Taking stock of Flames prospects

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:36 AM ET

PENTICTON, B.C. - It’s definitely a new era in the Calgary Flames organization.

The prospect pool compared to a year ago has a decidedly different look.

Time spent waiting for 2005 first-round draft choice Matt Pelech make the jump to the NHL roster came to an end this past summer.

Same thing for a few others, such as 2004 top pick Kris Chucko, defencemen Gord Baldwin and goalie Matt Keetley.

Those moves don’t mean much to the big club.

The Flames aren’t going to look much different than they did last season because there likely won’t be a big infusion of youth when the 2011 training camp comes to a close.

However, the organization has a new wave of prospects believed to be more than just grinding wingers and third-pairing defencemen, at best, and expect to see them in the next couple of years, likely the 2012-13 campaign.

The cupboards are still thin when you look at the Flames, but at least they have a few players who could have the skill and scoring touch to be offensive sparks at the big-league level because the push over the past couple of years was to find more skill.

To the defence of former GM Darryl Sutter, who was deservedly knocked for too often nabbing depth and role players — considered to be safe picks even though too many of them failed to pan out, there are some players brought in during his regime who can be legitimate and important players.

Maybe some of those claimed in the last couple of drafts will at least write a positive chapter in the an otherwise disappointing book that can chronicle his time building the prospect pool.

Only time will tell whether any of them make it on a full-time basis, or even become impact players at the top level, but here is the crop of players to keep tabs on over the coming season.

T.J. BRODIE

Last season, his first out of the junior ranks, Brodie had an incredible pre-season and was on the Flames’ opening night roster. He played three game before it became obvious the time had come for him to go to the AHL for some seasoning.

Brodie’s defensive game still must make big strides — he wants to use his speed to be everywhere on the ice at times — but his offensive potential can’t be disputed.

When he puts it all together, the Flames may very well have another Mark Giordano, or better, on their hands, and they would happily take it.

SVEN BAERTSCHI

After a couple of practices, Abbotsford Heat head coach described the 18-year-old winger from Switzerland as “electric.” Baertschi has skill, no question. He also has a willingness to play with grit, happy to go to the front of the net and willing to push back. Another year in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks is likely — not to mention a trip to the world junior tournament this Christmas. However, expect to see him given a serious look at a NHL gig a year or two from now.

CARTER BANCKS

A serious concussion last season is the only red flag. The winger isn’t a big guy (5-foot-11, 180 lb.), but plays like he is, and can become that pesky energy player the club needs.

He netted five goals and 14 assists in 38 WHL games last season. If he can get bigger, it will go a long ways.

LANCE BOUMA

As a first-year pro, Bouma was a big surprise by playing 16 NHL games, in which he collected one assist. Most likely, he’s a fourth-line winger at the NHL level, but could surprise. Considering how far he’s come in the past two seasons, the Flames are more than happy.

CHRIS BREEN

The big — and we mean big — blueliner improved last season to the point he would have been a late-season call-up if the club needed one. The undrafted free-agent signing must improve his speed and positioning but has been praised for a willingness to learn.

PATRICK HOLLAND

A seventh-round draft pick who has become a major surprise, Holland scored 22 goals last season for the WHL Tri-City Americans and earned an invitation to the summer camp for Canada’s world junior team. He goes hard to the net and plays at a high tempo.

ROMAN HORAK

Horak is the player the Flames received when Tim Erixon forced his way over to the New York Rangers. Not an ultra-skilled forward but a solid all-around game to go with good playmaking ability. He took big steps last season and has upside to a third- or even second-line centre.

RYAN HOWSE

Howse is one of the lone pure goal-scorers in the organ-ization, so you know they want him to succeed in his first pro season. His fitness — notably diet — has been called into question. But Howse took some steps forward in that regard and will benefit from more.

GREG NEMISZ

Nemisz spent the summer working on his skating, arriving at camp leaner than a year ago. He earned six games with the big club last season with a solid AHL campaign and will be counted on to take a bigger role in anticipation of being a full-time NHLer in 2012-13.

JONI ORTIO

Finland’s No.-1 goalie at the last two world junior tour-naments has made the move to North America this season and is likely to back-up Leland Irving with the AHL Abbotsford Heat. It’s a big adjustment, but at least the organization can afford to have some patience.

JOHN RAMAGE

The captain of the U.S. world junior team is heading into his third year at the University of Wisconsin. He doesn’t have the size of his father, who was part of Calgary’s 1989 Stanley Cup winning team, but he is a very good puck mover and leader.

MAX REINHART

The organ-ization’s breakout player of this year’s prospects tour-nament. A great skater, like his father — former Flame Paul Reinhart — the forward also has plenty of tenacity and playmaking in his repertoire. He’ll likely play another season of junior.

MITCH WAHL

His first pro season was derailed in November due to injuries from a bodycheck, which held him to just 17 games. There’s plenty of rust, but the 2008 second-round choice is expected to elevate his game this season, provided he doesn’t have any injuries.

FIVE MORE IN FOCUS

Bill Arnold: Scored 10 goals and 20 points for Boston College in his freshman year, the 2010 fourth-round draft pick can play centre and wing. Versatile and sturdy, his development is worth keeping an eye on

Paul Byron: Small forward acquired in the Robyn Regehr trade will be given a solid chance to make his mark. He has scored plenty at the minor-league level and was reportedly knocking on the door to crack the Sabres lineup.

Michael Ferland: Described as a player “who grows on you,” the left-winger will take a bigger role this coming season with the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings.

Joey Leach: He won’t wow you with offensive skill, but the big (6-foot-3) third-round pick from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is a solid stay-at-home defenceman. Flames couldn’t ignore him while scouting Max Reinhart with the Kootenay Ice.

John Negrin: Injury woes the past two seasons put his career on the wrong track. This is a crucial year for his status in the organization, and the two-way defender knows he needs to be noticed.


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