SUN Hockey Pool

Taking stock of young Flames

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:25 AM ET

PENTICTON, B.C. -- Sure, Calgary Flames fans know all about Mikael Backlund.

He is, after all, the club's top prospect. Especially among those who expect somebody -- anybody -- to have offensive abilities at the NHL level.

But who else is there after Backlund remains a big question among the Flames faithful.

The cupboards aren't as bare as some claim, but they're not overflowing. Calgary doesn't have players such as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi -- who are all pegged to be high-impact players in the NHL -- coming in the next season or two.

What the Flames do have, though, is a crew with a few who could make the jump to the NHL ranks and contribute as early as this season, and a handful more who could serve in a variety of roles in future years.

Are any future all-stars? That we don't know. Maybe one of those third-round picks will became a Johan Franzentype player, or a fourth or fifth-rounder becomes a Kevin Bieksa or Daniel Alfredsson.

Only time will tell, but here are 10 players to keep tabs on over the coming season.

JOHN ARMSTRONG, C

6-foot-2, 205 lb. Acquired: 3rd round (87th overall) 2006 draft

He almost became a forgotten player after missing most of last season due to a shoulder injury, which required surgery. He was also injured much of the 2008-09 season, too. Upside for the big centre is probably on the third line, but he could become a strong role player all teams need.

The third-year pro won't be counted on to be a big scorer -- his best junior total was 21 -- but the club sees him as a dependable, two-way centre who can handle physical battles at both ends of the rink. He'll be given every chance this coming season with the Abbotsford Heat.

T.J. BRODIE, D

6-foot-1, 180 lb. Acquired: 4th round (114th overall) 2008 draft

A year from now, the 20-year-old blueliner could very well be the club's top prospect. A point-producer in the Ontario Hockey League for the past few seasons, Brodie is a fantastic skater, capable of joining the rush and manning the powerplay. He's exceeded expectations among the Flames brass.

Abbotsford will have a young group of forwards, but the defensive corps won't exactly over-f low with vets. Brodie will be joining a crew with plenty of potential, but don't be shocked if he's the next Mark Giordano, or even better.

TIM ERIXON, D

6-foot-2, 205 lb.

Acquired: 1st round (23rd overall) 2009 draft

Tune into Sweden's games as much as you can during the upcoming World Junior tournament. Erixon should be front and centre for a good chunk of it. Don't expect to be blown away and touting him with all kinds of superlatives. A constant look will have fans realizing what heis--a solid two-way blueliner who makes the smart plays at both ends of the rink. For the third straight year, he'll be playing in the top league in Sweden, so that shows what kind of player Erixon is. Another is a quick recap of his father, Jan, who carved out a solid 10-year NHL career by being a smart, steady player.

RYAN HOWSE, RW

5-foot-11, 185 lb.

Acquired: 3rd round (74th overall) 2009 DRAFT

An injury prevented him from partaking in the prospects tournament, which is too bad since it would have been a golden chance for him to elevate his game. The Chilliwack Bruins winger is a pure goal scorer, something the Flames are in short supply of. Howse is on the radar for Canada's entry at the world junior

tournament. He'll spend the year in junior and continue to develop his defensive game, but hopefully, the organization ensures he keeps working his offensive side as much. They'll soon enough need a top-six scorer, and he's a good candidate.

LELAND IRVING, G

6-foot, 180 lb.

Acquired: 1st round (26th overall) 2006 draft

The Flames under GM Darryl Sutter have shown remarkable patience with goalies. Think of the time both Brent Krahn and Curtis McElhinney were given. Still, this is a big season for Ir ving, and he knows it. He and Matt Keetley are likely the duo for AHL Abbotsford, and one of them must take a step forward. The Flames won't rush a goalie, but Henrik Karlsson -- who is pegged to be No. 2 in Calgary -- remains something of an unknown.

Therefore, the time is coming for Irving to prove he's ready for the next level.

JOHN NEGRIN, D

6-foot-3, 200 lb.

Acquired: 3rd round (70th overall) 2007 draft

Among a crop of forwards with the potential to be solid NHLers. After jumping from the junior ranks to a few late-s eas on NHL games in the spring of 2009, the sky seemed the limit for the now 21-year-old. However, a pair of injuries -- a broken kneecap and then a broken wrist -- ended his 2009-10 season after 45 games.

Sutter said Negrin could push for a spot on the Flames roster this season, but unless the club has a horrible wave of injuries or trades away a few blue-liners, expect Negrin in the minors this year. He could use a full season to further develop his strong skating and passing skills.

GREG NEMISZ, RW

6-foot-3, 195 lb.

Acquired: 1st round (25th overall) 2008 draft

Yet another prospect who suffered a serious injury last season. A horrible cut on the leg just above the knee which required 45 stitches greatly affected him when he returned in time for the play-o ffs. Still, the winger is coming off a season in which he won a second straight Memorial Cup and a silver medal at the world juniors.

It would be great to think Nemisz is that big, strong player to skate on the first two lines, but it wouldn't hurt to lower the expectations of the first-year pro to be a sure-fire third liner with the upside to take a bigger role with time.

JONI ORTIO, G

6-foot-1, 181 lb.

Acquired: 6th round (171st overall) 2009 draft

Is another product of Turku, Finland, the Flames goalie of the future? It's a possibility. First, let's see what the affable goalie does this season. Considering Ortio was the No.-1 goalie for his country at the last world junior

tournament, an obvious step forward would be to nab that role again and fare better.

It's a possibility Ortio will come over to North America next season, which adds more impetus on the likes of Leland Irving and Matt Keetley to solidify their positions in the organization.

MITCH WAHL, C

6-foot, 200 lb.

Acquired: 2nd round (48th overall) 2008 draft

One of only two second-round picks chosen under the watch of GM Darryl Sutter -- the other is Tim Ramholt -- Wahl is another of the legitimate hopefuls turning pro this season.

He has the upside to become a top-six player and made a good impression late last season during his AHL audition, in which he collected four points in four regular-season games for the Heat and then six more in a dozen playoff contests.

The 20-year-old Californian showed some fire during the prospects tournament to let it be known he's on the right track.

MATT PELECH, D

6-foot-5, 220 lb.

Acquired: 1st round (26th overall) 2005 draft

The team's first rounder from the same draft which brought Sidney Crosby to the NHL -- yes, it was that long ago -- may very well be on the opening day roster. Still, with eight defencemen on one-way contracts, it's no sure thing.

It's been a long process for the oft-injured Pele ch, 23, but the team hasn't lost faith he'll be an NHL player in the Robyn Regehrmold. Pelech played five

NHL games late in the 2008- 09 season while the club was in the throes of that disastrous injury wave, and asserted himself. The team wants him to supplant a veteran this fall.


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