Things are looking good for the Calgary Flames this season.
The Flames are riding a bit of a hot streak with six wins in their last 10 games and sit comfortably in sixth place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. No doubt fans are looking forward to a long and successful playoffs.
But what about the future? What about the Flames beyond this season? Are they positioned to remain competitive?
Of course there is no definitive answer to those questions. Like most organizations, the Flames have a number of potentially good prospects in their system and only time will tell if all, or any, of them have what it takes to make it to the NHL.
Take goaltender Leland Irving, for example. The 19-year-old member of the Western League’s Everett Silvertips was once regarded as one of the best young goalies in all of junior hockey. But when he was passed over by Team Canada for the World Junior Championship this year, some eyebrows were raised.
In his first 53 games this season, Irving sported a 27-21-3 record with a 2.47 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. The good news, of course, is the fact Miikka Kiprusoff signed a contract extension so there is no pressure on the Flames to rush Irving through the process.
Better news comes in the form of center Mikael Backlund who helped Sweden capture a silver medal at the WJC. The Flames hope the 6-foot, 194-pounder can add a little strength to help him advance to Sweden’s top league next season.
A big question mark for the Flames is Dan Ryder who returned home to Newfoundland and is pondering his future in hockey. A very successful junior career with Peterborough and Plymouth of the Ontario League, Ryder (whose brother Michael plays for the Montreal Canadiens) skipped the Flames’ summer development camp and after playing six games with Quad City of the American League - during which he had a goal and five points - abruptly quit hockey.
For more on the Flames’ top-rated prospects as well as the best prospects for the other 29 NHL teams, check out The Hockey News’ annual Future Watch issue. The issue features Montreal rookie goalie Carey Price on the cover.
This column also appears in Calgary's Metro Newspaper.
Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.
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