Future Flames – Prospect List

One of the best perks of longevity on the Internet for web sites like Calgarypuck.com is the possession of vast amounts of copy, and analysis to look back on with the addition of hindsight.

Nowhere is that more pronounced than in looking back on the future if that makes any sense at all.

Starting in the summer of 2000, Calgarypuck.com has in most off seasons had their membership look at the Flames prospect list and offer opinions as to how they will pan out, who was the most likely to pan out, and a ranking of the prospects each and every year.

This provides a delicious look back at just how wrong (or right) the Calgarypuck collective has been in assessing the team’s talent. It also provides a very interesting ebb and flow to prospects that have been drafted, ranked, dropped, moved back up, then eventually made the grade by skating with the Flames.

This summer the analysis was done prior to the draft, a subtle change that I made in order to avoid that tendency of fans to think the latest number one pick is better than players that have already started the development program under the Flames tutelage. Fans will have to wait a year in slotting Tim Erixon into the mix.

This year we used the forum polling tool to get a very simple but effective ranking of the prospects, starting with a list of 21. Unlike previous years we dummied it down and avoided over-engineering the study into best upside and most likely to make it. By avoiding the distinction it is assumed that the average fan would have both in mind when they make their selection.

The List – 2009 (2006 rank)

  1. Mikael Backlund - hardly a surprise given his talent and his quick adjustment to North American hockey last winter. The Flames have talent throughout their roster, but no current player brings to the table the skill set of Backlund. Is he ready?
  2. Leland Irving (1) - Goaltenders take time, lots of time. And given the guy in his way that’s probably a good thing. A stumble in the WHL in his last season can be forgotten after a great adjustment to the pro game in Quad City. Should be the AHL starter this season.
  3. Matt Pelech (5) - Big defensemen are great assets to hold, but even greater when they approach the game with a S.O.B. attitude. Pelech played five games last fall and didn’t look all that out of place. Would have been a lock for the roster this year until Darryl Sutter got to work on blueline depth this summer. Will they make room for him if he’s progressed?
  4. Greg Nemisz - every scout wants a great first year of development out of a number one pick; Nemisz didn’t disappoint. A big player with great hands, it comes down to leg speed to determine just how effective an NHLer the big lad can be.
  5. John Negrin - joined the Flames out of the WHL last year with injuries and acquitted himself well (though not to Pelech’s level). Good size, can move the puck, a player that the Flames are very high on. Will need a full year of AHL on the job learning (at least).
  6. Keith Aulie - the Flames are deep on the blueline when it comes to prospects, so a guy like Keith Aulie can get lost in the shuffle; that is until he makes the World Junior team and plays a shut down role. Great size and the right mental makeup to be a great pro.
  7. Mitch Wahl - coming along nicely, but a much more quiet development year from Wahl then the six players above him. Needs to take steps now in order to be projected into that top six role down the road. Does everything well, but not a standout in any one facet.
  8. Kyle Greentree - the only player on the list that wasn’t drafted by the Flames, Greentree did nothing but score at the AHL level last year and had a cup of coffee with the big club. Has great hands and size, but lacks the foot speed to move that game to the next level. Will get a look.
  9. T. J. Brodie - the third 2008 draft pick in the top ten (joining Nemisz and Wahl) and likely the player with the greatest improvement versus his draft position. A great puck moving defenseman that is now working on the defensive side of his game to become a complete player. Intriguing prospect.
  10. David van der Gulik (10) - a keep it simple two way forward that is just as comfortable playing his vanilla game at the NHL level as he is in the AHL. Lacks the sex appeal to turn heads, but should see some time with the big club this season with injuries.
  11. John Armstrong - the organization is very high on this strapping center despite his injury plagued first season in the AHL. Could project to the third line center role, but has the upside to perhaps be a sleeper top six forward.
  12. Kris Chucko (4) - no Flames recent first rounder has faced more hurdles and fan apathy than Kris Chucko. His skating was always a concern, something that exists today, but his conditioning and production have ramped up to put him back on the map.
  13. Matt Keetley (16) - had a terrible 2nd season in the AHL, losing his starting job to Irving and being demoted to the ECHL. Needs to bounce back in order to stay in the organization’s plans.
  14. Brett Sutter - don’t let the 14th rank fool you, Brett Sutter will be a NHL hockey player and likely quite soon. He lacks size, but has the speed and jam to compete at the NHL level. A Sutter through and through.
  15. Lance Bouma - more just a physical player, Bouma has shown some hands and has moved up the Flames list due to his strong season in Vancouver. Think Ron Stern.

So what does the list mean? In of itself probably nothing, but as a fan you have to be happy to see the club’s last four first round picks holding down the top four spots – that spells no busts, a pratfall that caused the team grief in the mid 1990′s.

Generally newer prospects have had less time to fail, or drop so it’s a natural tendency to see the most recent season of draft picks (in this case 2008) have a big influence on the list. There are six 2008 picks in the top 15, and three in the top ten.

However, the drop off after that isn’t significant with four top 15 picks from both 2007, 2006 and 2005 making their presence known. The 2007 draft class has three players in the top ten as well. Only van der Gulik and Chucko are on the list from previous draft classes.

Looking Back – Results

It’s interesting to look back at previous draft years by different measuring sticks in order to put a stamp on them as success or failure.

Once again to keep it simple we look at number of graduates (loosely graded based upon a season of work, cup of coffee won’t cut it), and games played.

If three grads per season is the water mark the Flames are in and around that target for most of the years in question save 2003, and without any ’03 prospects still in the mix that book can be closed at the Dion and Dion only draft.

The 2000 draft is interesting in that it graduated three players, none of which ever played in Calgary in Jarret Stoll, Kurtis Foster and Travis Moen. Ironically the first pick Brent Krahn wasn’t one of them.

The 2002 draft was essentially saved by the late blooming Eric Nystrom finding his way to the big leagues. Without Nystrom it’s a Matthew Lombardi draft and nothing else.

David Moss saved the 2001 draft, as the 7th round pick has already played two plus seasons and joined Chuck Kobasew on the graduate list.

The 2004 and on drafts are still in play to some degree with players very much in play to make all of them a success. Time will tell.

Looking Back – Cracked Crystal Ball

Hockey fans follow hockey teams and because of that they are likely a better judge of talent and prospects than limited resources all in one sites like Hockeysfuture.

However, fans are fans, and you have to take into account the potential for seeing no evil in prospects and over rating each and every player.

The last big Calgarypuck analysis was done in 2006 (2006), or three summers ago. That summer the group had Leland Irving first (just drafted), followed by Dustin Boyd, Eric Nystrom and Kris Chucko. Given the top three have either made the team or developed on schedule you have to assume the ratings were rather well done.

I guess 2001 was the year of the goaltender (2001) with Brent Krahn and Andrei Medvedev in the top five behind Jordan Leopold and Chuck Kobasew. Jarret Stoll and Blair Betts were further down the list.

In 2002 the top three were Jordan Leopold, Chuck Kobasew and Nystrom, once again the group found the mark 2002. Levente Szuper should go unmentioned as a clear cut over reaction to marginal minor league play.

The top five from 2003 (2003) had a solid top four in Dion Phaneuf, Kobasew, Nystrom and Betts. Once again players like Matthew Lombardi were undervalued and David Moss didn’t even make the list.

2009 Results

For detail on the 2009 voting results check out round 15, which contains the links to the previous 14 rounds (2009).

Each year we’ll run the polls again, and add to this feature.