The play of 19-year-old center Sean Monahan is among the unexpected early bright spots for the rebuilding Calgary Flames this season .
Selected sixth overall in the 2013 NHL draft, Monahan surprised many observers by cracking the Flames lineup following training camp. In his first nine regular season games, he’s displayed remarkable poise and skill for a young player. His six goals and nine points were among the reasons behind the Flames surprising 4-3-2 record.
Critics argue Monahan benefited from playing against weak opposition, but six of his nine points came against tough opposition in the LA Kings, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens.
Monahan gives the Flames a budding young star around whom they can not only rebuild, but also a selling point to encourage those Calgary fans disgruntled over the club’s decline.
With long-time franchise players Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff now departed, Monahan could one day fill that void.
By the time Monahan played his ninth game, the Flames had to either keep him in the lineup or return him to his junior team for the rest of the season.
By returning him to junior, the Flames wouldn’t burn up a year in Monahan’s entry-level contract, plus it would allow him another year of seasoning at the junior level.
The biggest fear for some Flames followers is Monahan, unused to a full NHL season, could wear down under the hectic pace and the heightened expectations brought about by his early play.
It’s also been argued the Flames shouldn’t waste his development and a year of his entry-level contract on a season when so little is expected from the club.
The flip side, however, is the enormous benefits for the Flames as a team and Monahan as a player by keeping him at the NHL level.
Monahan, like many promising rookies before him, could falter over the course of an 82-game season. Then again, he could continue to blossom into a Calder Trophy nominee.
The 2007 Chicago Blackhawks were in the same state the Calgary Flames are in now. A rebuilding club with no chance of making the postseason, possessing a promising young forward named Patrick Kane.
The Blackhawks could have returned Kane to his junior team, but opted instead to keep him for the season. Though the Blackhawks finished well out of the playoffs with only 71 points in 82 games, Kane won the Calder as rookie of the year with 72 points, going on to become one of the NHL’s top forwards and a key component in the Blackhawks recent Stanley Cup championships.
That’s not to say Monahan will score at the same pace as Kane, or even win the Calder trophy, but given his solid effort in his first nine NHL games, he’s earned his opportunity.
It’s also feared Monahan’s game could regress over the course of this season, thus damaging his confidence and eroding his skills.
While that’s a possibility, the only way to find out is to let the kid play. If he’s got the strong personality the Flames believe he has, he’ll eventually overcome any first-year difficulties, learn from them and improve.
Coddling the kid by keeping him in Junior when he’s so far proven he can more than hold his own at the NHL level can also prove harmful. Why waste his skills in Junior when he’s obviously beyond that level?
As for the contract issue, even if it burns up a year of his entry-level deal, so what? At the end of this contract, the Flames will merely follow the example of other clubs with rising young stars and ink him to an affordable two-three year “bridge contract”, ensuring they have Monahan under affordable salary terms for five-six seasons before he starts qualifying for big raises.
Attempting to forestall that for a year at the expense of the kid’s professional development may seem like a smart short-term business decision, but it could potentially do more harm than good to his on-ice skills.
Before pre-season and the regular season, the message from the Flames management and coaching staff was performance would determine ice time. Monahan upheld his part of the deal. It was only right the Flames upheld their end.