When the Calgary Flames arrived in New Jersey for the 2013 Draft, they were the envy of the league – a position they haven’t been in for much of the past 10 years. Holding three picks in the first round was, at least on paper, going to give them a good shot at rebuilding a franchise needing a new direction after trading away their long-time captain, Jarome Iginla.
For fans of junior hockey, Flames GM Jay Feaster was sure to spread his love around. Most likely it wasn’t by design, but it was still interesting that he ended up taking one player from each of the three Canadian circuits. First up was Sean Monahan of the OHL (sixth overall), followed by Emile Poirier of the QMJHL (22nd) and then the WHL’s Morgan Klimchuk (28).
To the surprise of nobody, the latter two didn’t stick with the big club coming out of training camp. Monahan, the former captain of the Ottawa 67’s, became one of the rare teenagers to make the jump straight into the NHL.
Although some viewed his addition to the roster as perhaps a temporary thing, it quickly became obvious that he was here to stay. After posting nine points, including six goals, in his first nine games, the Flames made it official on Wednesday – Monahan will not be returned to his junior club.
“I guess I didn’t know what to expect coming into it,” he remarked on Monday night, following Calgary’s 3-2 win in Los Angeles. “I just want to do my job and work hard everyday and try to get better everyday. I think that’s what I’m doing right now.”
His coach, Bob Hartley, obviously likes what he’s doing.
“I don’t hesitate one bit to put him on the ice in any kind of situation,” said the Flames’ bench boss. “I still watch certain match-ups, but on the road you don’t always have the final say. [The Kings] tried to rough him up and that didn’t even bother him one bit. I think that’s quite a feat for a kid of his age.”
It was a point Monahan acknowledged, as well.
“They’re probably the most physical team that we’ve played so far,” he said.
Even so, just 19 years old, as of a few weeks ago, Monahan is already drawing some impressive comparisons from a few of his teammates and opponents.
“I have to draw a little bit of [a] comparison to a guy that I saw in his first two years, Kopitar,” Flames forward Mike Cammalleri told MayorsManor. “I saw Anze come in as a young guy and be able to play with such poise and such strength and power through the neutral zone with the puck and around the net at such a young age. And be such a special player. There [are] definitely some flashes reminding me [of Kopitar] when I see this kid.”
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau was also impressed when the Flames recently visited Anaheim.
“He knows where the net is,” noted the veteran coach. “He’s always around the puck and he can skate. I think they hit a home run drafting him.”
Darryl Sutter made things a little more personal when asked about the Brampton, Ontario native.
“He’s a very good player. he was drafted sixth in the world at 18 years old. He reminds me a lot of my brother Brent.”
Given all this attention, you would think it might be tough for Monahan to remain grounded. Not so, claims Flames defenseman Shane O’Brien.
“Since I met the kid, he came into camp very humble. He didn’t say a whole lot, he’s probably a little bit shy, and I think he realized that you have to earn everything you’re given. He’s a very even-keeled kid. Even after the success that he’s had, he’s not excited everyday and thinking he’s a super star. He’s working and continuing to get his game better. I think he’s a special kid in that way, that he’s pretty even-keeled. He realizes that he has a good start. I’m sure that it’s the start of something really special and he’s going to continue to work hard. He’s a great kid. He talks to me at the rink and he’s always fun to talk to. You can tell he’s enjoying himself.”
O’Brien went on to say that even with nearly 500 games of NHL experience, he may not be the best veteran to give the kid advice.
“I don’t know if I tell him too much. I think he probably already has more career goals than I have,” quipped O’Brien.
Seriously though, there’s plenty of experienced players in the Flames locker room who can help show Monahan the ropes of NHL life.
“We have a good group of veteran guys and we’re going to continue to talk to him,” O’Brien continued. “Any questions that he has, I’m sure he feels comfortable now to go up and ask veteran guys. He’s a smart hockey player, he has it figured out. Now teams are going to keen in on him and know that he’s a good player. He’s going to see some better defense pairings than at the start of the year. But I think he’s up for the challenge. I’m just impressed by how mature he is. I know if I was 18 or 19 years old, having the success that he has, I’d probably be up to some more fun things than he’s up to. He’s doing a great job of staying in the moment. He’s a professional already at 19 years old. It’s pretty impressive.”
“He and the rest of the veterans, I think they’ve been a very calm influence on those two young guys and I think that’s really helped their play. I think Jiri brings nice patience, lots of talk with Baertschi and Monahan and that’s why I think they’re playing real good right now.”
Moving forward, Hartley acknowledges Monahan will need to make some adjustments in his game, since other teams are now more likely to key in on him.
“Early on, I know teams were not paying too much attention to him because he was a young kid. Now that he’s producing, I’m sure that teams will be well aware of when he’s going to be on the ice and they’ll be paying special attention. On the flip side, I rarely have seen a young player learn and improve at his pace. We show him video, we get him on the ice for practice, and we put him through at the end of practice some clips that we showed him on the video. We try to recreate some drills where we want to teach him, and he grabs it right away. He’s showing unbelievable poise and great maturity for a young man.”
Playing center, Monahan is going to need to hold his own at the face-off dot against bigger, stronger players to keep getting the ice time he’s been receiving.
“The Getzlafs and the Thorntons and Jarret Stoll…they’re big bodies plus they’re real good face-off centermen. It’s going to be a test, it’s going to be a learning lesson, but that’s why he’s only 19 years old. You can’t go to the pharmacy and buy a bottle of experience. You have to live it. Experience is a combination of good moments and bad moments and you put this in a bag and suddenly you get a two, three-year veteran. Right now, he’s not at that stage.”
Nine games in and he’s all the talk of the NHL though. How does that sit with Monahan?
“I guess it’s pretty cool. It’s not something I think about. I’m just trying to work hard and earn a spot here.”
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