With the National Hockey League’s season winding down, the Calgary Flames once again find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture. It’s an all-too-familiar sight for fans of the Flames in recent years.
A first-round exit, or missing the post-season entirely, has been the trend since Calgary’s exciting playoff run ended unfavorably in 2004. One reason the Flames haven’t been able to make any drastic improvements on the ice is because of their inability to draw internally from a deep prospect pool.
Recently, entry drafts have not been an area where the Flames have done very well.
Calgary is hoping that the tables will turn with their new crop of up-and-comers, and by the looks of who they selected in 2011’s draft, the Flames have done just that.
With players like Sven Baertschi and John Gaudreau prospering on their respective teams, the Flames talent pool doesn’t appear as bleak as before.
Let’s take a look at the Calgary Flames’ top seven prospects.
(I did not rank players like TJ Brodie, Roman Horak or Lance Bouma, who have spent most of their season with the Flames.)
The Flames picked Markus Granlund at the No. 45 slot in the 2011 draft. Markus is the younger brother of highly-touted Minnesota Wild prospect Mikael Granlund, and is drawing some comparisons to his elder sibling.
A very skilled stick handler and playmaker, Granlund generated some buzz last year when he copied his brother and scored this lacrosse-style goal while playing for HIFK Helsinki in Finland’s SM-liiga. He isn’t a player who lacks confidence by any means, but what he does need to work on is his defensive play.
Granlund shows great potential, and Calgary is hoping he’ll develop into an NHL-caliber playmaker, much like what he showed during the most recent World Junior Championship.
Paul Byron is someone who should sound familiar to Flames fans, as he has suited up for the Flames 22 times this year, and they may soon be hearing it a lot more.
Byron was part of the package Calgary received in the deal that sent Robyn Regehr to Buffalo, so to say that the Flames would like big things from Byron would be an understatement.
Byron is a smaller player (at only 5’7” and 153 lbs), but he is a playmaker who could provide valuable depth down the road. In his time up with the big club, Byron tallied a modest three goals and two assists—but let’s not get ahead of ourselves and write him off.
Byron is a young player who has to make some big improvements in his game, but he could be viable NHLer, if the right amount of work is put in.
What John Gaudreau lacks in size, he makes up in playing ability.
At only 5’6” and 145 lbs, Gaudreau is not the type of player who typically fits in to the Calgary Flames' system, but the 18-year-old is out to show his small frame should be overlooked. The current Boston College freshman has been turning a lot of heads with his play this year, and the Flames couldn’t be happier.
Gaudreau has already won the Beanpot MVP award (only the fifth freshman ever to do so), and the Bill Flynn Trophy as Hockey East’s Most Valuable Player in his first year with the BC Eagles. The 2011 fourth-rounder played a big part in why Boston College entered the NCAA Frozen Four as the top seed, and it will serve him well to play at least a couple years with BC.
The name “Reinhart” may once again be on the back of a Calgary Flames jersey very soon. Max Reinhart is the son of former Flame Paul Reinhart, and Max was drafted by the franchise 64th overall in 2010.
Reinhart is a responsible two-way center who is a leader on and off the ice. As the captain of the Western Hockey League’s Kootney Ice, Reinhart showed his ability to play a complete game tallying 28 goals and 50 assists while maintaining a solid plus-19 rating in 2012.
The Flames hope another strong playoff performance by Reinhart will motivate him as he looks to start his professional playing career.
Michael Ferland is perhaps the biggest surprise you’ll see on the list. He’s a fifth-round pick who has elevated his game tenfold in the past year.
At 6’2” and 210 lbs, Ferland is one heck of a power forward. He likes to fight, hit, and has fantastic offensive ability.
Ferland finished the 2011-12 Western Hockey League season with 47 goals and 96 points in 68 games, not to mention 11 game-winning goals and a plus-17 rating. He plays a physical, all-round game that would fit into the Flames’ system very well.
Miikka Kiprusoff can’t continue to play 70+ games a year, and Calgary’s coaching staff has done its best to get that number down. Unfortunately, the Flames’ backup goalie situation has not helped bring Kiprusoff’s playing time down.
The Flames are hoping Leland Irving could be the backup the team has been searching for. Irving has put up solid numbers in the AHL, and although he has only one win in seven NHL starts this season, he has played well when called upon.
Irving will be the Flames’ backup net minder next season, and he may just be the second-string relief Kiprusoff needs.
Baertschi is an easy pick as the Flames’ top prospect.
The Flames and their fans got a short-lived look at what the Swiss superstar has to offer in the NHL when the team called him up for five games in early March. The 13th overall pick of 2011 made the most of his stint with the big club, notching 3 goals and a plus-2 rating—a strong showing for a 19-year-old.
Baertschi is a highly skilled forward who has all the right tools to be a standout in the NHL, and he has Flames fans and management very excited for what his future may hold.