The pun-packed headline read, “Internal Combustion: Young guns look to ignite the rebuild with a culture of accountability in place.”
Affixed to the top of the page: a prediction, “7th in Pacific,” and Stanley Cup odds of 125 to 1.
It was the Calgary Flames preview in THN’s Yearbook for the start of 2014-15. Oddly enough, 412 days later, it still rings true. If you fell off your bike Oct. 8, 2014 and sustained a coma-inducing head injury, only to wake up today, the Flames would be exactly what you thought they were. You wouldn’t believe the story of Calgary’s magical 2014-15 season.
“Jiri Hudler had 76 points and won the Lady Byng? Sean Monahan scored 30 goals as a 20-year-old? Little Johnny Gaudreau became a legit NHL star as a rookie? Kris Russell set a single-season record for blocked shots? Bob Hartley won the Jack Adams? MY Flames finished third in the Pacific Division, ahead of the Los Angeles Kings? And won a playoff series? That’s it. I’m going back to bed for another year.”
It was a mind-blowing season because the Calgary Flames were so darned ahead of schedule. There was a reason they picked fourth overall at the 2014 draft, snagging future franchise player Sam Bennett: they were deep in the rebuild stage, years away from contention, slowly trying to amass prospects. Then last year happened, and everything went haywire.
Of course, we knew what the advanced statistics suggested: that Calgary was among the NHL’s luckiest teams, that it played way over its head and would regress the next season, just as the Colorado Avalanche from 2013-14 to 2014-15 and the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2012-13 to 2013-14. Bad habits come back to bite you, and the Calgary Flames had too many. They finished with 97 points despite a pitiful 5-on-5 score-adjusted Corsi For percentage of 44.2, good for 28th in the NHL. They actually regressed from 2013-14 to 2014-15. They allowed far more shot attempts than they generated. Winning was not sustainable.
It’s been a controversial week in the prospect world, as the CHL-NCAA talent war reached DEFCON 1. First, Toronto pick Jeremy Bracco departed Boston College for OHL Kitchener, then days later Carolina prospect Warren Foegele jetted from New Hampshire for OHL Kingston. This didn’t sit well with social media’s college boosters, but in the end it’s up to the players. As for Kingston, the Frontenacs just traded for Maple Leafs pick Stephen Desrocher, who won a Memorial Cup with Oshawa last year. He’ll add size and a big shot to the blueline of a team clearly going for it all. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about the world of prospects right now.
The Winnipeg Jets should probably send Don Sweeney a fruit basket. When the rookie Bruins GM made three straight picks in the middle of the first round of the draft, he and his scouting crew somehow left centers Matt Barzal and Kyle Connor on the board, reaching instead for Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn (although taking Jakub Zboril at No. 12 was solid, as he was the best D-man still on the board).
The New York Islanders immediately traded up to grab Barzal, meaning the Jets had the opportunity to snap up the leading scorer in the United States League.
It’s about that time, folks. What follows is my first take on the 2016 draft class, one of course highlighted by American center Auston Matthews. The incredibly talented pivot is currently trailblazing a path in Switzerland (and may be on the shelf for the short-term, but no matter) and he is at the top of the pile. But there are more top talents available, including my No. 2 selection, who is also seen as a sure-fire NHLer, who in another year could have been first overall himself.
Since the season is so young, expect this ranking to change, perhaps radically, by the time my next installment comes out after the world juniors. By then, scouts will have a better handle on the field and the resulting input will paint a more specific picture. Let’s get to the rankings:
The talent battle between the NCAA and CHL has another lightning rod, as right winger Jeremy Bracco has left Boston College to play for the Ontario League’s Kitchener Rangers. Bracco, a small but ultra-skilled Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, was drafted in the second round this summer by the Buds and had just begun his freshman campaign with the NCAA’s Eagles.
So why did he jump to the Rangers?
Noah Hanifin was a healthy scratch Tuesday night for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Detroit Red Wings and Sam Reinhart was not on the ice for practice Wednesday morning for the Buffalo Sabres. It’s enough to get a guy to thinking there’s a chance these guys might not be much longer for the NHL this season.
After all, Reinhart played in his ninth game of the season Sunday night and Hanifin had played eight before being scratched. Both are teenagers on entry-level deals and their teams must decide very soon whether it would be best to keep them in the NHL or send them to the minors so their contracts slide back a year.
Welcome back to another spin around the world of prospects. The big news this week concerns Montreal Canadiens pick Martin Reway. Just last week, I wrote in this space about how amazing the Slovakian youngster was playing in the Czech League – he was the leading scorer on the circuit. But then, he was sent down by Sparta Praha to a lower-tiered team. It sounded like insanity. According to insiders that I spoke with, Sparta wanted to sign Reway to a contract extension, but the left winger wasn’t agreeable. That led to a rift, which led to a trade request, which is where we stand now.
Here are some other names you need to know right now:
Seven years ago, almost to the night, Mike Smith held his teammates back while an 18-year-old Steven Stamkos skated out alone for his first warm-up at the Air Canada Centre. Turned out pretty well, we’d say. That night, Oct. 28, 2008, Stamkos registered the first of his 505 career points with an assist.
Monday night was Max Domi’s turn. Now a seasoned veteran goaltender with the Arizona Coyotes, Smith instructed Domi to lead the team out onto the ice, then stood back as Domi whirled around the ice all alone. Like Stamkos, Domi then proceeded to hit the scoreboard, opening the scoring with a power-play goal in the Coyotes 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.