Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2014 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2014 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2014-15 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Most analysts and fans knew that the the 2013-14 season wouldn’t be a pretty one for the Calgary Flames. It was clear that this young team was at the start of a rebuild and that there would be growing pains. Along the way, general manager Jay Feaster was fired in December as Brian Burke took over while the GM search continued for the rest of the year. Overall the team finished in 13th in the Western Conference and well out of the playoffs. Eventually Brad Treliving came in as the new GM.
This isn’t to say that all was bad in the land of the Stampede though. There were were some definite bright spots. 2013 sixth overall pick Sean Monahan showed the potential to be a franchise changing two-way centre, and had a solid rookie season; coach Bob Hartley had the team playing a consistent, high energy game; a number of prospects, led by Johnny Hockey’s amazing season did well in the minors, the Flames got another stud at the draft in Sam Bennett, and they signed a true number one goalie this summer in Jonas Hiller. There still is much work to do, but the team seems to be on the right path, something that Flames Fans couldn’t say for a long time.
2014 NHL Draft picks (reviewed by LWOS): Sam Bennett, Mason McDonald, Hunter Smith
Graduates (over 50 NHL games): Sean Monahan, Sven Baertschi, Joe Colborne, Paul Byron,
Calgary Flames Top Prospects
Top Prospect: Johnny Gaudreau, LW
Born Aug 13 1993 — Carneys Point, NJ
Height 5.08 — Weight 159 – Shoots Left
Selected by Calgary Flames in the 4th round, 104th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
A year ago we had Gaudreau as the #2 prospect in Calgary’s system, but if we try to claim we predicted he would have the season he did, we’d be liars. Gaudreau was absolutely electric this year with 80 points in the NCAA action, becoming the first player in more than a decade to do so and running away with the Hobey Baker award. While his Eagles fell short in the National semi-final, Gaudreau would sign with the Flames and score his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. Then he would play for team USA at the IIHF World Championships scoring 10 points in 8 games.
Listed at just 5’8″ and 153 lbs, it is easy to see why Gaudreau fell to the 4th round of the 2011 draft despite good stats for Dubuque in the USHL. However, what Gaudreau lacks in size he makes up for in pure skill and heart. He is an explosive skater who leaves opponents in his dust, and is able to cut wide on defenders and take the puck to the net. He also has very good hands, and a wide variety of moves that enable him to beat defenders one on one. His great agility, and quick lateral movement make him extremely hard to contain one on one, and when he gets up a head of steam on the rush, he’s a defender’s worst nightmare. Gaudreau has excellent puck handling ability, along with good puck control and protection. Couple those with good vision and passing skill, and he becomes a dynamic and creative player who is willing to try plays that many other players never would, and has found these moves work against NCAA competition. Gaudreau has shown no fear at any level he’s played, challenging opponents in the corners and the front of the net. He has high level hockey IQ and is often able to find the soft spot in a defence and get open to unleash his powerful and accurate one timer.
Gaudreau has all the talent necessary to make the next level, the question will always be if his body can hold up to the NHL rigors long term. He’s likely headed to Calgary again in October, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him as one of the NHL’s best rookies this season. He’s mature, developed and appears NHL ready. The time is now for Johnny Hockey.
Prospect #2: Emile Poirier, LW/RW
Born Dec 14 1994 — Montreal, PQ
Height 6.01 — Weight 183 — Shoots Left
Drafted in the first round, 22nd Overall by the Calgary Flames at the 2013 Draft.
Poirier put in a solid season for Gatineau, setting career highs across the board. He showed big time development in his offensive game, while continuing his solid play in his own end as well, even being used regularly on the penalty kill. After the Olympiques lost in the 2nd round of the QMJHL playoffs, he joined the Abbottsford Heat scoring four points in two regular season games, and one goal in three playoff games.
Poirer has continued to work on his skating stride, and while its still not textbook, it is not a liability either. While not a speedster he’s improved his top end speed to being at an average level and the fact that he can now keep up with with the play really helped him over the last two years. With the work he’s put in and the quick improvements, it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to continue to improve his stride. The other areas of Poirier’s skating are generally pretty good. He has above average acceleration, and a quick first step. This makes him more quick than fast and he is quick to react and pick up loose pucks. His agility and edgework are also decent allowing Poirier to weave through traffic, and to get around defenders and take the puck to the net. The acceleration and ability to change speeds helps him to take a defender wide. His balance is good allowing Poirier to be strong on the puck.
Poirier has a well rounded offensive game. He was once thought of as mainly a playmaker, thanks to his excellent stickhandling, vision, and passing ability. While those skills have not diminished (and in fact continue to improve) he’s added some other strong aspects to his game. Poirier has really very good wrist and snap shots both in power and accuracy, and his release continues to get quicker. With this shot, the willingness to go to the net, and some soft hands in tight, and one can see how Poirier just keeps raising his goal totals, putting up 43 this season. Poirier does get involved in the corners and go to the dirty areas of the ice at times, but he still doesn’t do it enough to be called a true power forward. He can really improve his game, by doing that, and by adding upper body muscle.
Poirier has a well-developed defensive game. He is a willing and able back-checker who places good back pressure on the puck carrier off the rush. He is good positionally in his own end and can create turnovers with his active stick cutting down passing lanes. A willing shot blocker, Poirier has been used on the penalty kill regularly. As a late 94 birthdate, Poirier is eligible to go to the AHL this year, and we expect to see him with the Adirondack Flames.
Prospect #3: Morgan Klimchuk, C/LW
Born Mar 2 1995 — Calgary, ALTA
Height 5.11 — Weight 180 — Shoots Left
Drafted in the 1st Round, 28th Overall of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames
Injury issues (hip flexor) limited Klimchuk to just 57 games this season, but despite that he finished with just two points less than in his draft year, showing significant improvements in his goals and points per game. He led Regina to a second place finish the WHL Eastern Conference, but the team suffered a first round upset.
Klimchuk is a natural sniper, gifted with a great wrist shot and an excellent one timer. His outstanding release fools and confuses goaltenders as he seems to have the puck in the back of the net before they know he’s even shot it. Klimchuk has good hockey sense and is able to find openings in the defence where he can set up to unleash that deadly shot. More than just a one trick pony though, Klimchuk works hard in the corners, often winning board battles despite the fact he is merely average size. He also does extremely well in the cycle game protecting the puck with his soft hands and excellent balance on his skates. Klimchuk gets to the front of the net and can use his soft hands to tip in shots, or to bury rebounds. He also has good vision and ability.
Klimchuk has decent top end speed, but it is his excellent first step quickness, and acceleration that really defines his skating. He also has very good agility. He ends up being one of those players who is more quick than fast, as he pounces on loose pucks, and darts through openings with ease, however he doesn’t have that pull-away gear that makes him a real breakaway threat. His balance if very good and he fights through checks well and is strong on the puck.
Klimchuk should be back in the WHL next season, and has the potential to lead Regina very far in the playoffs.
Super Sleeper: Joni Ortio, Goaltender
Born Apr 16 1991 — Turku, Finland
Height 6.01 — Weight 185 [185 cm/84 kg] — shoots Left — Catches Left
Drafted by Calgary Flames the in 6th round, 171st overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Ortio came over from Finland this year, and was great in the AHL putting up a .926 save percentage. He even got in 9 games at the NHL level, though he struggled a little. Still Ortio shows great potential especially given his draft position.
Given the tendency around the league to for big goaltenders cut down angles, play strong positionally, and have excellent fundamentals, that really isn’t the mold Ortio fits. Instead at 6’1″ he is merely average height for a goaltender and is more of a reflex based goalie than what we are seeing becoming the trend. That said he is still extremely talented and makes the saves at the end of it all, with quick legs a decent butterfly technique and good glove hand. His positioning could be better but is very quick at moving around the crease and tracks the puck well. He also is good at playing the puck outside of his net and acting to help his defencemen.
Expect Ortio to again be the starting goaltender for the Flames AHL affiliate, now in Adirondack. He’ll be the callup if the Flames need someone to fill in due to injuries.
Overall the Flames system is a work in progress. Some areas are deep such as the goalie and centre spots. Jon Gillies is a higher end prospect than Ortio, and with these two, plus newly drafted Mason McDonald the Flames future in goal looks strong. Up front Bennett and Monahan are a one-two punch up the middle; Sven Baertschi is still finding his way and bounced between the AHL/NHL on the wing, but was considered graduated due to passing the 50 NHL game mark for the purpsoses of this report; the three prospects above are developping well; and Mark Jankowski had a breakout season for Providence. Overall the future of the forwards in Calgary looks good, but could use a little more help at right wing. Still, it’s on defence where the team must get better. Patrick Sieloff and Tyler Wotherspoon are decent prospects of the defence first variety, but there is a real lack of offensive defencemen, and overall depth in the system. Adding to the defence will be the next phase of the Flames rebuild.
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