Three storylines to follow as the Calgary Flames’ Prospect Training Camp opens this week

We’re just under a month away from puck drop for the first regular season game for the Calgary Flames, and it’s finally starting to feel like hockey is back. The Flames officially announced the lineups for their prospect training camp this season, inviting 25 of their brightest prospects, and a few others, to Calgary, and then on to Penticton for the Young Stars Classic this week. While there are a number of expected absences, including prospects already playing in Eurasia, a couple of notable injuries, as well as NCAA prospects, who have already started school, mostly all of the expected players will be there.

This is a very small cohort for prospect camp. With just 25 bodies, including three goaltenders, nearly every prospect will play in every single game in Penticton. This gives the Flames a really good opportunity to evaluate what they have in their guys, as well as to not have to juggle minutes for the bottom of their roster. In short, each Penticton game will be meaningful time to watch their prospects.

The prospects will hit the ice on Thursday and Friday before game one in Penticton Friday night. Here is what to watch for:

How do the Flames lineup up at centre

The Flames have called 13 forwards to camp, leaving little in the way of wiggle room to sub players in and out. There is also a very interesting mix of players by position, as listed on the Flames’ website. Take a look at the chart below, with the italicised players being invitees:

Left WingCentreRight Wing
Samuel Honzek*Rory KerinsMatt Coronato
Lucas CionaIlya NikolayevAdam Klapka
Parker BellOliver PeerWilliam Stromgren
Oliver TulkJaden Lipinski
Nathan PillingMark Duarte

The question here is down the middle. Both of the top centre prospects spent most of their season last year in the ECHL, coming for 11 AHL games all season. Yikes! Both are probably better than simply AHLers, with Kerins just one season removed from being one of the top scorers in the OHL and Nikolayev having a monster USHL season. This could be the beginning of a breakout for either player, with their likely only being room for one of them on the Wranglers this season. Whoever forms more chemistry with Coronato and Honzek will likely be the frontrunner for that job.

More interesting for me is Honzek. We have an asterisk next to his name above because we’ll be watching to see if the Flames try out Honzek at centre on the top line, pushing Ciona up to the top line and having Coronato on the right. This would give the team the chance to see whether there is a chance Honzek can be a centreman down the line and offer an opportunity to work on those skills when he goes back to junior this season. His coach in Vancouver, Manny Viveiros, said that his preference would be to see Honzek at centre this season, so it will be interesting to see if the Flames try him out there in Penticton.

Of course, this will mean some of their invitees will be playing on the wing despite being listed as centres, but that’s a small worry.

What exactly is William Stromgren

Easily the most interesting player to watch at camps this year is William Stromgren. A second round pick two seasons back, Stromgren has been overshadowed by a number of other second rounders making an impact in the NHL already. This, coupled with the fact that he was playing in a depth role in the Swedish SHL for the past year and did not put up many points, has made many assume him to be a bust.

But, this season is his chance to prove otherwise. There was clearly a reason that the Flames liked the forward prospect, and coming in as a player who can play both centre and on the wing, he adds a good chunk of versatility to the lineup. If he can adapt to North America, there may be more to him than has caught the eye so far.

He will need to have a clear impact to start to change some of the perceptions about him, though. Stromgren is coming in very much as an underdog with a ton of doubters, and many of those doubters do have a good case to be skeptical. There are only a handful of open spots on the Wranglers this season even with call-ups to the Flames, and Stromgren will need to push hard to show he deserves one of them.

How close is Jeremie Poirier

After being the best prospect at basically every tournament last season and being the last skater prospect cut at main camp last year, Poirier will be looking to make even more noise this year at camp. He has taken huge strides forward in his game over the past season, seeming to find a defensive side to his game without losing the electric offense that made his so highly touted in his draft year.

The big question for Poirier is whether he is ready for an NHL job. He has taken big steps forward in his game, and performs well when the chips are down, but is he now ready for the big leagues. Penticton will be a chance for him to show how far ahead of his peers he really is. With just him, Yan Kuznetsov, and Etienne Morin on the blueline from the Flames’ prospects at prospect camp, Poirier will need to show that he is head and shoulders ahead of his peers. If last season is any indication, this should be the bar for Poirier.

Penticton starts soon

Camp opens up on Thursday with the team flying to Penticton for the first game Friday night, and while this is typically deemed to be a fun tournament, it’s an opportunity for prospects to show what they have to Flames staff and management who will be in attendance. Here’s hoping the Flames can show their prospect pool is deeper than many feel it is.

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