By Stephanie Tang, October 2 2014 —
As the preseason comes to an end, the Calgary Flames have given fans plenty to get excited about for the upcoming season.
As a rebuilding organization, they’ve focused on acquiring younger and faster talent. Key trades and high draft picks have brought a slew of fresh names. On a team that has struggled with size and age, it’s no surprise that the Flames’ young prospects have stolen the preseason show.
Sam Bennett, the highest draft pick in franchise history, was named the first star in his NHL debut. He picked up an assist in his second game against the Vancouver Canucks and put up a team-high seven shots on net. Bennett was ranked the No. 1 skater in North America by Central Scouting prior to the draft. He produced 36 goals and 55 assists in his last season with the Kingston Frontenacs and he’s marked by pundits as a player to watch.
Johnny Gaudreau, a 5’9, 150 lb. left-winger from Boston College has impressed with his hockey sense and ability to maneuvre on the ice. The Hobey Baker award winner — which is awarded to the top hockey player in the NCAA, scored in his NHL debut with the Flames in April 2014, redirecting a shot past Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom. In the split-squad match against the Edmonton Oilers, Gaudreau managed four shots on goal. Talk about the smooth-skating rookie usually surrounds his mountain of 80 points in 40 games with Boston College. Time will tell if he can live up to his nickname, Johnny Hockey.
Sean Monahan had a solid start to his sophomore season, generating scoring chances and netting a goal against the Canucks. He’ll face more aggressive opponents this year, but if last season’s numbers are any indication, Monahan stands to play most of his minutes on the first or second line.
The Flames also signed Mason Raymond and Devin Setoguchi over the off-season. Neither player posted spectacular offensive numbers last season, but they might make good anchors on the second and third line and add to a lacking depth chart.
Assuming the prospects can make the main roster in a fashion reminiscent of Monahan’s stellar junior season, the Flames are set from an offensive standpoint. A mix of dynamic prospects and solid veterans gives them an unpredictability that has been lacking in past seasons.
The blueline is murkier territory. Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie stand out as a top-tier defensive pair. Joining them is the recently acquired Deryk Engelland. The Flames signed the 32-year-old to a three-year, $8.7-million deal. At 6’2, he adds size and physicality to the Flames’ blueline. The same is true for Ladislav Smid at 6’3.
Raphael Diaz is auditioning for a spot. He registered 23:27 minutes of ice time against the Oilers, blocking four shots and managing five of his own. If he’s offered a contract for the upcoming season, he’ll add to the Flames’ list of talented defensive forwards. Still, the Flames are missing a pool of highly-praised blue-liner prospects.
On the goaltending side, the Flames acquired free agent Jonas Hiller in a two-year deal. Hiller holds a career record of 162–110–32, 2.51 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. He brings experience to a crease that was filled last season by rookie goalies Joni Ortio and Karri Ramo.
Hiller will likely be the starting goalie, with Ramo as his backup. If Hiller can bring the level of success that he attained with the Anaheim Ducks, the Flames stand to see drastic improvement in one of their weakest areas. This is good news for a team that finished 27th out of 30 teams last year and hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since the 2008–09 season.
Overall, the Flames’ future looks promising. With a good balance of experienced veterans, a crop of prospects and younger guys coming off of a few seasons in the AHL, the Flames have established a solid base to build on. However, it may be a few years before they become a serious Cup contender.
A playoff run this year is possible, but shouldn’t be expected. The younger players will need time to learn the game at an NHL level and the defensive situation still needs work. General manager Brad Treliving has a lot to prove, but the potential is definitely there.