It seems that every time you look, the Calgary Flames have improved their prospect pool. Whether it’s been through great drafting or signing free agents, the Flames now have one of the deepest prospect pools in the league.
With that being said, it means that some of the older prospects are starting to feel the push from newer players who are rocketing up the depth chart. So here are five Flame prospects that have to prove themselves in 2017-18.
1. Morgan Klimchuk
I’m starting off the with prospect that should be feeling the least pressure of the five and working my way up from there. That player is Morgan Klimchuk.
After struggling in his rookie AHL season in 2015-16, Klimchuk had a solid season last year. In the process he upped his goal totals from 3 to 19, and his point total from 9 to 43. His performance in this upcoming season could be an indicator of where his future with the Flames organization could go, because at the very least he could be a tantalizing asset to dangle in a trade.
At only 22 years of age, and a former first overall pick from 2013, it’ll be too early to fully judge Klimchuk after this season so he should be around for the next few years. If he can have another big improvement like last year, he could even push for the NHL soon, but the onus is on him to prove that last year was closer to the real Morgan Klimchuk than 2015-16 was.
2. Emile Poirier
After taking a personal leave last season, a lot of fans were questioning what the future held for Poirier. Once some information started coming out about Poirier receiving help from the Flames organization (including Brian McGrattan) for his addiction issues, a lot started to make sense.
After coming to the development camp sober, Poirier showed a lot of flashes of his skill and speed that were seen in his draft year and the following season.
He will likely find himself in Stockton for this season, but there is some room for him to push for a spot with the Flames. The leash should be lengthened as Poirier deals with his off-ice situation, but there is reason to believe that he can really show who he is this season.
3. Hunter Smith
He’s big...and that’s about all that Hunter Smith has had going for him so far in his time with the Flames organization. In 88 career AHL games, Smith has only put up 5 goals and 19 points.
With one year left on his ELC, he has to show some glimmer of hope this season, or he could very likely not be qualified next offseason. It’s a part of hockey to have some prospects bust, but this one hurts even more because it was a 2nd round pick in 2014. A rare draft miss for Brad Treliving and his crew although some can say this may have been a Brian Burke “truculence” pick, as Treliving had become GM only two months earlier.
Bottom line is that Smith needs to show something this season or he could be gone.
4. Tyler Wotherspoon
How many times have we heard “This is the year Wotherspoon makes the Flames full time.”? Probably at least three or four, and yet he hasn’t. It seems that every time we look, another young defensive prospect is on the verge of passing Wotherspoon on the depth chart.
Wotherspoon has played at least one game in each of the last four seasons with the Flames, and even got into six playoff games in 2014-15 albeit heavily sheltered. He could have an outside shot at the sixth defender spot this season, but he’ll need to have an outstanding training camp to do so.
If not, he could be stuck in the AHL once agan and possibly find himself as a free agent after this year. He’s also still an RFA right now.
5. Hunter Shinkaruk
Shinkaruk is also in the final year of his ELC and he has a lot to prove to the Flames. When he was acquired from Vancouver, he was heralded as a player who was close to becoming a full-time NHLer and would fit into the team well.
That hasn’t happened yet, and in his brief time with the Flames, he hasn’t made much of an impact. With that being said, he definitely has more of a skillset for a top nine role, but mostly found himself situated on the bottom line during his callups. His offensive numbers also dipped in Stockton this past year, down to 38 points in 57 games from 51 points in 62 games the year before.
While I’m not suggesting that Shinkaruk shouldn’t be resigned after this season (because it would be too early to give up on him), I’m saying we have to see a big step forward from him this season if he is going to be a future part of the Flames.