impression in five late-season appearances with Abbotsford. As a 1995 year-of-birth, Poirier's likely bound for the AHL for 2014-15. Meanwhile, Klimchuk’s career path is shaping up differently. Picked behind the other two, he’s a 1996 year-of-birth (so ineligible to play in the AHL) so as a result, he’ll be headed back to Regina for a fourth year where a 40-goal season is well within reach and he could get to 50. He's also a decent bet to play for Canada in the World Juniors.  


53 - LW Johnny Gaudreau – This guy is an absolute treat to watch whenever he steps on the ice. His display at the World Hockey Championships in that one game against Germany in particular was sensational stuff. In his NHL debut in the Flames final game of the season, he scored Calgary’s only goal. Whether he’ll play this season in Calgary or Adirondack won’t be known until the fall. My guess is he will at least start in the AHL and here’s why. Regardless, never miss a chance to see this guy play live. With 33 of the 36 skaters in attendance at least 6-foot-0 and a bunch of them 6-foot-2 or taller, this week will also be a nice test for Gaudreau in terms of seeing the 5-foot-8 left winger operate in confined spaces.


61 - D Brett Kulak – WHL graduate Tyler Wotherspoon was a nice story last year. He got the call-up late in his rookie AHL season and handled himself well in 14 games in the NHL. Kulak, who is 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, may just be the next guy in line on the Flames defencemen depth chart. The 20-year-old from Stony Plain, Alberta, had a really nice 60-point season in Vancouver (WHL) last year then got into 10 games with Abbotsford after the Giants season ended and looked right at home.  Calm and cool on the ice, moves the puck well, keep your eye on this kid as the Flames 4th round pick in 2012 should have a good year in Adirondack.


63 - C Sam Bennett – It’s one thing to see a guy play on TV or on the sports highlights, it’s something else to see him live and in person. Drafted 4th overall in this year’s draft, Bennett is arguably the most skilled player the Flames have ever selected in their history and it will be interesting to see what impact he has this week and whether or not he stands out as an elite player. In particular, how does his game compare with that of older college kids like Bill Arnold. Monahan made a loud statement at last year’s development camp then followed it up with a strong rookie camp, main camp, then played a full NHL season. Over to you, Sam.

(My take on the Bennett pick and how the Flames are doing it right by drafting centres.)


68 - D Adam Ollas-Mattsson – Flames fans are familiar with Craig Button from his three years as Flames GM in the early 2000s. Responsible for the fumbling away of young up-and-comers Marty St. Louis, J-S Giguere and Marc Savard, it's understandable if not too many people in Calgary are very high on his player evaluation ability. That said, he has carved himself a niche as TSN’s resident draft expert and as a point of curiosity, on his final 'Craig’s List' Draft Rankings, Button had Mattsson ranked higher (42nd) than Jake Virtanen (43rd). What unfolded in real life was Mattsson was drafted 175th while Virtanen went 6th overall to Vancouver. Could he be a steal for Calgary? His picture makes him look like a young Dolph Lundgren. The Flames size-infatuated management team can only hope he’s the on-ice version of that... whatever that might look and play like.


71 - RW Hunter Smith – Last year, Flames draft pick Keegan Kanzig was the tallest and heaviest player selected at the NHL Draft. This year, Calgary nearly did it again. Listed at 6-foot-6, Smith was the second-tallest player selected although apparently he's a far lankier kid than Kanzig as his 208 pounds was not even in the top 30. Notable about Smith is he experienced about as vast of a point progression as is possible last year in the OHL. After registering one measly assist in 30 games in an injury-mired rookie season with Oshawa, Smith’s numbers skyrocketed to 16 goals and 24 assists in 64 games last year. Then, he topped that off with three goals and 11 points in 12 playoff games.


72 - G Mason McDonald – Who is this kid, who set Twitter ablaze early that Saturday morning when the Flames had the audacity of using a second round pick on a goalie. Last week, I gave 10 reasons why I understand why the Flames chose a goalie at that point in the draft and why I agree it was the smart decision. Now it’s time to see this contentious selection live for the first time. The 6-foot-4 kid from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has many years ahead of him as the guy in the hot seat. Intense scrutiny will accompany his name for a long time -- see Leland Irving. This is an opportunity for the 18-year-old, who plays in the QMJHL, to at least leave behind a good first impression on fans. For his benefit, that would sure help.


85 – D Jason Fram – Considering 18 of the 41 players invited to development camp are on a try-out, I should be noting at least one fella from that group so this is the guy. Fram has played the last three years with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. He was Spokane’s scholastic player of the year in 2012-13. What stands out is the meteoric rise his stats took in 2013-14. After going 2-13-15 in 60 games the year before, his numbers jumped to 6-51-57 last season. Also, the 6-foot-0, 195 pound defenceman is one of those elusive right-hand shots. Is there something there? The 19-year-old was eligible to be drafted but wasn’t the last two years so there’s that. But then again, Mark Giordano also went undrafted.

Five Other Prospects on my Radar:
  • RW Austin Carroll - Was at last year's camp, then was drafted this year in 7th round.
  • D Brandon Hickey - Alberta kid headed to Boston U. was drafted this year in the 3rd round.
  • D Eric Roy - As a 2013 draft pick, he needs a strong year to earn a contract offer.
  • D Keegan Kanzig - Highly thought-of by the Flames, they kept him late into main camp last year.
  • RW Tim Harrison - The 2013 6th round pick was a ball of energy at last year's camp


Monday, 30 June 2014

Taking a Closer Look: The Polarizing Selection of Goaltender Mason McDonald

For many Calgary Flames fans, a Friday evening filled with revelry and celebration came crashing to a screeching halt early Saturday morning. If the drafting of Sam Bennett at No. 4 was the bachelor party, the selection of Mason McDonald at No. 34 was waking up on the bathroom floor the next day with a wicked hangover.

However, despite the despair, fury and widespread outcry from  a large percentage of Flames supporters over picking a goalie that early in in the NHL Draft, I'm here to tell you that Calgary's second pick is not necessarily the mistake so many think.

Getting back to the party. Friday night really was a moment of elation for Flames Nation as NHL Central Scouting's No. 1 ranked North American skater was drafted by the Calgary Flames at No. 4. Bennett will become the most highly touted prospect of all-time to put on a Flames sweater. And, by drafting another potential superstar centre on the heels of the selection of Sean Monahan last year, Calgary GM Brad Treliving showed that the foundation of the rebuild is strength up the middle and as I explained in this piece from Saturday, that is absolutely the right approach. Soon, the Flames will enjoy the kind of homegrown depth at centre they haven't had in over 20 years.

But, then came Saturday and for many, a sobering crash back to reality when much of the goodwill built up by the club on Friday went out the window with the selection of -- oh god, no, a goaltender with the Flames first pick of the 2nd round. There were instantly tweets of anger and frustration as passionate fans threw up their arms and for some, their breakfast also, over the controversial selection of the Halifax-born McDonald.

To be completely honest, my initial reaction was one of surprise also. Due to goaltenders' reputation to develop late and unpredictably, the general unwritten rule is you never draft a goalie in the first round. In that case, shouldn't drafting a goalie four picks into the 2nd round also be frowned upon?

However, given 24 hours to digest and assess, I've completely changed my mind. Not only do I understand why the hockey club made the decision to draft McDonald at that point, but I heartily endorse it.

There are a lot of strong opinions about what happened and I'm not here to change your mind, but I do encourage you to have an open mind as you review my reasons why I don't think this was nearly as bad of a pick as many might think.

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10 Reasons to Like the Selection of Mason McDonald 


1. Myth: It's Best to Draft Goalies Late

Because many goalies taken early in NHL drafts never pan out, some have interpreted this to mean you might just as well wait until late in the draft to find your goalie of the future. The perceived effectiveness of this approach was perpetuated this spring thanks to the play of New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who -- as it was constantly pointed out, was a 7th round pick in 2000.

Well I'm here to tell you that waiting and hoping you can get a Lundqvist in the late rounds is about as wise of a draft strategy as counting on winning the lottery for your retirement income.

In a 17-year span from 1995 to 2011, Lundqvist is the only impact starting goalie to come out of the 7th round and there have been 65 drafted during that time. There were a handful of guys that made brief cameos as NHL No. 1 goalies -- Cristobal Huet (LA, Mtl, Wsh, Chi) the most notable, but the body of work for Huet or others like Fredrik Norrena (Clb) or Johan Holmqvist (TB) was generally ineffective.

Next, I widened the sample size to include rounds 4-9 (draft was nine rounds long from 1995-2004) and in addition to Lundqvist, you can then add in Braden Holtby (2008, 4th round), Ryan Miller (1999, 5th round), Mike Smith (2001, 5th round), Karri Ramo (2004, 6th round), Pekka Rinne (2004, 8th round) and Jaroslav Halak (2003, 9th round) for a total of seven projected 2014-15 starters. But, that's also just seven out of 298 goalies selected in the 4th round and beyond over that span.

I will also add in Miikka Kiprusoff (1995, 5th round) and Evgeni Nabokov (1994, 9th round) to the list of impact goaltenders from rounds 4-9 but still, you're looking at just nine out of 298 goalies becoming solid No. 1 goalies, which works out to a minuscule 3%.


2. Myth: You Shouldn't Draft Goalies Early

Once you start digging into it, you quickly realize that perception isn't reality. Look around the NHL and assess team's depth charts heading into 2014-15 and you'll find that a majority of the NHL's No. 1 goalies are high draft picks. From what we know right now and yes, there will be goalie battles that will go into training camp (e.g. Ottawa, St. Louis, Carolina), it is quite possible that 17 of the NHL's 30 starters next season will have been 1st or 2nd round picks.
  • 1st Round (9) - Jonathan Bernier Tor, Semyon Varlamov Col, Carey Price Mtl, Tuukka Rask Bos, Cory Schneider NJ, Marc-Andre Fleury Pit, Kari Lehtonen Dal, Cam Ward Car, Roberto Luongo Fla
  • 2nd Round (8) - John Gibson Ana, Robin Lehner Ott, Jake Allen Stl, Jhonas Enroth Buf, Ondrej Pavelec Wpg, Corey Crawford Chi, Jimmy Howard Det, Josh Harding Min

Add in others from rounds 1 and 2 that had prolonged stints (i.e. four or more years) as starters like Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Marty Biron and in total, 22 out of 85 goaltenders drafted in rounds one or two from 1995 through 2011 are either a No. 1 goalie right now, or once were a bonafide No. 1 goaltender. That's a success rate of 26%, considerably higher than the aforementioned 3% from those drafted in rounds 4 and beyond.


3. NHL Teams Draft Better Than They Used To

I just roll my eyes these days every time I hear a draft reference to Alexandre Daigle. People, that was over 20 years ago! At some point, you have to acknowledge how different the player evaluation landscape is now and throw out that moldy, old historical data -- especially in respect to the early rounds. Yes, there is still a component of luck, for sure, but the NHL Draft is not the same degree of a crap-shoot as it once was. Recently, Eric Duhatschek wrote in The Globe and Mail how the age of a total miss at the top of the draft is becoming a rarity.

Personally, I attribute this improvement league-wide in player evaluation and development to a variety of factors including the overwhelming access of information we have now such as:
  • Increased Opportunities to View Players -- Before, we had the playoffs to evaluate players in high competition. Now, we also have prospect games, national team development camps, national team programs, exhibition series against teams like Russia, international tournaments that are so much more scrutinized now at the younger ages like U-17 and U-18. 
  • Ability to View Almost Any Game -- Whether it's major junior, college, junior A. Without setting foot outside your home office, scouts can watch and re-watch almost any player as much as they choose. 
  • Availability of Statistical Analysis -- As the burgeoning advanced stats community continues to grow and with teams showing an increased interest in leveraging additional player data, the types of statistics that are becoming more common in the NHL are now starting to also show up in other leagues.

The good news is that the general trend of teams drafting better in recent years includes the drafting of those enigmatic goaltenders. I took the above figure that 26% of goalies drafted in rounds one or two since 1995 are (or were) No. 1 goalies and split the sample period in half.  Sure enough, there's been an even greater success rate lately. If you go back only as far as 2003, 33% of goalies drafted in rounds one or two between then and 2011 are expected to be NHL starters next year. That compares to 20% in the eight years prior to that.
  • 2003 to 2011 - 13 out of 40 (33%, or 1-in-3)
  • 1995 to 2002 - 9 out of 45 (20%, or 1-in-5)


4. Franchise Goalies Go Early

If you look around the NHL at who most of the top goalies are -- Price, Rask, Varlamov, most are early draft picks. There are exceptions with guys like Jonathan Quick and Lundqvist, but your best bet if you're looking to luck out on a stud No. 1 keeper is to roll the dice on one early.

The aforementioned trio were three of the top four finishers in this year's Vezina voting and each were among the first three goaltenders selected in their draft year.
  • Rask - The winner, was the 2nd goalie picked in 2005.
  • Varlamov - The runner-up, was the 3rd goalie drafted in 2006
  • Price - The 4th place finisher and Canadian Olympic team goaltender, was the 1st goalie taken in 2005. 


5. Flames Rarely Take the First Goalie

While the Flames have a reputation, especially around Calgary, as blowing it whenever they choose a goalie early, it's not nearly as chronic of an issue as it seems. You need to go all the way back to 1990 and the selection of Trevor Kidd at No. 11 to find the last time the Flames were the first team to select a goalie in the draft. While that pick is often chastised in these parts as a terrible pick because Martin Brodeur was the second goalie selected, Kidd was not a flop. He did have a lengthy NHL career that included being a starter for five seasons.

The only other time Calgary was first to pick a goalie was in 1988 when GM Cliff Fletcher made Jason Muzzatti the final pick of the 1st round.

Over the weekend, Leland Irving was the name most frequently brought up in respect to McDonald when discussing highly drafted goaltenders by the Flames, who didn't pan out. However, I don't think that's a fair comparison when discussing McDonald as Irving was not the No. 1 ranked goalie. Irving was the 4th ranked goalie according to NHL's Central Scouting and indeed, three goalies were already taken ahead of him when Calgary selected him 26th overall.

Also of note, the selection of Irving is the only occurrence of the Flames taking a goalie in the first two rounds since 2003 when as documented above, the success rate for drafting goalies in the NHL has greatly improved.

Prior to that, Calgary's success rate when drafting a goalie was 1 in 5, or exactly what the NHL average was during that period.
  • 2006, round 1, 26th - Leland Irving (GM Darryl Sutter), 4th goalie taken
  • 2001, round 2, 26th - Andrei Medvedev (GM Craig Button), 5th goalie taken
  • 2000, round 1, 9th - Brent Krahn (GM Craig Button), 2nd goalie taken
  • 1997, round 2, 6th - Evan Lindsay (GM Al Coates ), 5th goalie taken
  • 1990, round 1, 11th - Trevor Kidd (GM Cliff Fletcher), 1st goalie taken
  • 1988, round 1, 21st - Jason Muzzatti (GM Cliff Fletcher), 1st goalie taken

6. No Such Thing as a Safe Bet

The other popular assumption people want to make is that by selecting a goalie early, you're missing out on a 'can't miss' position player. This type of speculation was certainly rampant this weekend.

Sure, guys like Ryan MacInnis, Brett Pollock, Roland McKeown and Jack Dougherty appear to be great prospects the Flames passed on at No. 34 in order to draft McDonald. But it will be many years before we know for sure. Further, history has shown that the Flames selection of goalies over position players over the past two decades has hardly been an exercise fraught with regrets.

As you'll see -- and I define "NHL regulars" as having played in at least 250 games, there's not much credence to the claim that the Flames would have been any better off by selecting a position player than when they did select a goalie in the first or second round:
  • 2006 - Right after Irving, Dallas chose D Ivan Vishnevskiy (5 gm, 0-2-2). Only 1 of the next 8 (or 2 of the next 16) position players drafted became NHL regulars.
  • 2001 - Right after Medvedev, St. Louis chose C Jay McClement (682 gm, 75-129-204). Only 1 of the next 13 position players drafted -- that being McClement -- became an NHL regular.
  • 2000 - Right after Krahn, Chicago chose C Mikhail Yakubov (53 gm, 2-10-12). Only 1 of the next 8 position players drafted became an NHL regular.
  • 1997 - Right after Lindsay, Tampa Bay chose D Kyle Kos (did not make NHL). None of the next 13 position players drafted became NHL regulars.

7. Start a Run, Don't Finish a Run

Treliving said it himself afterwards. If they wanted to take the best goalie on their list, they had to do it right then at No. 34. NHL managers talk, there's plenty of intel out there on the draft floor and once you also factor in history and common sense, you know that the Flames would have had no shot at McDonald had they tried to wait until their No. 54 pick to grab him.

Sure enough, the run of goalies -- four in a span of six picks -- started right after the selection of McDonald. Had Calgary waited until their other 2nd round pick and assuming the other team picks unfolded the same way, the Flames would have been the 4th team to choose a goalie. Had they waited until their 3rd round pick at No. 64, their would have been five goalies gone by that point.

While goalies can develop late, you still would much rather have the No. 1 ranked player on your list instead of the 6th ranked player so drafting the No. 1 guy at the goalie position and doing so with a 2nd round pick makes good sense. Washington chose just five picks after the Flames and by then, the Capitals were quite possibly settling for the fourth-ranked guy on their goaltender list.

It's actually a scenario not unlike the Emile Poirier situation last year. The Flames passed on a few highly-touted players to draft Poirier at No. 22, which seemed early. At the time, many wondered why, considering how far down Poirier was ranked, Calgary didn't wait until 28th pick to grab him. Again, GMs talk, teams know what's going on and the speculation last year was Poirier would not have made it past Montreal at No. 25 as they had interviewed him in-person also and were reportedly very interested. Thus, Calgary struck when it did. It was the same with McDonald, they liked him and in order to get him, they had to take him right then.


8. Flames Badly Needed a Goalie

One problem teams will never complain about in the NHL is having too many top, NHL-ready goalies. While the future appears bright with past draft picks Jon Gillies and Joni Ortio in the pipeline, you just never know.

Gillies looked phenomenal for the first half of his second NCAA season last year but after a tough go with Team USA at the World Junior Championships, he had a rather ordinary second half. Ortio looked fine in nine appearances with the Flames last year but he's only got one full season in North America under his belt. He is not yet a sure thing either. In fact, even Ramo -- a pending UFA after this season, is a wild card still when it comes to his future with the club.

Factor in the fact that Ortio is 23 and Gillies is six months away from his 21st birthday and the Flames badly needed an 18-year-old top-rated goalie prospect to add to the depth chart and in such a situation where you have a critical positional need, why not add the guy your scouts feel was the best goaltender in the draft rather than settling for a goalie further down your list you aren't nearly as high on.


9. Goalie is the Most Critical Position

If there's one position on a team where you can justify taking a chance on a guy early it's at goaltender. If they pan out, they can be the backbone of your franchise for over a decade. Yes, the risk is higher but the reward is also significantly higher.


10. Flames Recent Draft Record is Much Improved

Perhaps I need to take some of the blame for the stigma that the Flames have always been a bad drafting team. After all, I awakened so many bad, haunting memories when I wrote my From A-to-Z: Calgary Flames Draft Primer. However, while referencing names like Rico Fata, Niklas Sundblad, Greg Nemisz and Tim Erixon is still a popular pastime, you're not paying very close attention if you haven't noticed the vast improvement in the Flames drafting the previous four years.

Since 2010, which was Sutter's last year as GM and a year in which Calgary didn't make its first pick until round three, right through Feaster's solid three years at the helm -- despite the still uncertain Mark Jankowski selection, the Flames have enjoyed some tremendous results at the draft table with many of the players tracking towards being good NHL players.

  • 2010 - Max Reinhart (3rd), Bill Arnold (4th), Michael Ferland (5th)
  • 2011 - Sven Baertschi (1st), Markus Granlund (2nd), Tyler Wotherspoon (2nd), Johnny Gaudreau (4th)
  • 2012 - Patrick Sieloff (2nd), Jon Gillies (3rd), Brett Kulak (4th)
  • 2013 - Sean Monahan (1st), Emile Poirier (1st), Morgan Klimchuk (1st)


You can't deny how much better stocked the prospect cupboards are now compared to the past couple decades when the quantity of players graduating from the AHL to the NHL and nore so, the quality of player being promoted as I wrote about here, was underwhelming.


Conclusion

Mason McDonald may never play in an NHL game. Even based on the improved success rate of late in the NHL when using a high draft pick to select a goalie, there is still a 67 percent chance that McDonald's career will turn out more like Irving's than Mike Vernon's.

But regardless, I won't change my mind that given the situation they were in, the factors I've detailed above, taking that opportunity at No. 34 to draft who the Flames thought was the best goaltender available in the draft was the smart thing to do.

As for those of you, who agree with taking a goalie when they did but do not agree with the particular goalie they selected, we'll leave that debate for another day.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Rebuilding Up the Middle

In the decade-and-a-half leading up to Mikael Backlund's rookie season in 2010-11, the Calgary Flames missed the playoffs eight times and were eliminated in the first round in six others.

It's not a coincidence that over a parallel stretch from 1993 to 2006, the Flames drafted and developed into their line-up only two bonafide NHL centres. And at that, Clarke Wilm (1995, 6th round) and Matthew Lombardi (2002, 3rd round) -- while serviceable fellas, aren't exactly of the ilk that you build a franchise around.

Thus, it is no surprise that given the opportunity Friday night to make it two potential superstar centres drafted in as many years, rookie Flames general manager Brad Treliving strolled up to the podium and without a sliver of a doubt, called out the name Sam Bennett.

"Sam's a guy we had our eye on from Day 1," Treliving told The Canadian Press. "He has a special combination of skill, speed and I've talked about this since Day 1 — the character, the intangible pieces, this guy oozes character, plays with an edge."

If you look around the league at the teams that have been successful lately, they all have highly-skilled homegrown talent up the middle that are the foundation of the team: Jonathan Toews in Chicago, Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles, Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci in Boston, and Logan Couture in San Jose.

And these aren't lucky finds you uncover late in the NHL draft either. All of the above were first round picks with the exception of the two Bruins, who were taken in the second round.

"He's a 200-foot player, plays in all three zones, he brings pace, he brings offensive ability, he brings speed and plays for keeps. This guy is a competitive player," Treliving said.

Bennett is a player with the type of potential Calgary has never had. Fortunate to get him at No. 4, he finished the year as the No. 1 ranked player according to NHL Central Scouting. Remember that the Flames have never drafted in the top five before.

Up until Friday night, Daniel Tkaczuk -- the third ranked North American skater according to Central Scouting's final rankings in 1997 (and considered fourth overall with European skater Olli Jokinen rated higher) had been the most highly-touted Flames draft pick in Calgary's previous 34 years.

With just two years in the OHL so far compared to the three years Sean Monahan had played, and as a young 1996 year-of-birth, it wouldn't surprise me at all -- despite how determined Bennett is to make the Flames next season, that he is returned to the Kingston Frontenacs for one more season. Treliving has talked at length about his philosophy of not rushing players. Besides, more grooming under the leadership of Kingston general manager Doug Gilmour wouldn't be a bad thing.

But after that, expect him to pull on a Calgary Flames uniform for good in 2015-16.

"I've heard so much about how much the [people of Calgary] love hockey and the city," Bennett told The Canadian Press. "And the great management there has me really excited. To have that come true now ... it's just unbelievable."

For Flames fans, they can salivate at the thought that in the very near future, their top three centres could be Monahan, Bennett and Backlund -- all Calgary draft picks. That hasn't happened since the early 90s when Calgary had Joe Nieuwendyk, Theoren Fleury and Robert Reichel up the middle.

Highest Ranked Flames Draft Picks All-Time
(NHL Central Scouting's Final Rankings for North American Skaters)

1. Sam Bennett (taken 4th in 2014)
3. Daniel Tkaczuk (taken 6th in 1997)
5. Sean Monahan (taken 6th in 2013)
8. Cory Stillman (taken 6th in 1992)
8. Dion Phaneuf (taken 9th in 2003)
10. Rico Fata (taken 6th in 1998)