Flames elect to keep top prospect on pro roster

Calgary makes a risky decision by not sending Sean Monahan back to junior hockey. Photo: Resolute

SANTA CRUZ, October 26, 2013 — The Calgary Flames announced that 19-year-old rookie Sean Monahan would be staying with the club for the foreseeable future. While the news was certainly welcome to Monahan, as well as Flames fans who have fallen in love with the slick forward and his quick offensive start, the decision will ultimately be one the Flames regret.

The early reports on Monahan are glowing. He is tied for second in team scoring with six goals and three assists for a total of nine points. He has shown poise and maturity with the puck and a willingness to go to the tough areas to score. Flames fans, starved for offensive flair, are already enamored with Monahan, sensing he may be the goal-scoring savior they have waited for. By all accounts he is humble and coachable and gets along well with the rest of the team.

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At the moment, Monahan is getting minutes on special teams and playing in almost every situation for coach Bob Hartley, but this will change. The NHL is an adjustment league. It will not be long before opposing teams and their goaltenders will have an extensive book on Monahan. He will be getting extra attention from opposing centers and he will be targeted for extra aggression. For the first time since he was kid, he will find the goals hard to come by and, unable to score at his normal pace, he will struggle to figure out the other components of the professional game. He will lose his confidence and, before long, he will lose his minutes.

Development of high end prospects is integral to a team’s success. Unless a young player is so dominant in all phases of the game that they give the coaches no choice but to play them, the best thing for everyone is to send that player back to junior. Having a 19-year-old prospect spending his game nights in the press box does not help his development and, in some cases, it can stall or even reverse it. 

The smarter move by Calgary’s front office would have been to send Monahan back to Ottawa of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), where he would play a ton of minutes every night and continue to round out his game away from the puck. The Flames, knowing their team will struggle to score goals and transfixed by Monahan’s early scoring, have made an error in judgement, one which may ruin their prospect or, at the least, delay his progress. With a talented player like Monahan, a team must consider the bigger picture and what will be best for that player’s overall development. 

There is little doubt that Sean Monahan can score goals, but to do it every night in the world’s top league, while knowing how to play away from the puck, is another matter. Monahan has a lot yet to learn and he will find it hard to mature as a player if he is sitting in the press box on game nights. It is the worst imaginable scenario. The club has to pay him, as the first year of his contract kicks in, while he sits more than he plays. His development will also be stalled by lack of ice time and, as his confidence plummets, he may begin second guessing his game, which is the reason he was a first round pick in the first place.

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Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.

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Russ Rankin

Raised in the decidedly non-traditional hockey region of Santa Cruz, California, Russ Rankin fell in love with the game as a kid while watching the "Miracle On Ice" 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He began playing recreationally as an adult when the Sharks joined the NHL in nearby San Jose and regularly attends Sharks home games. His favorite NHL team is the New Jersey Devils, which he has been following since the 1987-88 season. In 2007, with more and more U.S. born players (particularly from California) making an impact in the WHL, Rankin pursued his passion and knowledge of the game into a job scouting California for WHL clubs. He can be seen at rinks all over the state searching for the next great crop of players.

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