What exactly the Flames were looking for when they drafted Austin Carroll in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL entry draft? Were they looking for a power forward? An enforcer? Would he become the protector of smaller skill players that the Flames have in the system? A career AHLer? Or a player who can make a positive impact at an NHL level? What exactly did the scouts see in Carroll to draft him?
What type of player the Flames are hoping Carroll will develop into is unknown. What type of player he is now is quite clear. He's a large player at 6'4 and 214 pounds. He is capable of scoring goals and winning fights at a junior level, but he was also playing as an overager in the WHL - a strong indication of a career struggling to launch. This makes him a bit of a conundrum for those watching him.
He could go one of two ways. He could continue to develop and become a good pro player, or he could have simply been a big fish playing in a small pond in the WHL. No one currently knows if the Flames were smart for selecting Carroll.
The whole situation is currently a giant question mark. Though the Flames have signed him to an ELC, it is impossible to say what exactly they believe he will bring to the organization. It is also difficult to tell what the organization is expecting from him development-wise; there is no clear direction for what the Flames would like to develop with Carroll. Are they looking for an AHL level talent or a bottom six forward in the NHL?
Carroll was drafted 184th in the 2014 NHL Draft. He was the last pick made by the Flames. He played for the Victoria Royals in the WHL for four seasons, with his best season coming in his overage year in 2014-15. Carroll managed 38 goals and 39 assists for 77 points in 69 games in that season.
Carroll had a breakout year in 2013-14, and this might be why he was drafted. His production jumped from 15 goals to 34. While Carroll is nothing special, he is still a serviceable bottom six player more than capable of providing a spark to a team needing a bit of extra energy. Carroll plays a no holds barred style of hockey which can provide a team with an increase in explosive energy when they need to find a different compete level.
Carroll is the type of player with an explosive edge to his game. He created a reputation as a tough player capable of both scoring and holding his own in a fight. Carroll is also a decent judge of when he's required to step up and provide more energy to change the course of the game. Over the last year, Carroll has done this through playing physical and scoring goals instead of simply fighting, showing that he is a multi-dimensional player.
Carroll has an imposing frame and enough size and weight to be a formidable enforcer in situations which call for him to protect his teammates. Carroll's numerous fights throughout his junior career point to a certain amount of toughness and ability to change the course of a game with his fists. He also has shown a willingness to step up during situations where someone is required to do so.
It's also worth noting that the Flames organization has shown a preference for larger players who show a willingness to fight when required. Keegan Kanzig is an example of the Flames' commitment to signing prospects which might fill an enforcer role going forward. Austin Carroll also fits this mold. This may be why he was drafted, and points to the role he may ccupy.
Carroll has had strong years in his last two seasons of junior. His performance in his draft and overage years was much stronger than his performance in the two years prior to that. Nothing in Carroll's previous junior career would have indicated this type of upswing in production should have been expected.
However, since Carroll's performance has improved through his junior career, it may continue to do so. Carroll may turn out to be a better player as he makes the transition from junior to pro than he has been up to this point. If his production and abilities to continue to grow as he ages, Carroll will be more formidable and definitely worth a seventh round pick.
Carroll has one advantage on many of the players he will come up against in the AHL in the coming season. He's older. While this won't make the same amount of difference that it would in junior (the difference between a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old is more extreme than the difference between a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old), it could still make a difference. Carroll will have had both more experience and a greater understanding of his limits and abilities. This should make it easier for Carroll to find his role and excel within it.
Low Cost Equals Low Risk
Stop for a moment and consider what would happen if Austin Carroll never made the NHL. The probability is high that absolutely nothing would happen because the expectations of a player drafted in the seventh round are quite low. If the player makes the NHL, it's more of a bonus than an expectation.
This is where the Calgary Flames chose Austin Carroll, making him a bit of a gamble no matter what they do to develop him. He currently does not possess the skill or mobility required to make a positive impact in the NHL. These low expectations work in the Flames' favour. Carroll will be given time outside of the spotlight to see if his game can develop into something that is NHL compatible.
Taking a chance on Carroll may be a risk, but it is a small one. Whether or not he becomes a productive NHL player is almost secondary because the Flames have risked so little. Even if Carroll remains a career AHLer, a fate of many seventh round picks, the Flames will still have acquired a large, powerful forward who has grown into a scoring touch and may become something even better.
Carroll had a very good overage year with the Victoria Royals. He managed to put up the best numbers of his career and create some franchise records. He also looked strong, played smarter hockey, and proved to be a physical force. This last year he relied less on dropping his gloves and more on creating energy through putting the puck in the back of the net. Carroll still managed to look competent when fighting, and might find himself with a place as an enforcer at the very least. He has the size and fighting ability for such a role.
It is uncertain, as it is with any prospect, whether or not Carroll's production in junior can translate into successes in his pro career. However, the Flames risk little in developing Carroll. As a seventh round pick, expectations of Carroll are generally lower.
This may give him the time needed to adjust to the pros. If he never becomes more than the call up enforcer who spends most of his time in the AHL, then Carroll is still a smart pick for the Flames at 184th. Carroll has shown a lot of upside, playing a very similar physical game to Keegan Kanzig but with greater production, and has considerably less risk and expectation around him.
Whatever the Flames get out of Carroll, he's both a smart draft pick and a decent signing. Carroll has spent the last year proving to the Flames that he's not a one season wonder and worth their time and effort to develop.