Arik's fanpost to the right raised the issue of Calgary's prospects so I figured I would take a swipe to assuage some of his concerns. The future actually looks pretty bright to me considering the Flames draft position the last few years as well as the dearth of young talent the club had suffered through previously.
Keep in mind that I'm not a professional scout and have only limited exposure to a lot of the kids in question here. A lot of my analysis will focus on the numbers/ages etc.
First step is to clarify the "prospect picture" so to speak. There are actually mutiple levels of future assets, which kids graduate to/from as they progress and mature.
Dion Phaneuf, 23
Dustin Boyd, 21
Eric Nystrom, 25
David Moss, 26
Adam Pardy, 24
Mark Giordano, 24
Curtis MceLhinney, 25
These are all fairly recent homegrown graduates, although guys like Moss and Phaneuf are clearly a little beyond the "prospect" level at this point. Still, this is a nice crop of early-to-mid 20 somethings in the organization, many of whom are a few years away from peaking or demanding a market-value salary. The emergence of Giordano, Pardy and even Nystrom as viable, legitimate NHLers this year really helped bolster the organization at this level.
Beyond Phaneuf, there probably isn't a lot of "elite" talent in this group, although Boyd is showing signs of eventually developing into something of a second-line center.
Kyle Greentree, 25
Kris Chucko, 22
John Armstrong, 20
Adam Pardy, 22
Brent Palin, 24
Ryan Wilson, 22
This is the area of the org probably of the biggest concern in terms of depth of talent. The Flames farm team is mediocre for the 2nd straight season and fighting to remain competitive. Chances are they won't make the play-offs. The players I have listed here are likely the most NHL viable guys, though not a one of them is going to be seeing any all-star games should they ever make the leap.
Greentree is currently leading the baby Flames in goals and is second in points to Jamie Lundmark. He's also a few months away from turning 26 and therefore closer to his ceiling than the rest of his peers. Given his age and progression, it's probable he'll remain an NHL 'tweener for the remainder of his career.
Kris Chucko was the Flames first rounder in'04 and I've never been a fan of the guy. He put up really pedestrian stats during his college career and struggled to be relevent during his first couple of professional seasons on the farm as well. When I've seen him live, Chucko's awkward skating stride and seeming lack of awareness with the puck on his stick always struck me as major obstacles to him cracking the big squad. His improved production this season suggests a step forward, however, so I've upgraded my expectations of him from "total bust" to "maybe capable 4th liner one day".
Like Greentree, Van Der Gulik is an older guy who is likely to remain an AHL vet for the rest of his playing days. VDG was a Boston College graduate and a player the farm team has usually leaned on to check tough competition and penalty kill. He tends to put up decent, if unspecatular stats in that role and could probably be a capable 4th line or depth player on NHL team in a pinch.
Related - VDG was called up today by the Flames.
Brent Palin and Matt Pelech are a couple of guys who may be competing to be next years "Adam Pardy" come September. Palin was QC's only AHL all-star this season, despite the fact that he's a defensively inclined rearguard. Pardy had a similar career arc, which is encouraging for Palin and the organization as a whole.
Pelech was expected to challenge for a roster spot this season, but was beat out by Pardy in training camp. Unfortunately, the big guy seems to have taken a step back this year at the AHL level according to some of his numbers and may be a further away from the big club than was originally thought. Projected to be a rugged, shut-down blueliner in the Robyn Regehr mode, Pelech has some foot-speed issues that will have to be overcome with positioning and smarts if he's ever to make the leap. That said, his development will have to take a big leap forward if he's ever to approach Regehr's level of effectiveness, meaning his ceiling is likely in the 4-6 defenseman area.
Wilson and Armstrong are both rookies putting up some so-so numbers this year. Armstrong had a good showing at the prospect camp as a 20 year old, but has fought a ton of injuries during the season. Wilson was a free agent signing from the OHL - a player with big strengths (hard hitter, body checker, good offensive potential) and big warts (poor skater and prone to errors in his own end) who was a no-risk, moderate reward type of acquisition. Neither guy will be suiting up for the big team any time soon, if at all.
John Negrin, 19
Mikael Backlund, 19
Mitch Wahl, 18
Keith Aulie, 19
Greg Nemisz, 18
TJ Brodie, 18
While these guys are just taking their first few steps towards becoming NHLers, the early returns on this list are really, really encouraging.
John Negrin is highly valued by Flames management and was even called up as a "Black Ace" during the play-offs last season. The young WHL defenseman is a "Jordan Leopold" type who can both skate and move the puck with efficiency. He is currently 10th in terms of scoring by defensemen in the WHL and will no doubt be making his pro debut at either the AHL or NHL levels for the Flames next year (likely the former).
Mikael Backlund had a contentious start to the season over in Sweden, but has settled into a better than point-per-game player for the Kelowna Rockets since crossing the pond. Backlund was one of the top 5 European skaters during his draft year and is widely considered to be the best prospect in the organization in terms of pure skill. He was given a long look by Keenan and Sutter during the pre-season and has already suited up for an NHL game this year (where he managed to hit a post).
Mitch Wahl made the US WJC team this season and has already bested his previous career high of 20 goals in just 53 games so far. He's scoring at a better than PPG pace for the second straight season and is an impressive +31.
Keith Aulie was picked to Cananda's WJC team and was paired with first rounder Tyler Myers. He's a really big body (6'6") who is playing against other team's top players and has added an offensive element to his game to boot. If Pelech doesn't improve or pan out, Aulie could well usurp his mantle as "the new Robyn Regehr".
Perhaps the most exciting new addition to the Flames prospect hopper is Greg Nemisz. The big sniper is having a monster year for the juggernaut Windsor Spitfires, with 34 goals and 70 points in just 58 games. His PPG pace has steadily climbed during his tenure in the OHL (0.54, 0.99, 1.21) as has his plus/minus (-22, +28, +48) which are both very encouraging signs in terms of his viability as a prospect. He was chosen for the OHL all-star game and recently awarded the OHL's player of the month. He currently stands 13th in overall scoring.
If Nemisz takes another step forward next year, he will putting up elite numbers and would instantly become of one the franchises top 3 prospects I think. He's looking more and more like a genuine top 6 NHL forward.
TJ Brodie is a pleasant surprise snagged late in last year's draft. Another swift skating puck-mover with offensive instincts, Brodie made a big impression at the Flames rookie camp this past summer and has carried that momentum forward into his Junior season. Brodie has already bested his output from last season by 20 (!) points and is the 8th highest scoring defenseman in the OHL. His peers on that list include highly ranked prospects like Ryan Ellis, PK Subban and Michael Del Zotto.
Altogether, the Flames have a fairly decent mix of youngsters progressing through the various levels of the organization. Here's the list again, by age:
Van Der Gulik, 26
Negrin et al. 19 and below
A lot of the future difference makers probably reside in the Junior cohort, but the club actually has a decent amount of potential replacement level players coming down the pipe. There's both differentiation and redundancy in terms of skills sets, which is good, as well as a gradual slope in terms of age-groups. While the Calgary's AHL level currently lacks any potential future stars, I wouldn't characterize the Flames prospect cupboard as totally bare. In fact, this is probably the fullest it's been in a long time.