The Flames are rebuilding, that much is obvious. In a rebuilding season, the team's actual results aren't that important. They were never going to be good, and sure enough, the Flames have fulfilled that promise, placing within the league's bottom five for most of the season.
What was important for this season was to see growth from their youngest players and prospects. Sean Monahan scored 20 goals, Joe Colborne scored 10 and is nearing 30 points. Mikael Backlund finally established himself in management's eyes, and TJ Brodie's play has put him in the conversation of being a true top pairing defenceman. These are all pieces that may be on the Flames when the team is competing again, so to see them all have relatively good seasons is a good sign.
Then there are those toiling in the minor leagues. With stellar AHL play this season, Joni Ortio won management's trust. Had he not been injured, Markus Granlund would likely still be playing for the Flames, and possibly putting up points - he was on a good tear before he was sidelined. Tyler Wotherspoon was called up and almost immediately began to prove he could be a regular NHL defenceman.
With all that said, let's get to what's happening lately:
- Wotherspoon, who replaced Dennis Wideman, has had a great start to his NHL career. Already he's gotten a few 17 minute games under his belt - more than previous prospective call ups Chad Billins and Chris Breen - and has fared well in each of them. (In all honesty, he may have performed better than a healthy Wideman would have.) Unfortunately, his season may have come to a premature end:
Looks like there's a chance Wotherspoon might be shut down for the remainder of the season. Not sure what the injury is yet. #Flames— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) April 2, 2014
His final shift came in the last six minutes of last night's game, and lasted about a minute. Partner Chad Billins was out once more in the game, while Wotherspoon didn't play again.
- With Wotherspoon, Wideman, and Ladislav Smid all injured, the Flames only have five defenceman. They have recalled both Chris Breen and Mark Cundari.
I'm only aware of the undisclosed Wotherspoon injury, so interesting to see both Breen and Cundari potentially recalled. #Flames— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) April 2, 2014
Breen has gotten numerous chances all season, but has been unable to really stick or prove he belongs. Cundari, you may remember, was involved in an AHL transaction a few months ago that saw him traded to the Chicago Wolves for forward Corey Locke. He's still Flames property, hence why the Flames can recall him, but isn't eligible to play for the Heat again this season. Cundari is an RFA after this season, but his status as a Flames prospect is hanging in the balance.
- With the WHL playoffs underway, both Brett Kulak's Vancouver Giants and Morgan Klimchuk's Regina Pats were swept in the first round. They have both been assigned to play for the Abbotsford Heat for the rest of the Heat's season, and will help the Heat as they make their final push to the playoffs. (They're probably going to make it, but have yet to officially clinch.)
Kulak played for the Heat last season after the Giants failed to qualify for the playoffs. He got in four games of experience - the Heat didn't make the playoffs last season either - and didn't appear on the stat sheet. Kulak's junior career, however, is likely over, and he is likely to be a Heat defenceman for the foreseeable future.
Klimchuk, meanwhile, will be getting his first taste of professional action. Both prospects are expected to be in the team's lineup for their next game on Friday.
As per Coach Ward's scrum with @DanKinvig this morning, Morgan Klimchuk will play on Friday and in a top 6 role.— Brandon Astle (@brandon_astle) April 1, 2014
- The Flames have also signed defenceman Ryan Culkin. Culkin was selected in the fifth round of 2012 draft. Culkin's junior team, the Drummondville Voltigeurs, are in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. So far he has seven assists in five playoff games.
Culkin signing means Coda Gordon is the only non-college player from the 2012 draft that remains unsigned. Gordon's Swift Current Broncos were eliminated by the Medicine Hat Tigers in six playoff games. He had three assists.
- College hockey is nearing its end. Providence College, the current home for Mark Jankowski and Jon Gillies, defeated Quinnipiac in the first round, but fell to Union in the regional finals. Jankowski scored the game winning goal against Quinnipiac, while Gillies recorded a 37-save shutout; against Union, Gillies stopped 28 of 31 shots en route to a 3-1 loss.
- Boston College, though? You know, where Bill Arnold and slightly-more-prominent prospect Johnny Gaudreau play? They're off to the Frozen Four yet again, and will play Union for the right to play in the final. First they defeated Denver 6-2 in the regional semis: Arnold had a goal and an assist, while Gaudreau scored his first college hat trick and added three assists as he factored in every single goal BC scored. Holy hell.
BC then defeated Massachusetts-Lowell 4-3 in the regional finals. Arnold had a goal, while Gaudreau recorded two assists.
Oh yeah, and Gaudreau, once again, is a Hobey Baker finalist. There's, uh, really no reason to think he won't win it: he's scored 35 goals and 77 points in 39 games this season, including a 31 game point streak, and has far and away been college hockey's best scorer this season.
Arnold, a senior, will likely sign with the Flames once his college season is over. The Flames will definitely be pushing hard to sign Gaudreau, a junior, this season as well. There simply isn't anything left for him to prove in the NCAA.