This summer, the Flames had a historic draft, with three picks in the first round including sixth overall pick Sean Monahan, and continued down the path set by Jay Feaster when he traded captain Jarome Iginla and defenceman Jay Bouwmeester.
The team parted with more long-time members later in the off-season, as Alex Tanguay and Cory Sarich were traded to the Colorado Avalanche for David Jones and Shane O'Brien, and Miikka Kiprusoff announced his retirement.
Mikael Backlund, TJ Brodie, Karri Ramo, Reto Berra, Kris Russell, Brian McGrattan and Chris Butler, amongst others, got new contracts while Tyler Wotherspoon, Patrick Sieloff, Sean Monahan, John Ramage, Chad Billins and Corban Knight all turned pro.
All this means the Flames have a sizable roster heading into the pre-season, and the fact that they're still in the midst of rebuilding means that almost every player will probably get a good long look, and could be back in the rotation at some point in the season even if they don't make the cut right out of the gate.
Who to Watch
Already, the expectations are high for some; local scribes have already begun penning articles about Sven Baertschi's 'quiet' rookie camp and speculating that he thinks playing with recently drafted kids is above him.
Baertschi, who scored just once in the final game of the rookie tournament against the University of Calgary Dinos, must already be caving under the weight of the heavy expectations placed on his young shoulders--not just at the NHL level, but as a potential Olympian as well.
While there's no question that expectations will likely be high for Baertschi this season, especially given the way hes struggled and then finished strong in 2012-13--the fact that he is still Calder eligible has been raised several times--seeing how he competes against experienced NHLers in pre-season action will likely be the real indicator of the progress he has made during the summer and what we can expect of him in the regular season. Positionally, it's unlikely that he'll really be competing with any other Flames prospect for a spot on the big club's roster, so his play against others in his age group should not necessarily be an indicator of things to come.
Others, like Monahan, have already set the bar high for themselves without the help of the local media.
With the news that Monahan has added more bulk to his frame over the summer and has been observing the habits of centres around the league, a successful Young Stars tournament showing and the Flames' precarious depth at centre, the possibility of him making the team out of camp is looking more and more likely every day. While there are arguments for and against that--the primary one against being the potential of burning a year of his ELC if the Flames choose to keep him up with the big club for the maximum amount of games and then assign him to the Heat or back to the 67s--there's no doubt that he'll get a good long look from the decision makers, especially with being the highest pick in the draft that the Flames have had since 2003 and all.
Burning a year of Monahan's ELC and thus making him an RFA a year sooner without squeezing as many games out of him as you could have is not an ideal situation, and hopefully the Flames can avoid it. But other than that, what does either side really have to lose? Is Monahan really going to gain anything going back to the OHL to play on a miserable team? He thinks he's ready and so do a good number of scouts who pegged him as one of the most NHL-ready forwards in this year's draft. Giving him a lot of ice time in different situations against different players in the pre-season will certainly help determine whether or not that's true, but nonetheless a larger body of work is still needed, the question is just at what level?
When Granlund was drafted in the second round by the Flames a year after his brother Mikael, excitement quickly spread about his potential.
Of course, most people know him for moves like this in the SM-Liiga:
But after signing his first entry-level deal with the Flames back in April, Granlund also had an impressive showing at this year's rookie tournament. The younger Granlund brother scored three goals and one assist four games, and picked up 10 goals and 30 points in 50 games for HIFK in Helsinki. He also tallied five goals and 12 points in six World Junior games this past January.
While Granlund has already played against men in Finland, it will nonetheless be interesting to watch his progress against NHLers over the course of the pre-season.
Ferland also had two goals and two assists in the tournament, as well as dropping the mitts in Calgary's 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks' prospects.
After being charged with assault stemming from a bar fight back in July 2012, Ferland seemingly arrived at rookie camp this year with newfound strength and commitment to the game, modeling his game after Vancouver's Zack Kassian. After getting demoted to the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies from Abbotsford this year, Ferland was re-assigned to junior in December, where he finished the season with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades. At age 21, this season will be first full one in the pros, and he'll be looking to impress upon Flames brass the lessons he has learned in the past year, and how that has made him a better player.
After being acquired in a deal that sent a 2013 fourth round pick Florida's way, NCAA graduate and High River native Corban Knight will be looking to secure one of the coveted centre spots on the big club, alongside Max Reinhart, Roman Horak, Matt Stajan, Jiri Hudler, Mikael Backlund and apparently Mike Cammalleri.
Knight scored one goal in the Young Stars Tournament, but scored 49 points in 41 games with the University of North Dakota in his final season there.
David Jones, TJ Galliardi, Kris Russell, and Shane O'Brien
Tonight's split-squad contest will be the first time fans will see David Jones, TJ Galliardi, Kris Russell and Shane O'Brien in Flames uniform. All four players were acquired over the summer, and for Alberta natives Russell and Galliardi, it was was a happy homecoming.
For David Jones, this season represents an opportunity for him to bounce back after a disappointing three goal, nine point season with the Colorado Avalanche. The former ninth-round pick of the Avs had consecutive 20-goal seasons in 2010-11 and 11-12, and will be competing for a spot in the Flames' precarious top-six.
As for Shane O'Brien, he will bring some veteran saavy to what will be a significantly younger Flames' blueline this season, with the departures of Jay Bouwmeester, Cory Sarich and Anton Babchuk. The defender, best known for frequenting a certain certain Vancouver night club in his spare time, has also showed up to training camp in better shape than in previous years, but that doesn't mean he won't be competing with newly minted pros like Tyler Wotherspoon, John Ramage and Patrick Sieloff, as well as Chad Billins, Mark Cundari and the oft-injured Derek Smith.
Others to Watch: The battle in net between Karri Ramo, Reto Berra; Lance Bouma's return after recovering from a knee injury.
What to Expect
Some crazy line combinations and dark horse surprises. With only 10 bonafide NHLers on their roster at forward and defence (I use that term lightly because it includes Brian McGrattan) and only one (Joey MacDonald) in net, there are roster spots to compete for this pre-season, which certainly makes it more exciting than in years past. Anything goes, and there will be battles at every position.
Pre-season is never an overly accurate predictor of how a team will fare in the regular season, but after the performance some of Calgary's prospects put in at the Young Stars Tournament, I'm looking forward to seeing them challenge NHLers for spots on the roster. Despite being mired in a rebuild, the Flames have a good number of fairly young players who want nothing more than to suit up for an NHL team and give it all they've got to get there before the games even count in the standings, which is pretty cool when you think about it.