Mangiapane signing shows Flames not afraid of size

Flames coach Bob Hartley sits down with Leah Hextall to talk about the veteran leadership, coaching the young players, the organizational culture and the current NHL playing style.

His name means “eat bread” in Italian.

But Andrew Mangiapane is determined on ensuring critics eat their words instead.

He’s done a good job of that the last two years with the OHL’s Barrie Colts, throwing up numbers that dwarf the ones naysayers point to when his name comes up.

While it’s tough to ignore the brilliance involved in scoring 51 goals and 106 points in 59 games this season, no stat line comes without reminders that he’s generously listed at five-foot-10, 182 pounds.

His small frame explains why he was a sixth-round pick of the Calgary Flames last summer despite putting up 104 points as an 18-year-old.

If any team knows about how a smaller, late-round pick can pay off it’s the Calgary Flames, who took Johnny Gaudreau in the fourth round, Theo Fleury in the eighth round and also gave undrafted Martin St. Louis his NHL start.

Incidentally, both Mangiapane and Fleury went 166th overall.

Gaudreau and Mangiapane both play left wing, both are small and the Flames would love if both were in their lineup as early as next year. They were two of the most talked-about players during training camp last summer.

Too bad the two never got a chance to chat last fall as Mangiapane is itching to soak up as much knowledge as possible from the NHL’s smallest player-turned biggest of stars.

“I watched him all the time in camp and I’ve been watching him a lot on TV,” Mangiapane said hours after signing an entry level contract with Calgary on Wednesday.

“Johnny’s a great player and growing up I would always watch Martin St. Louis. Those are the types I watch and take as many notes as I can.”

Comparisons to Gaudreau, while unfair, are only natural given their stature and their employer.

They’re also pretty exciting for Flames fans as the club sorely lacks high-end skilled players who can fill top-six roles.

Calgary also lacks size, making Mangiapane’s future path a fascinating study.

“It’s the best compliment you can get when people say I’m like Gaudreau – he’s a great player,” said Mangiapane, who finished second in OHL goal scoring and is the OHL’s current player of the month.

“There are similarities as he’s got pretty good hands in tight areas, he’s small and speedy. I’ve just got to play my game, which is being hard on the puck and not afraid to get in the dirty areas. I feel like I’m a tenacious forward with good vision who can see teammates well and has pretty good shot. I definitely feel this year I had more confidence.”

That confidence grew at the Flames’ rookie camp in Penticton, B.C., last fall where Mangiapane was a stand out, earning a spot in the main camp in which he also turned plenty of heads.

“I definitely felt I had a great camp, learned a lot and was happy and excited to be there learning systems and meeting new faces,” he said.

“It was pretty cool to play my first exhibition game in Edmonton. Hearing the fans boo you as soon as we stepped on the ice just because you are wearing Calgary colours was awesome.”

Embracing that sort of reception is something he hopes to get used to with the Flames next year when he’ll try to crack the lineup as a 20-year-old. It’s a long shot given his size and how patient Calgary vows to be with its youngsters.

The Flames most certainly could use a player of his description to round out their top duo of Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Outside of landing a starting goaltender, it’s Calgary’s most pressing need this summer.

“My goal next year is to make Calgary and I’ll work hard and train as much as I can to do that,” said Mangiapane, who has been trying to gain weight and muscle while following nutrition guidelines provided by the Flames.

“Being a smaller player the goal is always to get bigger.”

Mangiapane’s current focus is trying to win an OHL title, which starts on Thursday when the Colts host Game 1 of their opening playoff series against the Mississauga Steelheads.

“I haven’t played with many better people than him (Mangiapane),” Colts teammate and Winnipeg Jets prospect Brendan Lemieux (son of Claude) told the Calgary Sun earlier this year.

“Forget the hockey, he’s an exceptional kid and he’s a great player as well. He’s undersized and not overly flashy/skilled, but when the puck’s in the corner, he finds a way to come out with it. Some games, you may not say, ‘Wow’ and see a whole bunch of him, but he’s got two points. He’s that kind of guy that is smarter and reading the play ahead of everybody else. He’s up there with a lot of first-round picks as for where his head is.”

Words to savour for Flames fans hoping Mangiapane can be part of the next wave of talented prospects pushing for NHL roster spots.

Mangiapane’s next step is likely in Stockton, Calif., with Calgary’s AHL affiliate, for a brief playoff stint.

“This is just the beginning,” said Mangiapane, who also led the OHL with eight short-handed goals.

“Signing with the Flames makes me proud and excited.”