The Young Stars Classic in Penticton, BC has come and gone and our parent club looked solid in three games, posting a final record of 2-0-1. Everyone at the Young Stars Classic wearing the flaming-C was vying for the right to continue pulling on that sweater come October and there were certainly some standouts from the group.
Overall, the Flames looked impressive. The top line of Matthew Tkachuk – Mark Jankowski – Austin Carroll controlled the puck about 90-percent of the time they were on the ice and clearly led the Flames in scoring chances. The four goaltenders in attendance looked steady and comfortable between the pipes. And while certainly the big club would have liked to see less penalty minutes (97 PIMs in three games…next most was Winnipeg with 68 PIMs), it’s a positive to see Calgary playing with that type of grit and see everyone sticking up for each other.
All that said, here are my five biggest takeaways from Penticton:
1) Jon Gillies is Back Folks
That’s right…last year’s number one goaltender with the Heat at the start of the season and Calgary’s blue chip goaltending prospect Jon Gillies made one appearance in the tournament and looked both healthy and confident in the crease for the Flames. Recovering from hip surgery that cut his rookie season in the AHL short, Gillies stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced Friday night against Winnipeg and earned the win. His movements were smooth and he looked every bit the goaltender we saw early last season put up two shutouts in his first three games as a pro.
What’s interesting to me about Gillies is that he’s one of these goalies that makes every stop look easy. He gets himself into position flawlessly and with his size it makes it extremely difficult for the shooter to find a gap. Gillies doesn’t typically make the big highlight reel save and that can sometimes make it look like he wasn’t tested.
In reality, making the big highlight reel save means the goaltender likely was out of position or was slow to react and had to make a miraculous recovery to make the save. Gillies himself said as much following his highlight save against Texas last season when he stoned Travis Morin on the doorstep. Postgame Gillies admitted he was slow to react to the cross-ice pass and needed that extra push to get there to make the save.
Ideally, his game looks more like what we saw in Penticton – smooth, steady, relaxed and making every save appear routine. The one goal he did let in he would probably like to have back, but we’ll chalk that up to shaking the rust off. The rest of his only showing at the 2016 Young Stars Classic was exactly what Heat and Flames fans alike hoped for from their top goaltending prospect.
2) Mark Jankowski was the Most Complete Player on the Ice
My partner in the Heat relations office, Brandon Kisker, said that Mark Jankowski needed to be the best player on the ice in his preview for Penticton. Well Brandon, he was.
No one was more involved in all three games as a whole than Jankowski. You could argue that his linemate Matthew Tkachuk was more involved 5-on-5, but Jankowski got big minutes on the penalty kill and the play in the offensive zone – both 5-on-5 and power play – ran through him.
Jankowski centered arguably the tournament’s top line with Matthew Tkachuk and Austin Carroll flanking him on either side. While the line only combined for two goals in three games, they clearly led in chances and generated 27 shots between the three of them – Janko leading with 10. They also could have easily had four goals in the first game against Winnipeg had it not been for some “Johnny on the spot” (Thanks Pat Steinberg) goaltending and a couple brutal bounces.
Mark Jankowski simply looks like the real deal and isn’t far off from being able to silence his critics as a key member of the Calgary Flames.
3) Oliver Kylington is Fast…Like Really Fast
Skating has been Oliver Kylington’s strongest point of his game for a long time, but seeing him this year in Penticton made it clear that he has once again taken another step in that category. He is hands down the most gifted skater along the blueline in the Flames organization and is only getting better as he continues to grow.
While his skating is the one thing that blows you away when you watch him, his improvements in the defensive zone can get lost in his offensive brilliance. Kylington looked calm and collected in his own zone for the most part and didn’t seem to make some of the rushed decisions he was making last season in Stockton. A year of pro in North America and his second appearance at the Young Stars Classic clearly helped his confidence without the puck as much as it did with the puck.
He is still young and mistakes are going to happen, but it’s an optimistic sign that he is gaining the trust of the coaching staff and that Calgary brass – like Craig Conroy – are singing his praises and are impressed with his development as a whole thus far.
4) Kenney Morrison & Ryan Culkin Took Gigantic Steps this Summer
Both Kenney Morrison and Ryan Culkin appear to have taken huge steps in their respective games over this past summer and were the leaders of a young defensive group in Penticton.
Starting with Morrison, Coach Huska stressed the importance of Morrison playing more physically prior to the tournament and that is exactly what the 24-year-old defenseman did. For example, watch every scrum that Tkachuk got into over the weekend (there were quite a few to say the least). Morrison was the first one in on just about every one of those scrums to help Tkachuk and support his teammate.
Sure part of that has to do with the fact that Tkachuk is Calgary’s top prospect and this year’s sixth overall draft choice that everyone wearing the flaming-C is going to protect, but it shows that Morrison is more involved in the physical game than he was last year.
Morrison looked as steady as ever in the offensive zone as well. He moved the puck from high to low with precision and was arguably the most consistent defenseman for the Flames across all three zones. If he can transfer that success into this season I think Morrison may surprise some people after an up and down 2015-16.
As for Ryan Culkin, the key to his game is just staying healthy and shaking off his first two seasons as a pro that were limited by injury. His puck moving abilities over the weekend in Penticton shined as a major bright spot in his game, while also standing out as a steady player in his own zone.
Culkin has always been an exciting prospect in Calgary’s system and he showed exactly why at the 2016 Young Stars Classic. As long as he can stay on the ice, Culkin is someone that, much like Morrison, could turn some heads this year and take a major step in his development.
5) Ryan Lomberg is the Pest We All Love
For the second year in a row, Ryan Lomberg went to Penticton with an AHL contract in hand and made his presence felt in more ways than one. At the 2015 Young Stars Classic, Lomberg led the Flames with 9 shots on goal, scored one tally and chased down one of the Vancouver Canucks top prospects – Jake Virtanen – with an incredible show of his agility. Lomberg was all over the ice and caused havoc with his speed, physicality and, of course, his mouth. Always prepped with a few good chirps, Lomberg knows exactly how to get under his opponents skin, as we saw multiple times in 2015-16 here in Stockton.
This year in Penticton was more of the same, but perhaps even more impressive. Lomberg finished second in the entire tournament in goals (3), led the entire tournament with a plus-5 rating, finished fourth in the tournament in penalty minutes (19) and scored the tournament’s final goal – a shorthanded overtime game-winner Monday night to beat the Canucks.
As the center of a line that featured offensive powerhouse Andrew Mangiapane and Flames Development Camp standout Eetu Tuulola, Lomberg fit right in, applying his pesky style of play each shift.
The line generated five of the Flames 11 goals and combined for a plus-12 rating through three games. An impressive showing as a line no doubt, but it says something about Lomberg’s game that he didn’t just seem to fit in, rather he thrived as the centerman between a back-to-back 100-point scorer in juniors and a sixth-round pick that lit up Flames Development Camp.
Oh and by the way, Flames TV had Lomberg mic’d up for the final game in Penticton, in which he scored two goals and got into a fight.
So if you for whatever reason are not impressed by the numbers, I can guarantee you’ll love the audio that gets pulled from that goldmine – the stuff they let us hear at least (gotta keep it PG).