Sure the NHL club is currently 14th place in the Western Conference but the big picture for Calgary fans might not be as dark and out of focus as it appears right now.
For years the media has pounded the Flames for not having anything in the system to look forward to but maybe... just maybe... that's starting to change.
The AHL affiliate of the Flames, the Abbotsford Heat, enter tonight's action tied for 1st place in the Western Conference. As luck would have it, the opponent tonight is the Oklahoma City Barons, farm club of the Edmonton Oilers who they just happen to share the standings with.
Forward Greg Nemisz (1st rd, 25th overall in 2008) is off to a solid start to the season with 15 points in 16 games. It's early in the year still but those 15 points have Nemisz positioned just outside the top 10 in league scoring. The 6'3 winger is nearly halfway to his 33 point rookie total from 2010-11.
It's taken a while but goaltender Leland Irving (1st rd, 26th overall 2006) is putting together the best year of his career. Again, it's mid-November but the numbers for Irving are very promising because he's at or near the top of the league in several categories; 1.93 GAA (2nd), .927 sv% (6th), 11 wins (1st), 2 shutouts (1st-tied)with the most minutes played in the AHL as well. It's been a logjam of Miikka Kiprusoff and a steady rotation of back ups ahead of him at the NHL level but if he can keep playing at the level he is for the Heat, Irving will surely work his way into the mix for the Flames.
Swiss sensation Sven Bartschi missed a couple of weeks in late October with a hip injury that prevented Flames fans from seeing him play against the Calgary Hitmen. Suffice to say that despite a late start to the WHL season and the brief stay in sick bay, Bartschi is giving every Calgary fan hope for the future. He was the Flames top pick (1st rd, 13th overall 2011) and is pumping out points like a madman; 30 points in 13 games with the Portland Winterhawks. He's tied for 8th in WHL scoring although almost everyone higher than him on the list has played at least 20 games. His average of 2.31 points per game isn't just tops in the WHL, it's also the most prolific scoring pace in the entire Canadian Hockey League.
Michael Ferland of the Brandon Wheat Kings will be overshadowed by Bartschi this year but his performance to date should be noted as well. The late round pick (5th rd, 133rd overall in 2010) has 15 goals and 36 points - ranked 4th in WHL scoring. There will be those who suggest that playing with the league's top scorer in Mark Stone has something to do with it, and it obviously does, but Ferland deserves some credit here too. It was once said that the Sedin's wouldn't be as effective alone until Daniel got hurt and Henrik went on to lead the NHL in scoring. They said Jordan Weal's 102 point year with Regina was because of Jordan Eberle until he scored 43 goals and 96 points without him last season. Ferland is playing with Stone but that doesn't mean he's riding on his coattails. The 6'2, 208 lb winger was a point per game guy last year and is well ahead of that pace this season.
Boston College is home to a pair of Flames prospects that are off to hot starts. The first in sophomore Bill Arnold (4th rd, 108th overall in 2010) who is second in team scoring with 14 points in 12 games.
The other in freshman John Gaudreau (4th rd, 104th overall in 2011) who sits with 10 points. The 5'6, 150 lb forward is channeling his inner Nate Gerbe this year after a highly productive year in the USHL with league champion Dubuque that saw him finish 4th in regular season and 2nd in playoff scoring.
It might be ugly right now if you're a Calgary fan but perhaps what we're seeing this year is that the Flames actually do have some help on the way. Maybe... just maybe.
(Photos: Jean Konda-Witte, Abbotsford Heat, Bryan Heim, Dave Arnold)
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