We saw a lot of young talent come up and play on the roster for the Flames this season. There were quite a few that were impressing and will probably get a full time spot up in the NHL next season. Players with the likes of; Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland, and Markus Granlund. There are a few players we could see soon, possibly Hunter Smith, Emile Poirer, and Morgan Klimchuk. For goaltending we will definitely be seeing Joni Ortio, possibly Jon Gillies. It will be interesting to see what the older veterans will do, or what the Flames organization will do with them. With all of these young, talented prospects, there may not be any room for those like Mason Raymond, Brandon Bollig, and David Jones.
DRAFTED: CGY / 2014 NHL ENTRY DRAFT
ROUND: 1ST (4TH OVERALL)
It’s been quite the year for Sam Bennett.
After his Kingston Frontenacs were swept in the opening round of the 2015 OHL playoffs, the fourth overall pick at the 2014 NHL Draft continued his postseason run in NHL with the Calgary Flames.
Netting three goals in the Flames’ journey to the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the product of Holland Landing, ON, a village of roughly 8,600 that is about a 30 minute drive from Toronto, thinks he proved he’s beyond spending the 2015-2016 hockey season back in the major-junior ranks.
“Being around the guys and finally getting that chance to play just shows that I can play in the NHL,” Bennett said. “I got to accomplish my dream ever since I was little. It was an amazing experience for me, for sure.”
With a shoulder injury limiting him to just 11 regular season games with the Frontenacs this year, Bennett’s baptism by fire in the NHL playoffs gave the rookie his first real taste of playing against men.
He grabbed the opportunity to prove his worth by the horns, tallying a pair of goals and an assist in the Flames 4-2 Round 1 series victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
In Game 3 at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Bennett took some punishment in front of Canucks netminder Eddie Lack’s crease, where he banged in the game-winner to lift the Flames to a 4-2 triumph.
From there, the Flames were left with few options when it came to their torrid prospect.
With their AHL-affiliate in Adirondack out of their playoffs and nowhere else to send the 6-foot-1, 178-pound centre, the Flames burnt the first year of the 18-year-old’s NHL entry-level contract when they inserted him into Game 3 of Round 2 against the Anaheim Ducks.
As the Flames made their first Western Conference semi-final appearance since 2004, Bennett continued to contribute as a winger on a line with centre Mikael Backlund and Joe Colborne, scoring his third career NHL playoff goal in Game 1.
According to Flames coach Bob Hartley, giving the franchise’s young guns a chance to shine is all part of the plan.
“If there is an organization that’s shown faith in younger players, it’s us,” he said of the Flames promising core of budding rookie forwards in Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau, Josh Jorris and Micheal Ferland.
Like the Flames, Bennett’s development continues.
As the Flames cleaned out their lockers at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday following their series defeat to the Ducks, Bennett said he’ll return to Ontario, where he’ll spend the off-season in Toronto working with renowned personal trainer Andy O’Brien, who’s previous clients include Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby and women’s hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser.
“There are things that we all need to improve on,” he said. “Obviously I need to get a little bit stronger and a little bit bigger. I’m excited this is just the first step and I can come into training camp next year with even more confidence and know that I can play in the NHL.”
“I am comfortable in any position but I think I felt more natural back when I got to play centre again,” he added. “It felt good and I enjoyed playing centre for sure.”
Should he become a full-time Flame next season, Bennett would wrap up his junior career with 65 goals and 90 assists in 128 OHL games, all with Kingston.
Entering his 19-year-old season, Bennett is eligible to either play for the Flames or the Frontenacs. Under CHL guidelines, playing in the AHL is not an option.
Wrapping up his first taste of NHL action with a successful playoff stint, Bennett knows he’s set the bar high for himself as he’s all but locked up a spot on the Flames’ 2015-2016 roster.
“They’re going to be a lot higher than what they were coming into training camp last year,” Bennett said of the organization’s expectations for the budding forward. “I think for everyone expectations are going to be higher after what we were able to accomplish this year. We want to accomplish more so that will be the goal coming into training camp.”
DRAFTED: CGY / 2010 NHL ENTRY DRAFT
ROUND: 5TH (133RD OVERALL)
Thunderous checks, and plenty of them, have forward Micheal Ferland gaining plenty of attention.
But there’s something more important that he’d like to be known for: sobriety.
Ferland, who turned 23 on Monday, has been sober for nearly 13 months.
It’s not hard to imagine a different, darker path for Ferland.
A year ago, he was rehabilitating a knee injury sustained around Christmas in practice with the Abbotsford Heat in the American Hockey League, then Calgary’s minor-league affiliate. He found himself on the surgeon’s table, and, eventually, the office of Flames coach Bob Hartley.
The latter trip helped put Ferland on a better path.
“Once in a while you are going to see a red flag,” Hartley said. “The more I was around this kid, I could feel that there might have been a problem. I could see good days and bad days for him.
“At a point, I kind of challenged him. I had my information on him, so I knew a little bit where I was going. I was just ready to help if he was ready to make a commitment to his life. My message to him was very simple: As a coach, we all care about careers, but I’ll take it further with you; I care about your life. I don’t believe you can have a career if you don’t have a life.”
Ferland, a native of Swan River, Manitoba, has since seen his life and career blossom, and he’s filling an important role for the Flames in their first playoff appearance since 2009.
With a total of 29 NHL games under his belt, Ferland has provided much more than the single assist that shows on his stat line through three games against Vancouver. A series-leading 18 hits paint a better picture of Ferland’s impact.Called “Ferklund … or whatever his name is,” by Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa following a supercharged conclusion to Game 2 between the two Pacific Division rivals, Ferland is acquitting himself well, if not endearing himself to his opponent.
“I think he’s been impactful for us, for our team, and our energy,” said Flames forward Matt Stajan, who anchors a line between Ferland and David Jones. “Whatever (the Canucks) want to say about it, he’s been a big part of our success so far in the three games we played.
“He’s just a great kid, and I think he’s been through a lot in his life already. He’s had to battle a bad knee injury and rehab from that last year. He’s overcome a lot in his personal life. He’s here now and he’s taking advantage of his opportunity. He’s playing great and he’s been key in creating the energy that we’ve been able to create in the first three games, especially last night with the crowd.
“He deserves everything he’s getting right now and he wants more.”
Ferland is relishing the opportunity, which came as a result of an upper-body injury to fellow bruising forward Lance Bouma.
“I think I’m starting to frustrate them, for sure,” Ferland said. “I don’t want to take it too far and cross the line, but at the same time I want to play hard and finish all my hits. Every time I step on the ice, I’ve got way more confidence. I’m having fun right now, and the atmosphere in the rink is unbelievable.
“I’m just trying to take everything day by day and just enjoy it.”
That motto, day by day, is not unfamiliar to those in recovery.
Ferland, who was in rehab for a month, regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
And though it’s been a little more than a calendar year (March 27 is the anniversary), Ferland’s journey hasn’t been a quick one.
But the strides he’s made have been.
“I had him in my video room and I told him, a year ago he was in rehab or coming out of rehab and here he is playing a dominant role in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs,” Hartley said. “It’s an amazing story, very positive.”
It’s a perspective Ferland is starting to comprehend.
“I never really understood it, but now my life’s starting to unfold in front of me now. I’m just enjoying it,” he said. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made and I’m just having a lot of fun right now.”
DRAFTED: CGY / 2011 NHL ENTRY DRAFT
ROUND: 2ND (45TH OVERALL)
Markus Granlund is a rarity among young NHLers.
Despite his inexperience in the league, the Calgary Flames rookie centre has a strong defensive side to his game.
In fact, it’s to the point the club wants the 21-year-old to start pushing for more at the other end of the rink.
“He’s super smart, both with or without the puck,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley said. “It’s just up to him to take the next step.”
Granlund has collected five goals and 13 points in 39 NHL games this season — on top of nine goals and 17 points in 21 AHL clashes — proof he’s capable of chipping in offence.
But he may need a push to shoot for more, much the same kind of shove Hartley gave to Granlund’s teammate Mikael Backlund early last season.
“That’s a good comparison,” Hartley said. “Backs and Granny, they’re kind of in the same mould.”
Backlund had similar NHL and AHL numbers as Granlund did in his first two pro seasons, and the Swedish talent hit a turning point early in the 2013-14 season when he was scratched for one game and Hartley told the 2007 first-round draft choice to think more about his offensive game.
The result has been a player more effective at both ends of the rink, as Backland is being used by the Flames to face opposing top lines while still providing production.
Granlund seemingly is on the same track.
“When you’re a young guy, you focus on defence,” said Granlund, who netted 25 goals in 52 AHL games in his first pro season as a 20-year-old while still learning English. “I think I can do better offensively, but I just have to keep going.”
Certainly this year has been a battle of perseverance for Granlund.
He suffered a concussion during the pre-season, started the year in the minors and had a long stint in Calgary from Halloween to mid-January, but he’s has been on a yo-yo between the NHL and the AHL since, having had a couple of stints with the minor-league affiliate Adirondack Flames.
He has the makings of a third-line centre, capable of being in a checking role but also scoring. In Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, he was on a line with Mason Raymond and Joe Colborne, a trio which could have a big impact on the team’s fortunes with some timely goals.
Granlund believes he’s building towards those expectations.
“When you feel you’re part of the team, you have more confidence,” said the native of Oulu, Finland. “You play more — that’s the big thing.”
Right now, Granlund is looking to be playing more during an important time of the season, with the Flames right in the thick of a playoff battle and just 10 games left on the schedule.
“I love it,” Granlund said of the pressure-packed time. “That’s why I want to play hockey — those situations that you have to win every game and everything matters. It’s a good thing.
“You can’t win every time, so that’s part of hockey. If you lose one game, then win the next one, it feels even better.”
DRAFTED: CGY / 2013 NHL ENTRY DRAFT
ROUND: 1ST (28TH OVERALL)
Morgan Klimchuk might have set a record for the quickest shower.
Just minutes after celebrating his Brandon Wheat Kings’ overtime win over the Calgary Hitmen on Saturday night, Klimchuk was in a hurry to find a TV.
He wanted to watch the end of the Calgary Flames’ series-clinching win over the Vancouver Canucks.
“Oh, I’ve been following all the games,” Klimchuk said.
“It’s an unbelievable team and it’s an unbelievable run that they’re on.
“I just hope it keeps rolling.”
Klimchuk, of course, isn’t just rooting for his hometown team.
He’s cheering for what he hopes is his future employer.
Selected by the Flames with one of their trio of 2013 first-round draft picks, Klimchuk hopes he can join the big club’s black aces once his WHL season ends, although that could be awhile.
“Their season could obviously go longer than ours no matter when we finish, so I’d love to get back and catch some of those games or maybe just be around the guys a bit,” Klimchuk said.
“But I have a lot of respect for what those guys have done. They work hard and they deserve everything they’ve got.”
The 6-foot, 185-pounder had more time to watch the Flames than he would have liked after he suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 3 of the Wheaties opening-round against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
He sat out a half-dozen games and returned to help eliminate the Regina Pats — his former team — in the second round.
“It’s playoffs, so you have to play hard and play fast,” Klimchuk said. “I just got a little banged-up there. Unfortunately, I had to miss a few games but I’m back now and feeling real good.
“It was terrible watching, especially playing Regina, my old team. Finishing the series off in Edmonton, you have to give the guys a lot of credit. A lot of guys stepped up and played real well.
“Now that I’m back, I’m just looking to contribute and keep this run rolling.”
The 20-year-old picked up his first goal of the post-season in a 9-4 blowout win over the Hitmen in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.
It won’t make the highlight reel, as he chipped a loose puck over the line, but he’ll take it.
“You have to take whatever you can get at this time of the year,” he said.
“They’re not going to be pretty and you’re going to have to pay a price to get them.
“But I’ve got no problem doing that.”
DRAFTED: CGY / 2013 NHL ENTRY DRAFT
ROUND: 1ST (22ND OVERALL)
As far as forward Emile Poirier was concerned, the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center in New Jersey was just a day where he may or may not have had a chance to become a draft pick of a NHL team.
Though he’d had a successful major junior career, and NHL Central Scouting had him consistently rising in their top-40 projections that year, Poirier simply didn’t expect it.
“I was just thinking I was going there with all my family and my friends and it was just going to be a good weekend to enjoy,” he said. “And then I end up going that high and so I was really happy; it ended up a good weekend.”
The Montreal native was the second of three first-round picks of the Calgary Flames in 2013, selected at No. 22 with a pick that had been previously acquired from the St. Louis Blues in the trade for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
Poirier returned to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for his final season in 2013-14, leading the Gatineau Olympiques with 43 goals, 44 assists and 87 points in 63 games. He made his professional debut in the American Hockey League at the end of last season, with two goals and two assists in two regular-season games and one goal in three games in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Now a rookie with the Adirondack Flames, Poirier’s production continues to impress those around him.
“We’re starting to see Emile’s habits change. He’s starting to learn how to play the pro game,” Adirondack coach Ryan Huska said. “He’s not turning as many pucks over, [and] he’s doing a better job of managing the puck. I think because of that, he’s becoming a guy that’s harder to play against and he’s gaining confidence at this level.”
Huska cites Poirier’s past 10-12 games as a chunk of time that has caught his eye and the eyes of his coaching staff. The 20-year-old’s offensive abilities have never been in doubt, but his play away from the puck and his on-ice responsibility are areas that, when worked hard at, complete a player’s game.
After going five games without a point, Poirier has five goals and four assists in his past 11 games, including three game-winning goals and three multipoint games in that span. His 21 points are good for eighth in AHL rookie scoring and lead Adirondack.
“I like to generate offensively, and I like to be a factor on the ice,” Poirier said. “On the forecheck, create some chances. … Even if it’s a small detail, like finishing a check, that’s pretty much what I do.”
Parallel to his on-ice transition, Poirier’s off-ice development is coming along nicely too. Living with fellow rookie Ryan Culkin, they are two of nine first-year players on the Adirondack roster, which gives them a solid support system as they navigate the ups and downs of professional life.
“They often talk about the meals that they cook for each other, and they’re learning,” Huska said. “The great part about the American Hockey League is that they get an Opportunity to learn and make a few mistakes while they’re young and hopefully be better for it down the road.”
When rosters for the 2015 AHL All-Star Classic were announced earlier this week, Poirier and goaltender Joni Ortio were named the Adirondack Flames representatives. Again, Poirier’s humble outlook on the skillset so many others love to point out played a factor in his reaction to the honor.
“My coach told me after practice. I was pretty happy about it,” he said. “For sure, I was kind of surprised. I wasn’t planning on having a chance to play out there.”
Huska, who is working day in and day out with Poirier on molding his game and becoming that hard-working player the Calgary organization embodies, immediately offers reasons why Poirier’s inclusion makes sense.
“He’s one of those guys that tends to find the areas where the pucks are going to be, and he puts himself in a good position to shoot. He’s got a great shot when he does let it go,” Huska said. “He’s a deceiving skater. I would bet most defensemen in our conference know who he is and when he’s on the ice because they have to be on their toes when he’s out there because he skates very, very well.”
The AHL All-Star Classic takes place Jan. 25-26 in Utica, N.Y., and like the draft two years ago it’ll be another experience for Poirier to enjoy. But after that, it’s back to business for the young wing if he hopes to add his name to the list of hundreds of AHL all-stars who have gone on to the NHL.
“I need to play my game consistently every night. I need to bring that to the table every game,” he said. “Never take a shift or a day off. That’s the biggest thing that’s going to help me going up.”
DRAFTED: CGY / 2014 NHL ENTRY DRAFT
ROUND: 2ND (54TH OVERALL)
With one goal in hand, Calgary Flames prospect Hunter Smith has another in his sight.
Less than one week removed from capturing the Memorial Cup with his Oshawa Generals, the 6-foot-7 Smith has eyes on trying to carve out a professional career next season.
“It’s kind of an interesting scenario,” said Smith, 19, who was selected 54th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, his second go-round.
“I think I’m ready to make the jump to the pros. The NHL, probably not yet, but definitely the AHL next year. That’s the goal I’ve set. Calgary is going to do whatever is best for my development. In the end, they make the final call. If I end up getting sent back to junior it’s just another year of confidence and I’m going to play a ton down here. That’s another option, too.”
Smith, who turns 20 in September, was selected in his second go-round in the NHL draft and is eligible to play in the AHL in 2015-16.
He’s already spent parts of four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, compiling 40 goals and 91 points in 166 games split between the Generals and Windsor Spitfires. Twenty-three of his goals and 49 of those points, alongside 122 minutes in penalties, came in 2014-15 with Oshawa.
The late-bloomer believes that if he can convince his skating is up to par, he’ll force Calgary’s hand into turning him pro.
“As long as I can prove my speed, if I can prove I can skate at that level, there isn’t going to be any choice,” said Smith, who has yet to sign an entry-level deal. “At 6-foot-7, you can’t be playing against kids anymore. Obviously playing against kids five years younger than you isn’t going to be best for my development. If I can get that pro style game quicker it’ll benefit me.”
Plus, Smith suggested, a Memorial Cup championship is a great ending point to his junior career.
“If you told me a couple years ago I probably wouldn’t have believed it but now it’s a reality,” said Smith, who had nine goals and 18 points in 21 games in Oshawa’s run to an OHL title to clinch a berth in the Memorial Cup. “It just goes to show that hard work can really pay off.
“It’s tough because after you win out of your league, you’re playing against other champions, against other people who know how to win, and you get into that tournament style and if you’re not ready to go right away you can find yourself in a hole early. It’s definitely one of the harder trophies to win. That’s what makes it a bit sweeter.”
DRAFTED: CGY / 2009 NHL ENTRY DRAFT
ROUND: 6TH (171ST OVERALL)
Make no bones about it, Joni Ortio wants to be in Calgary full-time next season.
He got a small taste of the NHL over the past couple of years, playing in nine games in 2013-14 and six games in the 2014-15 campaign.
The Finn handled himself well at the NHL level, particularly this past year when he went 4-2-0, pitched a shutout in Vancouver, and cobbled together a 2.52 GAA and a .908 save percentage. That experience, coupled with his development in the AHL, has him feeling confident that he can land a roster spot with the Flames next season.
But he doesn’t just want to be in Calgary, acting as a back-up.
He wants to steal the starting gig next fall.
“No one wants to back-up. Everyone wants to play,” he said during his exit interview on Tuesday. “That’s what I’ll be looking to do next September in camp and trying to steal that number one job.”
In addition to his work in the NHL this past year, Ortio provided the Adirondack Flames with solid goaltending until his season was felled by a high ankle sprain.
In 37 appearances, the 24-year-old put together a 21-13-1 record with a 2.69 GAA and a .912 save percentage and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player at the year-end awards.
“When you take someone out of the lineup and things change, I think it’s a pretty good indicator of how important he was,” Adirondack head coach Ryan Huska said of Ortio. “When Joni was here we were having a fair amount of success. When we lost Joni to his injury, even before that when he was called up for two and a half weeks, we didn’t have much success.”
While he is confident in his skill set, Ortio knows the path to the NHL won’t be easy. The Flames mantra of “Earned, never given” is one which the organization takes very seriously. If a player isn’t on the top of their game in training camp, they won’t be on the opening night roster.
“You can’t take anything for granted. There is no guarantees,” he stated. “It’s going to be the two best guys in training camp that are going to get the spots. That’s what our standards are over here. No one is guaranteed a spot. I’ve got to work hard. I’ve got to have a really good summer. Obviously try to improve and get better, stronger physically, and just be ready come September.
“The opportunity is going to be there. It’s just up to me to grab it. No one is going to give it to me. I need to go take it myself.”
Ortio, who was the Flames’ sixth round pick in 2009, is heading into the 2015-16 season with a one-way deal, an element that makes this summer even more important for the young goaltender.
“It’s huge. You’ve got something to work for. It’s not just another season. It could – and hopefully is – my first full year in the NHL. I don’t think there’s any bigger motivation than that.”
DRAFTED: CGY / 2012 NHL ENTRY DRAFT
ROUND: 3RD (75TH OVERALL)
An NCAA title won in Boston on Saturday.
An NHL contract agreed to on Tuesday.
Partaking in a practice with the Calgary Flames on Wednesday — shortly after putting pen to paper on that big-league deal — and having a first-hand view as the team faces the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs has continued a bit of a whirlwind for goaltender Jon Gillies.
But talk about one heck of a run.
“It feels pretty surreal, with all the things that have happened in my career the past couple days. It’s been a pretty cool experience and a pretty fun ride,” said Gillies, who opted to forego his senior year with the NCAA’s Providence College Friars to ink the NHL pact. “It’s happened pretty quickly — everything the last couple days — but that’s how the hockey world works.”
Gillies, 21, backstopped the Friars to the NCAA crown in spectacular fashion over the weekend, with a 49-save performance in a 4-3 upset victory over the Boston University Terriers.
The Flames’ 2012 third-round pick signed a three-year, entry-level contract.
Although they don’t plan to use Gillies in the playoffs, it is possible. As of now, he’s the No. 3 goalie on the depth chart behind starter Jonas Hiller and backup Karri Ramo.
Joni Ortio was with the team on an emergency basis while Ramo was out due to injury, which meant he had to be returned to the AHL Adirondack Flames once Ramo returned. Ortio is pegged to rejoin the big club once the minor-league team’s season concludes this coming weekend.
If there were injuries to both Hiller and Ramo during the first two games of the Western Conference best-of-seven quarterfinal series, Gillies would be getting the tap to guard the Flames net.
“Yeah, but I know Jonas and Karri are going to be great in there, and I know they’re going to be ready to go,” Gillies said. “If, by some chance, my number is called upon, I’ll be ready to do the best I can. But right now, it’s about supporting the best I can and taking in everything I can.”
Having Gillies join the team isn’t meant to rush him into a pro game. It’s more about giving him the education in the top league at the most critical time of the year.
“Trust me, we are not all on one knee. The Messiah didn’t show up here today,” GM Brad Treliving said Wednesday. “This is a young guy who we think will have a great experience over the course of the playoffs, but he’s just starting his career. There’s no pressure on Jon to come in and be the blessed one.
“Being in the atmosphere … it’s a great experience.”
Still, hopes are Gillies will eventually be a key contributor in team success down the road. After all, the last goalie the Flames drafted who became their No. 1 netminder was Trevor Kidd, a first-rounder in 1990.
Between Ortio and Gillies, they have hopes of finally changing that run of futility.
Gillies is certainly a candidate. He’s been the No. 1 goalie for the Friars the last three seasons, and he’s been the backbone of the team that climbed from being a middling program to become a champion by posting a career 60-34-13 record.
This past season, he posted a 2.01 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.
“The first thing you notice is is size, but this guy is very athletic,” Treliving said. “It’s a really unique combination for a guy that big to be that athletic, but he doesn’t just rely on being big. He’s a real great athlete, so he’s able to move, has the athleticism around the crease.”
And having won that championship, Gillies is ready for the next step.
Before the season, the message sent to the big netminder was to carry the Friars to success. With that mission accomplished, it was obvious why the Flames wanted him signed.
“He went through that experience of carrying a team to a championship,” Treliving said. “Being able to play in big games and being on big stages, those are experiences you don’t replicate. It’s not just the game itself — it’s everything that comes around it.
“Jon played a national championship game in Boston against B.U., on a big stage. Those are things that you can look back at as his career goes on and be able to lean on. Having guys who have won, I think, is really important.”