Generally speaking, a three-game prospect tournament means nothing. There's no trophy to be handed out at its end, no real accolades, and when you see teams sitting their best players for a game or two, even bragging rights are wishy washy at best. (We're not just saying this because the Calgary Flames young stars finished 1-1-1, this really is just a meaningless little bit of September hockey.)
So what does anybody get out of it? Well, in-game experience for your prospects and coaches. Inter-squad scrimmages are all well and good, but these games put your group of kids and make them a team.
And hey, as a bonus, you can glean a bit of evaluation from it. See who surprises you. It could bode well (or poorly) for the future.
Without further adieu, here are some of the players that surprised us:
Pleasant surprises: Forward depth, in all shapes and sizes
- Bill Arnold - Touted as a defensive forward through his time in the NCAA, there's always been this general inkling that Arnold would be good. It isn't surprising that he stood out in the prospect tournament; it is surprising just how much he did. He was fantastic at both ends of the ice, in all situations, and has a very underrated offensive game.
The Flames appear to be very fond of his skill-set, given how much ice time he was given all weekend long. Arnold was able to find some incredible seams in play for unbelievable passes to connect, one leading to an Andrew Mangiapane goal.
He was wearing an 'A' throughout the tournament, and sure, at 23, he was one of the older guys there - but he brought a smart, calming influence and was a boon to the top six.
- Pavel Karnaukhov - Freshly drafted in 2015's fifth round, he still has a way to go before we can even begin to think professional hockey, but he was very underrated coming in. Karnaukhov showed himself to be a smart player, excelling in a variety of ways: two-way play, supporting the play out of the zone, zone entries, creating offence (scoring chances, points), and using his size to create space.
Of course, with any new draft pick, there's a certain degree of (potentially overdone) hype. New players are always exciting. But Karnaukhov did enough over this tournament to announce his presence, and let the Flames fanbase know: he's definitely somebody to watch going forward. (And since he plays for the Hitmen, it'll be easy to do just that!)
- Ryan Lomberg - Who? Signed to an AHL contract and heading to Stockton, he really wasn't a name to watch out for - at least, until he made himself known. With fantastic individual efforts, he created scoring chances for the Flames; on the other side of things, he was one of the best penalty killers in Penticton. Lomberg utilized functional toughness to play an aggressive but logical game. Without his efforts on the penalty kill, it's likely Calgary would have given up more goals down a man.
The best part? Lomberg is just 20 years old. The Flames have a small habit of finding NHLers out of nowhere, the latest example being Josh Jooris. Nobody's expecting Lomberg to make the NHL just yet, but he's so young, there's plenty of time. And this tournament showed us: he has a lot of potential, and probably the heart to really challenge for a spot one day.
- Andrew Mangiapane - This guy was a sixth round pick. Hell, a sixth round pick going through his second draft. You don't typically expect guys in his position to turn heads, but that's all Mangiapane has done since joining the Flames, and this tournament only enhanced that.
Everything Mangiapane (Eat Bread) did when he played was impressive. Like Arnold, he was used in every circumstance, and every situation. He succeeded in virtually every situation too, be it creating offense, being used on the penalty kill, or working on the powerplay. He did it all. He isn't afraid to go to the net, work in dirty areas, or get physical.
It's no surprise he drew some comparisons to Johnny Gaudreau. If the Flames become the team known for smaller wingers who are here to make opposing teams' lives more miserable, well... Mangiapane will probably play a very welcome role in that.
- Rasmus Andersson - He was easily the biggest standout on the blueline, eclipsing countryman and fellow second rounder Oliver Kylington (though he did miss some time). Andersson was everything he was projected to be and scouted as: big, offensively gifted, smooth-skating, capable in his own end, and smart.
We knew he would be good, but we didn't expect him to be that good. His prowess of jumping up in the play and then being able to transition back is very exceptional. Earning his ELC before the final game of the tournament (and the only one he sat out; and his loss in the lineup was definitely felt) is a clear indication of how big the organization is on him.
Bad surprises: the gap between top- and bottom-tier prospects on defence
- Keegan Kanzig - The ceiling was already limited when he was drafted in the third round back in 2013. The ceiling is even more limited now, given how he fared in Penticton. The truth is: Kanzig can't skate very well, something documented prior. Kanzig's mobility prevented him from truly being engaging in his play, which inhibited the team's performance. Kanzig's overall performance was miles behind his peers, which showed.
Sure, he's only 20, and there's hope for him yet... but there's virtually nothing to like about his game. What good is size if you can't use it? If you can't skate, you can't play, period; just ask out old friend Ben Hanowski, who, after an unimpressive AHL season and no hope in any NHL call ups, the Flames didn't even bother qualifying. It's hard to see him having much of a future with the team.
- Eric Roy - The Flames' fifth round pick in 2013, Roy was expected to be drafted much higher, but he dropped. He never really recovered, either; Roy wasn't signed, and instead received a try-out, which makes sense when you watch him play.
Though he was only given one game (game three), he was listless at times - no more apparent than on a Canucks 2-on-0 while they were shorthanded. His effort just came off half-hearted in all ends of the ice, which is something you really, really don't want to see in someone who still hasn't earned a professional contract.
- Kenney Morrison - It's all too likely he needs more time to develop, but that notwithstanding, this was a shocker. Morrison is definitely somebody who will be going to Stockton to mature and develop elements of his game. For example: he had a few giveaways in Penticton, one of which led to Dane Fox's goal for Vancouver. He also had some unfortunate lapses in OT of that game, which allowed Vancouver to win it.
Overall, maybe it was the expectation that he was going to be one of the standouts this weekend, but he was just average. His ability to pass is there, his skating is there to an extent, but the defensive abilities aren't. Hopefully they'll come with time, because you can see his potential, but in this tournament, he wasn't up to par.
Of course, there are several players here who didn't get a mention. Sam Bennett, for example? Well, it wasn't surprising he performed as well as he did. We know he's going to be in the NHL this season, and rightfully so. Bryce Van Brabant, though? It seemed odd when he was one of the Flames' qualified RFAs, but watching his performance in the tournament, it was easy to see why: he was very strong on the puck, excellent at protecting it, and while he may not have an NHL future, it's certainly worth seeing how much more he can grow.
On the flip side, there's somebody like Patrick Sieloff. He was better than Kanzig and Roy, but probably a little worse overall than Morrison. This isn't totally his fault - losing an entire year of development to medical issues is absolutely brutal, and would be difficult for anybody to bounce back from - but at this stage in the game, it's disappointing he's not further along.
What's the overall trend you see here? The most underwhelming players were all defencemen; the most intriguing players (Andersson aside) were forwards. There's a lot to get excited about up front, but that back end still needs a lot of work.