With the exception of Micheal Ferland, the fifth round has not been a lucrative one for the Flames. Ryan Francis is looking to change that.
The first ever draft pick from Beaver Bank, Nova Scotia, Francis has been quietly tearing up the QMJHL in his 19 year-old season. He currently has 25 points in 16 games, and sits fifth in the league in points per game. Our team was able to catch up with him earlier in the season.
Francis had a slow start to his QMJHL career, putting up just over 30 points in each of his first two seasons, but then exploded in his third season with the Cape Breton Eagles when he put up 72 points in 61 games. He led the team in assists and finished third on the team in points, while playing on a line with two older players, Yegor Sokolov and Shawn Boudrais.
Francis credited both players with helping him to develop his game. Not only were they older than him, they were also much, much bigger. Francis said something similar to what Dillon Dube said in our chat with him in reference to playing with Milan Lucic: playing with bigger guys opens up more room on the ice.
But more than that, Francis credited his play with the two wingers with helping him develop a stronger two way game, and improving his confidence on the ice. The line worked especially well as he was able to feed passes to the two shoot-first wingers, and then worked as part of a five-man unit to backcheck and defend.
This season, with both players gone, the question around Francis was whether he was being carried by his linemates or was he good independently, and it is clear he is good on his own. In 15 games with Cape Breton, he put up 21 points, good for second in points per game. He was only behind overager Shawn Element, who was undrafted.
Cape Breton is a team in transition this season. Francis played double duty this year, playing both as the first line centre and filling in on the wing down the lineup. He has been a leader in the dressing room, and was the only player who had played the last three seasons with Cape Breton. However, as part of the team’s rebuild, Francis was traded to the Saint John Sea Dogs. He finally got into his first game this week and made an immediate impact.
Francis scored four goals in his debut.
Each of his four goals are snipes right into the top corner, and show off his incredible skills with the puck. Francis has been trying to work on shooting more often. “I’m definitely a pass-first guy, but if I can have a good shot in my arsenal, it opens up passing lanes and creates chances”, Francis said about his style of play. This has clearly worked for him so far in the Q.
The ability to think the game at such a high level, and to understand how being both a passer and shooter impacts the game is a testament to his maturity. He credits his high hockey IQ as part of the reason that he has been successful to this point. He is not a big player, standing just 5’9″ tall, the same as Johnny Gaudreau, but he hasn’t let that bother him. “I’ve always heard here and there I’m a little undersized but I don’t really like to pay attention to it a lot. I just trust my own game, use my strengths, try to work on my weaknesses, and build my own game”.
The Flames have never been afraid of taking a smaller guy who plays a strong game. Between Gaudreau and Andrew Mangiapane in the NHL, and Matthew Phillips in the AHL, size hasn’t been an issue provided the underlying skill and compete level are there.
And, compete level is absolutely there. Francis has shown, and continues to show why he is a prospect worth getting excited about. What’s next for him?
“Just keep improving every day in junior and just kind of become a key guy in the league and become . . . known to product and be a force in the league, for sure. . . . After getting drafted you want to be able to make that step and go up to the AHL and start playing professional hockey. So those are a few things that I’ll focus on and try to get to those points, but you’re trying to take it more by day and focusing on the day-by-day process to get to those points. . . . It’s a little bit more important.”
Francis is a prospect that has flown under the radar a lot this season. Between stoppages in the QMJHL calendar, the fact that he was a fifth round pick, and more, he has not gotten the recognition that players like Jakob Pelletier and others have. But make no mistake, Francis is making a name for himself, and if he keeps producing at this rate he will quickly become a household name in Calgary.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Ryan. The entire C of Red is cheering for you and the Sea Dogs this year.