AHL round-up: Bancks elated to sign first NHL contract

It's awfully hard to wipe the smile off Carter Bancks's face these days.

Carter Bancks (right)

It’s awfully hard to wipe the smile off Carter Bancks’s face these days.

It hasn’t been an easy road for the Marysville, B.C. native, but he can now call himself a bona fide NHL prospect.

Bancks went through the NHL entry draft on three occasions without hearing his name called, but after a successful-if-abbreviated rookie season with the Abbotsford Heat, it was announced last Saturday that he’d signed a two-year, two-way (NHL/AHL) contract with the Calgary Flames, the Heat’s parent club.

“It’s an amazing feeling – it’s been a bit of a process,” said Bancks, who was on an AHL contract with the Heat last season. “I’ve never been drafted, but it’s great that I’ve been able to work and get myself to an NHL contract. It’s an opportunity. I still have to improve a lot as a player to take advantage of it, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Bancks, 21, distinguished himself last season despite being limited to 29 games due to a concussion. The gritty forward notched 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) and posted a +4 rating, and was an effective presence on the Heat penalty kill.

Bancks hopes to build on his 2010-11 performance, and to that end, he’s moved to Calgary at the start of June to work out with train with Rich Hesketh, the Flames’ strength coach. The goal is to build strength, but not necessarily bulk, because he wants to maintain his speed and quickness.

Beyond his own contract situation, Bancks has been excited by the moves the Flames have made to shore up their organizational depth. Bringing in quality AHL veterans like Ben Walter, Guillaume Desbiens and Clay Wilson bodes well for the team in Abbotsford.

“Those are three huge signings, and it definitely gets you excited,” Bancks said. “I’m sure they’re going to come to (Flames) camp and push for a spot, but if they end up down in Abbotsford, they’ll be outstanding players. I’m thrilled Calgary made those signings. I’ve got a lot of respect for all three of those guys.”

SECURITY SUITS LAING

Quintin Laing was a hard man to get in touch with last week. He was back home at the family farm in Harris, Sask. – out of cell phone range – helping his dad finish off seeding.

“I like getting out there,” Laing said, reflecting on his time behind the wheel of a tractor. “It’s kind of neat seeding a field and watching it grow.

“The kids enjoy it, too – getting away from the city. It’s kind of nice, kind of relaxing.”

Last Saturday, the same day they announced the Bancks signing, the Flames also confirmed they’ve signed Laing to a two-year AHL contract.

Getting the deal done is a huge load off Laing’s mind. Last summer, as an unrestricted free agent, he waited for months for an offer to materialize. Finally, in mid-October, he landed with the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings. In early November, he got a call from the Heat, and within two months he was named team captain.

“We could have waited until July 1 to see what was out there, but I kind of wanted to get a deal done early this year,” Laing said. “Last year was kind of a headache – I didn’t want to go through that again. The earlier I could sign a deal, the better.

“Having a family, any time you know where you’re going to be for two years is nice – for the kids for schooling, and for my wife. And it’s nice going back to a team where you know the guys, the organization and the city. I was pretty excited they wanted me back.”

Like Bancks, Laing is excited about the off-season makeover the Heat have been undergoing. Along with the player signings, Troy Ward – an assistant coach with the Heat last season – was named head coach to replace Jim Playfair, who departed for an associate coaching job with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Laing said he was sad to see Playfair go, but noted that Ward is respected within the locker room for his work ethic and knowledge.

“It’s great to see Troy get the job,” Laing said. “He has a hockey mind – he lives and breathes it.”

ICE CHIPS:

• Since free agency opened on July 1, several local players have been on the move. Abbotsford Minor Hockey product Dean Arsene signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Phoenix Coyotes. The 30-year-old defenceman spent last year with the Peoria Rivermen, the St. Louis Blues’ affiliate, notching one goal and 10 assists in 77 games.

• After one season in the Edmonton Oilers system, Brad Moran is headed back to Europe. The 32-year-old centre has reportedly signed with Vaxjo Lakers HC of Sweden after racking up 72 points in 79 games with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons last season. Moran had previously played two seasons in Switzerland and two seasons in Sweden.

• Brad Thiessen has a new two-way contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Aldergrove-born goalie, who attended high school at Abbotsford’s Mennonite Educational Institute, is coming off a career year with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Thiessen led the AHL with 35 wins, and posted a 1.94 goals against average and .922 save percentage. He won the Aldege ‘Baz’ Bastien Award as the AHL’s top goalie and he shared the Harry ‘Hap’ Holmes Memorial Award with fellow Penguins netminder John Curry, as the duo allowed the fewest regular-season goals against.

• Former Heat defenceman Matt Pelech has landed a one-year, two-way contract with the San Jose Sharks. A former first-round pick by the Calgary Flames (26th overall in 2005), Pelech was a restricted free agent, but the Flames elected not to make a qualifying offer. The 23-year-old defenceman posted three goals, two assists and 198 penalty minutes last season with the Heat.

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