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2008-09 Top 12 Prospects: Calgary Flames

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Shane Malloy, Prospect Insider
4/21/2009 2:28:15 PM
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The draft philosophy for the Calgary Flames has changed somewhat since Darryl Sutter took over as general manager. To be a prospect with the Flames, you have to play two-way hockey, display leadership abilities have the work ethic to overcome adversity. Only time will tell if the new approach to drafting will pay off long-term and allow the Flames to contend every year.

Overall, the system has a collection of good prospects - although Mikael Backlund and Leland Irving are the only potential elite players. The Flames need to continue to draft skill and replace their departing veterans down the line. Now that Adam Pardy, Erik Nystrom, Dustin Boyd, David Van Der Gulik and Brandon Prust have graduated off the prospect list, the next group must make an impact in the NHL.

The Flames do have a nice collection of forwards, but could use another prospect with game-breaking offensive potential. The most promising is the first-round duo of Kris Chucko and Mikael Backlund, who look like they're ready to make the next step. Also in the mix are the talented Greg Nemisz, Mitch Wahl, John Armstrong, Aaron Marvin, Lance Bouma and Juuso Puustinen - who could be a late-round steal if can translate his offence to the NHL.

On defence, the Flames have some good talent with promise - but how many make the jump to the NHL remains to be seen. The blueline group is lead by Matt Pelech, along with Keith Aulie, John Negrin and Gord Baldwin. Pelech looks to make the NHL roster in the next year, while the other three will need a few years to develop. Both Pelech and Negrin got in some NHL games due to injuries on the back end and did not look too far away from full-time work.

Between the pipes is where the Flames don't have to worry, with Matt Keetley developing better than expected and Leland Irving is the long-term replacement for Miikka Kiprusoff.

In the June draft, they could use a scoring winger and a defenceman with offensive skill.

1. Leland Irving – Goalie, 21 (1st round, 26th overall 2006)
Currently with Quad City (AHL)

In four seasons in the WHL, he posted excellent statistics and gave his team a chance to win every night. He had a 107-63-11 record along with a 2.04 goals-against average, 21 shutouts and an impressive .925 save percentage. His numbers in the AHL were very good as a rookie, posting 24 wins and a solid .912 save percentage in 47 appearances. Irving is not the biggest netminder, but he plays square to the shooter and maintains his position in a compact frame while being aggressive. He shows quick reflexes and has excellent lateral movement and agility when moving post to post. Irving will need to add strength to his frame to combat the grind of longer seasons in the pros. He can make mental errors and has problems tracking pucks when he gets worn down. He is a good puck-handler and is helpful to his defencemen by saving them time and contact from the forwards. He might need to be a little quicker moving the puck now that he is in the AHL. He has the personality you want in a netminder that remains cool and poise under duress and communicates well with his defence. He has the potential to become a No. 1 goalie in the NHL and just needs some time to develop his game in the AHL.

2. Mikael Backlund – Centre, 20 (1st round, 24th overall 2007)
Currently with Kelowna (WHL)

Backlund showcased his skills well against his peers in junior and on the world stage. After the WJC, he made the move to the WHL to help prepare himself for the NHL. After 37 games in the WHL, Backlund looked like a man among boys and should get a shot at an NHL roster spot next season. The smart, two-way centre has the ability to be effective at both ends of the ice and has the potential to be a skilled pro player. His offensive numbers in Sweden did not reflect his skill set, as he has the hockey sense and puck skills to play at the NHL level. He makes good decisions with the puck, uses his linemates well and shows he can handle the pressure and duress of a high tempo game. He is a good skater overall and does not show any ill effects from previous injuries, but he could use a little extra zip. To his credit, he will battle and does not get pushed around - though he does not play a physical style. He is not an imposing player in terms of size, but he is willing to go into traffic. He's responsible defensively, keeps his head on a swivel and maintains body position most of the time. Like all young prospects, he will battle inconsistencies but has the intangibles to play a prominent role in the NHL.

3. Greg Nemisz – Centre/Right Wing, 18 (1st round, 25th overall 2008)
Currently with Windsor (OHL)

He's a powerfully built forward who could potentially be a solid two-way player on the second line. He has good overall puck skills and makes quick, crisp passes and shows vision - but not at an elite level. He can stickhandle quite well in traffic and has poise when a player is draped all over him. His skating is above average and with a little more quickness, he could be a load to contain. He does however, have great balance and strength to go along with agility in close quarters. What sets him apart from other big forwards is his ability to score goals in the slot since he has a quick release and accuracy. Defensively, his game has improved because of his commitment and work ethic. Overall, he is an intriguing package if a team is willing to be patient and work with him. He might be better suited on the wing in the pro ranks to better utilize his skill set and decrease his overall responsibilities.

4. Kris Chucko – Left Wing, 23 (1st round, 24th overall, 2004)
Currently with Quad City (AHL)

The third-year pro has taken the final step needed in the AHL to make the jump to the NHL next season. He posted 51 points in 74 games and almost doubled his goal totals from last season with 28. He was disappointed in terms of offensive production with 58 points in 160 games in his first two seasons. He shows pretty decent puck skills, hockey sense and passing ability but Chucko may be limited in his offensive production at the NHL level. He has the grit, leadership, and character to take his game to another level. He's worked on changing his physical conditioning, which in turn helped his two-step quickness. His defensive play has been good over the past three years, considering the majority of his teammates have been minuses. He uses his stick well to plug passing lanes and maintains good body position. He could one day become a solid two-way third line winger who puts up 40-45 points in the NHL.

5. Mitch Wahl – Centre, 19 (2nd round, 48th overall 2008)
Currently with Spokane (WHL)

The California kid has made very good strides in his overall game. He shows the hockey sense and vision to create opportunities for himself and his linemates. Wahl's passing ability is excellent at times and he can thread the needle in traffic or at high speed. He shows the agility and lateral movement to deke defenders, which opens up space and time. His two-step quickness and footspeed are very good and Wahl will improve once he gains additional power and core strength. The biggest change is Wahl's willingness to go through traffic and pay a greater price to score goals. This has been evident as he has scored nine game-winning goals, six first goals and five insurance goals this season. The experience from last year's Memorial Cup and WJC will go a long way in his development. Expect him to play one more season in the WHL and then see some duty in the AHL before earning a shot at the NHL. He has the talent to play in the NHL and if Wahl continues to pay the price, he could be a fine second line centre.

6. Matt Pelech – Defense, 21 (1st round, 26th overall, 2005)
Quad City/Calgary (AHL/NHL)

The rugged defensive defenceman will look right at home on the Flames' blue line one day. He is a tough hombre who likes to battle forwards, fight and intimidate the opposition. He has the skating ability is solid for his size and he rarely gets beat by speedy forwards. He makes decent decisions with the puck, shows poise when he keeps his game simple and knows his role. He has a hard slap shot from the point, but he does not use it very often. He battles hard, does not like to give an inch and is beginning to be more consistent on knowing when and where to make the big hits. He needs to judge his angles and gap control a little better before going for a hit. He shows lots of leadership - and Pelech could progress into a top-four defenceman in a couple of years.

7. Keith Aulie – Defense, 19 (4th round, 116th 2007)
Currently with Brandon (WHL)

Look up! Way up! You will find the towering 6-6, 222-pound defenceman patrolling the blueline and scaring the likes of everyone. He goes about his business with little flash and dash and just takes care of his own end. Now Aulie showed some offensive hockey sense and puck skills in junior, but he is not expected to translate that to the pro ranks. He skates well, especially for someone his size. His wing span allows him to take space away from the opposition and forces them to bad angles. Aulie works hard, hustles on every play and shows a nasty edge although he does not take that many penalties. The experience he garnered at the WJC for Team Canada will help his development and give him a taste of what it takes to win. Once his refines his defensive game a little at the AHL level, he should develop into a solid NHL defenceman that can shut down forwards.

8. Matt Keetley – Goalie, 22 (5th round 158th overall 2005)
Currently with Quad City (AHL)

Keetley has surprised some with his development, even with a great junior career. In his three years in Medicine Hat, he amassed a 105-30-9 record with an impressive 2.05 GAA and .918 save percentage. His postseason numbers were just as good, with a 42-13 record and 2.14 GAA and .915 save percentage. He shows the athletic ability and hand-eye coordination needed and uses his frame well to cover the net and reduce easy goals. He has improved his technique and mechanics to become more efficient in the crease. His mental focus has improved but it remains to be seen if he can carry that over consistently to the AHL. His 10-8-3 record, 2.33 GAA and .912 save percentage in the AHL as a rookie were solid last season. This year, he played 33 games in the AHL and was not as productive as we would like, but you have to like his determination and work ethic.

9. John Negrin – Defence, 20 (3rd round 70th overall 2007)
Currently with Swift Current/Calgary (WHL/NHL)

A promising defenceman who dropped in the NHL draft because of injuries, Negrin has finally shown the skills he has been teasing everyone with. The blueliner has the frame, but has not grown into his body yet and needs another year in junior. He has some good puck skills, but is not considered a top-end passer. He has good, but not elite-level hockey sense or vision coming out of his zone. He is good overall skater, has little trouble with speed rushers and displays the lateral movement, ability and quickness to maintain good gap control. He's not a physical player, but gets involved in the play well. He has a decent shot, but it does not have much accuracy and he's not expected to contribute much offensively in terms of goals. He could develop into a two-way defenceman that has good mobility and moves the puck out of the zone by keeping his game simple.

10. Gord Baldwin – Defense, 22 (3rd round, 69th overall, 2005)
Currently with Quad City (AHL)
He's a big-bodied defenceman who is just beginning to learn his trade. He likes to mix it up physically and does not shy away from anything. It remains to be seen if he can show some offensive ability but he'll most likely be a defensive defenceman. He has had some difficulties adjusting to the tempo and speed of the pro game and has spent time in the ECHL and AHL. Baldwin could be a call up No. 7 defenseman in the future.

11. Juuso Puustinen – Right Wing, 21 (5th round 149th overall 2006)
Currently with Blues (FIN)

This hard-working, skilled Finn has taken the WHL by storm the past two seasons and has been vastly underappreciated. He has shown good offensive capabilities and has adjusted quickly to the North American game. With 124 points in 124 games over those seasons in the WHL, it was hard not to notice him. He does not show elite level puck skills or hockey sense, but he reads the ice well. He showed he can make some good passes and shows enough puck skills to be decent offensively at the AHL level. He's good skater with decent quickness and agility, but he could use a little extra on his top-end speed, which should come with more power in his stride. He has shown a knack for scoring goals with 59 in 124 games and knows to get shots on the net for rebounds. He's a gritty player who will battle along the walls and take hits to make a play. He shows the hustle and defensive awareness to be an effective two-way player and understands the value of strong defensive play. He is currently back in Finland and it remains to be seen if he can translate his junior success to the AHL if he comes back to North America.

12. John Armstrong – Centre, 21 (3rd round, 87th overall, 2006)
Currently with Quad City (AHL)

The 6-2, 205- pound pivot does not possess the hockey sense or puck skills, but has some other intangibles. His skating ability is solid, but there is time for improvement and he has very good balance on his skates. When given a role, he works hard and is showing the ability to be a checking centre as his is improving defensively. He engages forwards physically and is very good on faceoffs. He is a project, but with patience he might develop into a serviceable call-up.

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Calgary Flames - NHL Entry Draft Record (1997 - 2003)

When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.

The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.

Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.

 

  Forwards - Defenceman Goaltenders
1997-2001 125-200 NHL Games required 51-100 NHL Games Played
2002-2003 100 NHL Games required 25-50 NHL Games Played
Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria

Calgary Flames 1997-2003

Year Draft Picks NHL Players Produced (Round/Pick)
1997 12 (0)
1998 9 (3) (RW) Rico Fata (1/6), (C) Blair Betts (2/36), (G) Dany Sabourin (4/108)
1999 10 (2) (LW) Oleg Saprykin (1/11), (G) Craig Anderson (3/77)
2000 9 (2) (D) Kurtis Foster (2/40), (LW) Travis Moen (5/155)
2001 11 (2) (RW) Chuck Kobasew (1/14), (RW) David Moss (7/220)
2002 12 (3) (LW) Eric Nystrom (1/10), (C) Matthew Lombardi (3/90), (G) Curtis McElhinney (6/176)
2003 10 (1) (D) Dion Phaneuf (1/9)

Total: 7 yrs – 73 draft picks – 13 NHL Players = 17.8% success rate

Success in the first three rounds (1997-2003)

1st rnd Draft Choices: 7 total picks
Daniel Tkaczuk 1997 (1/6), Brent Krahn 2000 (1/9)
7 yrs – 7 draft picks – 5 NHL Players = 71.4% success rate

2nd rnd Draft Choices: 11 total picks
Evan Lindsey, John Tripp, Dmitri Kokorev, Dan Cavanaugh, Andrei Taratukhin, Andrei Medvedev, Brian McConnell, Tim Ramholt, Jared Stoll
7 yrs – 11 draft picks – 2 NHL Players = 18.1% success rate

3rd rnd Choices: 6 total picks
Derek Schultz, Erik Andersson, Paul Manning, Ryan Donally
7yrs –6 draft picks – 2 NHL Players = 33.3% success rate

Total: 7 yrs – 24 draft picks – 9 NHL Players = 37.5% success rate in first 3 rounds

First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: (8) North American, (1) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (10) North American, (4) European

Success in the last six round (1997-2003)

4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 48 total picks
7 yrs – 48 draft picks – 4 NHL Players = 8.3% success rate

Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.

Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.

This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.

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Mikael Backlund (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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