Flames prospect Joni Ortio during his brief stay with the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL in 2011–12.
Amy Williams/Abbotsford Heat

Tempered expectations

Cautious optimism surrounds the Flames’s European prospects

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While the Calgary Flames have plenty of quality prospects in North America, their most intriguing prospects reside on the other side of the pond. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Flames have a lot of NHL-ready talent outside the continent — or even that they have high-level developmental talent — but they do have three guys who are putting up good numbers.

The difference between the leagues in Europe in which the Flames’s prospects are playing in and the ones in North America is the skill level ­— the two leagues the Flames have players in, the SM-Liiga (Finland) and KHL (Russia), aren’t developmental leagues. They’re primarily professional leagues much like the NHL is. 

The quality of competition in non-NHL leagues is lesser than the NHL, so some measure of care must be taken when evaluating players in leagues like the KHL since they’re playing against grown men — there aren’t any 100-point seasons here.

Perhaps the Flames’s best-known prospect outside of North America is Karri Ramo. Ramo was acquired along with Mike Cammalleri and a fifth-round pick last January in exchange for Rene Bourque, Patrick Holland and a second-round pick. The 26-year-old goaltender made his NHL debut for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008, when current Flames General Manager Jay Feaster was the GM in Tampa. 

Ramo’s statistics were less than stellar, but not many 21-year-old goaltenders do well in the NHL. The six-foot-three, 207 pound goaltender went to the KHL the season after some encouragement from the Lightning’s management due to a glut of goaltending prospects from the Canadian Hockey League. 

Since arriving in the KHL — the second-best hockey league in the world — Ramo has put up save percentages of .913, .925, .925 and finally a .929 this past season. Ramo’s team, Avangard Omsk, has made the playoffs every year since he arrived. Ramo’s playoff numbers aren’t bad either — aside from a three-game .886 in his first year, his save percentages have been .914, .940 and .917. Ramo’s KHL contract ends on April 31, so look for him on the Flames’s bench next season.

Another goaltender, Joni Ortio, is also making waves in Europe. Ortio was the Flames’s sixth-round pick in 2009 and has been shuffled around various teams in the Flames development system due to other contracts and the unique benefit that comes with a player staying in their European league post-draft — their entry level contract doesn’t activate until they play pro games in North America. 

Ortio’s first full year as a starter in the SM-Liiga was this past season, when he put up a .916 save percentage as a 21-year-old. He also performed quite well in the playoffs for his team, HIFK, with a .926 in five playoff games.

Ortio’s teammate, and brother of current Minnesota Wild forward Mikael Granlund, is Markus Granlund, who happens to be the third and final Flames prospect playing overseas. As a 45th overall pick in 2011, he has appeared in two-straight World Junior Championships, captaining Finland this past January. 

Along with Ortio, 2012 was Granlund’s first full year with HIFK. The 19-year-old scored 10 goals and added 20 assists in 50 games, but he still has a long way to go as his six-foot frame only carries 173 pounds of weight. 

One interesting thing is that all three of these players are Finnish — likely a coincidence, but remarkable nonetheless. At this point, the only one of the three with near-future NHL potential is Ramo, but there’s plenty of time for the other two to make an impact.