Can you feel it? Hockey season is just right around the corner! Sure, games don't count for about another month, but there are professional hockey players on ice with Flames jerseys on. Good enough for me!
First off is rookie camp. It starts today at Winsport, and is sort of like an evolved version of dev camp: more prospects, more competition, more on the line. It will serve as the lead in to the Young Stars tournament (starting on Friday), and should provide us with a little insight into the Flames' future. No word on whether or not it will be open to the public like development camp, but considering the silence from Flames social media, it most likely isn't.
The roster for rookie camp is the exact same as the roster for the Young Stars tournament, which you can see here. We're going to breakdown the roster, look at the invitees, and the players to watch out for.
The Flames have invited 11 players to participate, all but one of them from the CHL. Some are vaguely familiar names, some are just here to fill spaces. Just a reminder that all of these players are on try-out agreements, which does not mean that all of them are eligible to sign with the team immediately.
Tyson Baillie: If you've been following the team closely throughout the offseason, you have definitely heard of this guy. Baillie has probably been one of the most exciting and most talked about non-prospect for the team. The 5'10, 195 pound centre/right winger has been a consistently productive winger with the Kelowna Rockets, but has been passed up in two consecutive drafts. The Flames are obviously very keen to see what he can do, almost immediately inviting him to camp after development camp. Despite this being his fifth year in the CHL, the Flames will have to wait another year before signing or drafting him, owing to his late November birthday.
Jason Bell: The second player to get a call from the Flames brass is a defenceman from the QMJHL. The Flames most likely had him on their draft radar, but selected Riley Bruce instead. They are both big guys playing a similar, no-nonsense, stay-at-home game. The team wants a second look at him, probably to see if he can fine tune his offensive acumen. Bell, when he uses it, has a powerful slapshot that can break glass.
Taylor Burke: A former Gatineau Olympique teammate of Emile Poirier, Burke has finished his CHL career and is looking for a spot somewhere in the professional rankings. The team is optimistic about his physical play, owing to his 6'1, 196 pound frame. He doesn't have great stats in the points-happy QMJHL, but is more known for his defensive game.
Jason Fram: This should be one of the more familiar names on the list. Fram attended the previous two development camps, and even got a shot in last year's Young Stars tournament. The former captain of the Spokane Chiefs became a key contributor in his final two years, almost putting up a point per game. It wouldn't be surprising if he walks out of camp with an AHL deal.
Ryan Lomberg: The former University of Maine left winger has already been tied down by the Stockton Heat, and it's easy to see why. He was the captain of the USHL's Youngstown Phantoms, placing fifth on the team in total scoring with 43 points in 46 games. Another small guy (5'9", 191), but another productive, speedy forward.
Mason Marchment: Another dev camp invitee returning for rookie camp. Despite his mixed success with the Erie Otters, he was intriguing enough to bring back for another chance. I honestly don't know much about him.
Louick Marcotte: Already signed to an AHL deal (the first in Stockton's history), the speedy winger is looking to provide the same scoring touch he had in the Q. As a right winger, he fulfills an organizational need, and could possibly be hovering around the top six role for the Heat.
Julien Proulx: Despite mostly playing defence for the Victoriaville Tigres, the Flames are choosing to use the bulky Proulx as a left winger for rookie camp like they did in dev camp. I don't see why, but I don't see why not. A guy who has six total QMJHL points probably isn't going to inflate that number playing as a forward, but he's 6'5" and 225 pounds, so he's probably going to spend a lot of time in front of the net at either end.
Eric Roy: Another familiar name! The former Flames draft pick wasn't signed to an ELC, and re-entered the draft, but the Flames have given him one more chance to stick with the club. His points total was ceilinged during his draft year, which discouraged the team to sign him, but with very little defensive depth beyond Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson, he could prove to be a helping hand in the AHL.
Nick Schneider: The goalie for the Medicine Hat Tigers hasn't been too stunning in his WHL career, and is most likely here to give Jon Gilles and Mason McDonald a break between the pipes.
Tomas Soustal: The Czech import has struggled so far in the WHL for Kelowna, but the Flames are sold on his potential growth. Being 6'3" also helps his case.
Players to watch out for:
- With a functioning shoulder and a few games of NHL experience under his belt, is it really fair that all these guys have to play against Sam Bennett?
- We haven't seen too much of him, so Oliver Kylington will be in the spotlight for camp. He'll be playing against a lot of CHLers and AHLers, so the second round Swede's 2015-16 fate will be determined largely in part to this camp.
- Sort of like Kylington, Hunter Smith is both eligible for the CHL and AHL this year owing to his age. He's been beloved by some Flames fans, but others have been cautious about the truculent winger. He certainly looks like an improved product after the 2014 draft, but his numbers don't reflect it.
- The goaltending situation will also be interesting to watch. Both Gillies and McDonald are skilled between the pipes, and with a complex goaltending situation to deal with come next offseason, it's going to be important to see what the Flames have to lean on for 2016-17.
- We've seen a decent amount of Emile Poirier during the past season, so the focus is now on Morgan Klimchuk. The third of the 2013 first rounders, Klimchuk hasn't been as exciting as his peers. His development will be worth paying attention to, seeing as he's going to get his first taste of professional hockey this season.
- Bryce van Brabant and Bill Arnold are both RFAs at the end of next year, and with a congested Flames roster, this could be their last year to impress the team. Van Brabant is less likely to move on, but Arnold is still a viable option for the bottom six in the future.
And there you have it. Check back here for camp news and Young Stars updates throughout the weekend. Get ready, hockey is back.