by Dustin Cowell
As the AHL affiliate to the NHL’s Calgary Flames, Stockton Heat fans are sure to see countless high-end prospects hit the ice at Stockton Arena. With the offseason upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to begin profiling some of the players that may hit the ice for the Heat in 2015-16.
That said, one of the more common avenues for those prospects to reach not just the AHL, but the NHL as well is through the Canadian Hockey League (CHL).
The CHL is made up of the three major junior leagues in Canada: the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Most of the teams that make up the three leagues are in Canada; however, both the WHL and the OHL have teams located in Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Once a player has played four seasons and/or reaches the age of 20-years-old, he is eligible to play in the AHL. The Calgary Flames have four such prospects that may very well see action in Stockton come October.
The first player that comes to mind is one of Calgary’s first-round picks in 2013, Morgan Klimchuk.
Klimchuk was selected 28th overall by the Flames, making him the third player selected by Calgary in the first round that year behind Sean Monahan (6th overall) and Emile Poirier (22nd overall).
A native of Regina, Saskatchewan, Klimchuk played the majority of his WHL career with his hometown Regina Pats, where he racked up 217 points (98 goals, 119 assists) in 228 games before being traded to the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2014-15.
With Brandon, the 5’11”, 185 lb. winger netted 20 goals and earned 30 helpers for 50 total points in just 33 games, finishing his regular season with a combined, career-best of 34 goals and 80 points.
Klimchuk is certainly known as an offensive threat and can score from anywhere on the ice, but he is also highly touted for his natural leadership ability. He was chosen as an assistant captain for his team in Regina in back-to-back seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Speaking of career highs, fellow WHL forward and Flames prospect Austin Carroll shattered his previous highs in virtually every major category during his 2014-15 campaign with the Victoria Royals.
Carroll led Victoria in goals (38), points (77), penalty minutes (124), and plus-minus (23), all of which were personal career highs.
Calgary selected Carroll in the seventh-round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and the winger is quickly turning heads as potentially one of the largest, literally and figuratively, steals in that draft.
The 6’3”, 215 lb. power forward plays a gritty style and isn’t afraid of getting into the dirty areas, but he has good hands in those areas and can put the puck in the net. He is that always elusive, ever-desired combination of size, snarl and scoring touch.
The two-time 30-goal scorer lit the lamp 95 times in his 268 games in the WHL, while also collecting 470 penalty minutes during the same time-frame, and with his WHL career coming to an end, he’ll look to make an immediate impact in his first professional season.
Another Calgary prospect looking to make an immediate impact right out of juniors is Carroll’s former teammate Keegan Kanzig.
Kanzig is a mammoth defenseman, measuring 6’7” and weighing in at 245 lbs. The former third-round pick in 2013 played the majority of his junior career in the WHL with the Victoria Royals before being traded to the Calgary Hitmen mid-season in 2014-15.
He saw action in 266 games throughout his junior career and earned 490 penalty minutes to establish himself as a true heavyweight.
While Kanzig is known for his size and strength, he managed to put up a career high in points (22) in 2014-15, nearly triple his former career high. He also collected an impressive plus-38 rating, which tied him for fourth-overall in the category among WHL defenseman.
Kanzig projects as a top-4 defenseman that will provide an intimidating presence and a potential lock-down defender as he enters the pro ranks.
Last, but certainly not least, is Flames prospect Hunter Smith.
Smith is a big forward who plays well across all two hundred feet of the ice. His 6’6”, 210 lb. frame allows him to physically force his way into positions and prevents smaller opposition from moving him in tight spaces.
His offense is much improved from his first two years in juniors with the Windsor Spitfires and the Oshawa Generals, as he only managed a goal and an assist in his first 45 games in the OHL, as opposed to his 89 points (39 goals, 50 assists) in his last 121 games.
Smith is also considered a solid leader, as he earned the assistant captaincy on a veteran-laden Oshawa team this past season that won perhaps the most difficult trophy in sports to win, the Memorial Cup.
Smith’s Oshawa Generals team beat out the victors of each of the other two major junior leagues in the CHL (Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL) as well as the host team (Quebec Remparts) to win their fifth Memorial Cup in franchise history.
At the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Flames selected Smith in the second round and the Windsor, Ontario native rewarded that selection with career highs in goals (23), assists (26), points (49), penalty minutes (122), and plus-minus (21) during his 2014-15 campaign. He also contributed 1 goal and 6 PIMs in 4 games during Oshawa’s run to the Memorial Cup.
Smith looks like the type of player that can provide a physical aspect and intimidate opposing players, while burying some goals along the way.
These four players are just a taste of what fans will see should they suit up in the Heat’s Home Opener on October 10.