While I’m excited to be heading out to my sister’s wedding this weekend, I’m certainly sad I won’t be in the beautiful city of Penticton, British Columbia for the annual Young Stars Classic, pitting the prospects of the Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets in a preseason tournament.
And while the likes of some of those teams biggest stars are either – A. playing in the World Cup of Hockey – or B. resting and preparing for the season, the tournament will once again showcase some of the young prospects and future stars of the Canadian clubs.
However it isn’t just a tournament to showcase stars, but it’s also the first time management has the chance to see growth of the player from year to year (or in the case of recent draft picks, their progression since development camp) and certainly to see the kind of shape each player comes into camp with. I think upper management doesn’t necessarily expect these kids to be in peak, midseason form, but to see how well they kept in shape over the offseason.
So this tournament is important for young players, and as Heat fans, there are a couple things to keep an eye on as you prepare yourself for the true kickoff to hockey. I’m going to plug the fact that the games in Penticton will be streamed via CalgaryFlames.com and on the Flames App.
The team plays Friday at 4:00 p.m. vs. Winnipeg, Saturday at 7:30 vs. Edmonton and Monday at 3:00 vs. Vancouver.
So here is a list of the top five things to keep an eye out for this weekend during the tournament.
The Barrie Boys
You’d think that the days of them being “Barrie’s boys” are most likely done. The 19-year-old (at least till October 27) Rasmus Andersson and 20-year-old Andrew Mangiapane have certainly had terrific junior hockey careers with the OHL’s Barrie Colts, but it could be time for the two to move on to a new challenge in the pro ranks.
I’m not going to recap what you already know about these guys because, well, we’ve been excited about them (Andersson & Mangiapane) for awhile now. The prospects of having the pair with the Heat are certainly exciting, but the two will of course be looking at the big club as their ultimate goals. With back-to-back 60 point seasons for Andersson and 100 point seasons for Mangiapane, these two are offensive dynamos at the junior level, and seeing how that will translate to the pro game is certainly something that fans are anticipating…if not…broadcasters!
To me, what I want to see from these two in Penticton is that they should be leaders on and off the ice. As this will be their second go in Penticton, the lay of the land and what is expected of them should be known to both players. With the careers they had too, you should see them both pick up a few points during the tournament as well besides just turning heads.
For Andersson, this should be a celebration of the year that has been. After he was the first selection by the Flames in the second round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, he had a terrific camp and played brilliantly in Penticton before signing his pro contract in the halls of the South Okanagen Events Centre, home of the Young Stars Classic. This should also be an opportunity for him to size up fellow teammate (but also fellow competition) in Oliver Kylington, who has Andersson beat when it comes to pro, North American, hockey games.
As for Andersson’s Barrie teammate, Mangiapane will be looking for offense. His speed is similar to that of other undersized forwards in the AHL and NHL game. He’ll have to battle hard at the next level for positioning and for his opportunities, so for him to be playing against mostly junior players, you’d like to see him rack up the points. However don’t yet break out your comparisons to Mr. Johnny Hockey. Just because the two are sub-six feet and put up monster points in junior/college hockey, doesn’t mean that Mangiapane’s the same player. Unlike Johnny, Andrew has a bit of mean to him and feistiness to his game. He’s not afraid to be aggressive, which is a trait that could certainly earn him comparisons to another Calgary legend like Theo Fleury.
Let’s not compare quite yet, but instead, let’s see what the boys have this weekend.
And there are a lot of them…
Jon Gillies will be there as will fellow touted prospects Mason McDonald, Tyler Parsons and of course Heat goalie Nick Schneider.
Let’s get the easy one out of the way.
Gillies would be the most likely to either be the projected starter for the Heat, or a backup with the Flames. With Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson though, and only 7 AHL games to his name, it certainly seems that Gillies will be in Stockton. With the hip surgery behind him, it’ll be about seeing a healthy Gillies this weekend. I’m not sure if he’ll get an entire game or not as I can see the case for both, but since he’s the most “pro ready” of the goalie prospects, I’d guess he’ll probably see limited game action.
That means the younger goalies should see some more action, and for Tyler Parsons, his first chance to impress in front of the entire management team. After leading the London Knights to a Memorial Cup this past season (and posting a 1.78 goals-against-average and .942 save-percentage in the four tournament games), Parsons doesn’t have much at stake during this year’s tournament other than playing to impress. He’ll 100% be returning to the London Knights this season but has a chance to leave a good impression with the staff and the management.
Schneider, who will also be returning to the junior game, is in a similar boat however it’ll be about proving his growth as a goaltender to remain an option for the Flames in the future. I think we were all really impressed by the way he played with the Heat as an 18-year-old this past spring and when you look at his numbers on a bad Medicine Hat team, you truly feel that he’s not just an undrafted invite, but a bonafide player in the Calgary goaltending depth chart. For him, this weekend will also be about a good impression.
However the one who has the most to lose or gain is Mason McDonald. I say that because he, unlike Parsons and Schneider, can turn pro this season should the team and McDonald elect to do so. He can return to Charlottetown in the QMJHL, or could be playing with the Stockton Heat this season.
But the goalie depth isn’t like it was last season. With a true number one in Brian Elliot to go along with a terrific second option in Chad Johnson and Jon Gillies and David Rittich presumably in Stockton, it could leave McDonald either as a backup or in the ECHL, so in my mind, it becomes where will Mason be better off at, in Adirondack playing against pro athletes, learning to cook, clean and care for himself away from billet families, or will it be for him to return to Charlottetown and play one last season of junior hockey.
I believe a lot is riding on his camp and certainly how he looks in this tournament. A prepared McDonald and a great performance could mean the difference between being paid and the potential of playing in the ECHL and AHL this season where poor performances could turn thoughts of him riding the buses in Quebec.
And with Parsons and Schneider eligible for pros in 2017-18, it will certainly be interesting to see how the goaltending depth chart works out for both this season and next. One things for sure, some quality goaltenders will be playing in Stockton for years to come!
The Best Player on the Ice
Tough to already lay the pressure on the kid but it’s now time for the Mark Jankowski show in his first Young Stars Classic. As a student-athlete in the NCAA, Janko was never allowed to be in the Young Stars tournament but now that college is over, he’s suiting up for the Flames.
And while he had success with the Heat to the tune of 6 points in 8 games this past spring, Jankowski has polarized Flames fans for years as a draft day bust. Before stepping foot on any Flames Development Camp ice and donning the flaming-c on his jersey, Jankowski’s selection was criticized.
With the luxury of looking back at that pick now too, you can see that the Flames passed on two, difference making players in Olli Maatta of Pittsburgh (taken one pick after Jankowski) and Tanner Pearson of Los Angeles in the first round, who both have over 140 NHL games and one of them has his name etched on The Cup.
In fact, Jankowski is only one of two players drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft to have not appeared in an NHL game.
Not for much longer.
I said it last spring, I said it on Sportsnet 960, and I’ll say it again. Jankowski is the real deal. He was fantastic in his brief stint in Stockton and I thought was one of the Heat’s best players down the stretch, and with the opportunity to be one of the top players on the team (or to play his way onto the Flames in the first place), it has to be an exciting time for Mark.
And with all the negative attention he’s received over someone picking him in an Entry Draft, the kid still has a terrific attitude and demeanor about him. When you ask him if he’s got a chip on his shoulder and he doesn’t make a big deal about all the articles and words about him for the past four years, you can’t help but just root for him.
So this weekend in Penticton will be about Jankowski showcasing himself for the first time to the Calgary fans. And this message is specifically to you because we in Stockton already have seen what he can do.
Calgary Fans: forget what you’ve read about Mark Jankowski, or what you think you know of him. Forget about his 18-point rookie season at Providence College…and while you’re at it, forget about his NCAA title too.
Instead, I want you to go in like this is the first time you’ve heard of him. Watch him. Watch him away from the puck. Watch how the puck just seems to find him. Watch him in the dots.
Now judge him.
It’s tough to not want to be on his side, but I’ve said I’m all in on the Jankowski bandwagon and I am. It might be tough pressure but this weekend in Penticton, Janko has to carry the team. Developing chemistry with a few of his potential teammates would be a bonus, but he needs to be a big contributor all over the ice. I think if Jankowski looks like he’s put on a few pounds, and can withstand a few big hits, it’ll be a huge win for him. Better yet if he could add a few too.
And while Jankowski would never say, or even think that this weekend is about showcasing him to the Calgary fans, I think it’s an opportunity I’d love for him to seize.
That way you know us down here in California aren’t lying when we say that Mark Jankowski is a first round pick who is destined for great things.
Just like last year when I first met 2015 draft selections like Kylington, Andersson and Mangiapane, this year will be about the newcomers to the organization and a few of them have some interesting opportunities ahead of them.
Obviously the big story will surround Matthew Tkachuk, the sixth overall pick in this past draft. This is his first chance to try and convince the management, and Head Coach Glen Gulutzan, that he belongs in the NHL, and when an 18-year-old has a chance to do that and seize his dream at such a young age, you better believe he’s going to do all he can starting now.
This is going to mean a lot of things for him. First off it’ll be maturity. How does he come to camp? Is he in shape? Is he getting ahead of himself thinking he’s already on the Flames? Then it will be how does he perform.
Coming off of a 107-point season and a Memorial Cup with the London Knights, you’d expect Tkachuk to provide some offense, but you also want to see how he plays without the puck. And with Tkachuk, it’ll also be about his nastiness. One of the reasons the Flames liked him so much was the fact that he plays with gusto. He’s gritty, he’s in-your-face and it’ll be expected by management that he’ll get in a face or two during Penticton.
How he performs this weekend may not be the final decision maker for him, but certainly a big weekend won’t hurt his chances of NHL glory this season.
For Eetu Tuulola it’ll be about continuing what was a terrific developmental camp. When a sixth rounder is stealing headlines during the early summer camp, you might have found yourself a steal, and the big 18-year-old from Finland could very well be just that.
And while he has played pro hockey in Finland, and was in fact eligible to play for the Heat this season, the Flames and Tuulola opted to head to North America and play junior hockey instead with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips where our pal Mike Benton calls Tips games and home.
He’ll be saying Tuulola a lot too because at 6’2″ and 225 lbs. because he could easily blossom in the WHL with the league’s reputation for power forwards and work ethic. This weekend will be for Tuulola to insert himself as someone who didn’t just get lucky at development camp and could show some of his WHL foes this season (cause there will be a few scattered on the other teams) what they’ll be in for.
However the most interesting case could be for seventh round pick Stepan Falkovsky.
At 6’7″, the gigantic defenseman is coming off a terrific year with the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL, scoring 9 goals and adding 23 assists for 32 points in just 58 games played. The Belarussian national who played with fellow Heat signee Roman Dyukov does have a chance to turn pro this year as he’ll be 20-years-old on December 18, just days before the “cutoff” of December 31.
The question will become which is right for his development. Certainly any player can benefit from experience in the pros, be it at the AHL or ECHL level, but defenseman have a reputation of taking a while to develop, at least a while longer than forwards, and bigger defenseman have the stereotype of taking even longer to grow into their stride. With such speed in today’s game, if you aren’t like a Tyler Myers (Winnipeg) who has the speed to match his gigantic size, the game has left you behind.
So for Falkovsky, this tournament will start whether or not he’ll be turning pro or not just as it could for Mason McDonald. A good tournament could mean a look here with the Heat and if the game moves quicker than him, the Flames won’t have a problem with him returning to the 67’s for another season. We’ll soon find out how another season of junior hockey helped fellow gigantic defensive prospect Keegan Kanzig this season so either way, Falkovsky will be in good hands, but of course getting one step closer to the NHL is every players dream.
I say that because this is his time to shine.
After injuries have just hampered this young man’s start to his career, Culkin returns to the scene of the most recent crime. After that skate laceration to his wrist while on Adirondack Flames (AHL), Culkin looked ready to transition to Stockton and take over as a solid two-way defenseman. When you looked at his stats too to end his junior career (45P and 50P) and start his pro career (18P) you start to salivate at what could be.
But then when you factor in the wrist injury that cut short 2014-15 and nearly derailed his career, along with that terrible shoulder injury he had at the South Okanagen Events Centre last season during this very tournament, you really start to feel for the young defender.
Last season after starting the year injured, he eventually worked his way back to health but found himself with the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL for 33 games. I think everyone would have liked to see Culkin light up the league, points wise, but the Montreal native had only eight, all assists, a far cry from what he had in Glens Falls, NY a year prior at a higher level.
He played with Stockton for 27 games and while he managed to score his first goal since October 25, 2014 on April 10 vs. San Diego, the defender ended the season with a pair of points.
However I don’t think it’s not because of talent or because of want, but rather due to luck and adversity.
Almost losing your career and then working hard to get back to health only to see you suffer another injury has to be devastating to the psyche of any young man, let alone a top athlete, but credit Culkin for staying positive throughout it all.
It’s why, just as in the case of Jankowski, you find yourself rooting for him, something I’ll be doing again this weekend.
This is his year. The bad luck has to be over. It’s time for Culkin to blossom into the defender he has been, and thought to be.
And he’ll once again do it with a good attitude as he begins his FIFTH Young Stars Classic, which has to be some kind of record (in case you are wondering, the regulations stipulate that most players eligible have 100 or fewer games of pro hockey in North America. Culkin has 97 combined…)
But as my title says, don’t be sad for The Hulkinator. Instead, watch him as he faces his demon from last season at this tournament. I’d expect him to be the best defenseman on the ice this season and someone that Coach Huska will lean on throughout the Young Stars Classic.
I’m closing out all of my blog posts with a jersey or logo in the sports world. I love sports jerseys (I collect them) and I love logos and what goes into making a brand.
While the Flames prospects will be busy at the Young Stars Classic this weekend, at least Johnny Gaudreau will be busy with another tournament.
That’s right the World Cup of Hockey starts this weekend for real and even with the loss to the Czech Republic, Team North America has captured the hearts and headlines of the pre-tournament games.
And before the tournament began, I was unsure how I felt about this team. I’ve always been a die-hard USA Hockey fan for as long as I can remember.
I think the only time I’ve ever been genuinely upset from a sporting event was that Sidney Crosby goal in 2010 to sink the US. Ughh…thinking about it wrenches my heart….
However Team North America was like a similar but different version to rooting for the US. I say that because while the USA is a powerhouse of hockey, I think we have a bit of an underdog reputation to that of Canada and Sweden in recent years. Team North America is a mix of Canada and the US but the catch is that they are all under 23-years-old.
Gaudreau, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Brandon Saad, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ryan Murray, Morgan Rielly, John Gibson, Matt Murray, etc….
I could go on…
So I guess if I had to pick, I’ll tell you I’m pulling for these kids during the tournament. I certainly will be looking for the US to do well, but…come on…
Oh and as far as this logo is concerned…brutal. The funky shade of…is it red…is it orange….the NA in the style of the Yankees logo….lame.
The 23 in Roman Numerals is a cool touch but that is about it.
But hey, I love me some international hockey. And some Flames hockey. My sister better have a big screen at the reception!!!
Have a great week everyone! Hockey is BACK BABY!!!!!
Brandon Kisker is the Heat’s Director of Broadcast & Media Relations and will be entering his fourth season as a broadcaster in Stockton and second for the Heat. He yells a lot when excited, but that yelling is genuine, and typically fist pumps when goals are scored or big saves are made. He thinks Rick Jenerette is really top shelf…..and that is where mama hides the cookies. After not being back to Ohio in three years, he’s gone to Ohio for four months straight as it’s the final wedding of the summer this weekend in Cincinnati. He also bought NHL 17 the day it came out and didn’t notice the game was on “Semi-Pro” until it was 8-0 in the first period of the Heat vs. Barracuda game. However due to the way last season went vs. San Jose, he stuck it out just to stick it to San Jose. Important to note that game was at the virtual Stockton Arena because virtual SAP Center may have resulted in a 16-goal comeback win for the Sharks affiliate. Follow him on Twitter @kiskerbc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions.