The ongoing pandemic has created an interesting circumstance: on this side of the pond, most hockey leagues have either not started yet, or had numerous stoppages in play. Across the pond in Europe, most elite leagues have started with teams able to play numerous games. With the AHL, OHL, WHL not playing, and numerous NCAA teams not playing this season, teams have looked for ways to get their prospects going.
The Flames were able to successfully get many of their guys going, with six players able to get playing time in Europe. Playing in five different leagues, often against other prospects who play full time in those leagues, some prospects really stood out, while others likely had more fun off the ice than on it. Here’s how each prospect did in their respective stints.
Glenn Gawdin is on the bubble to make the Flames roster this year, having had an incredible season in Stockton last year. With the Heat not ready to start, the Flames sent Gawdin off to Switzerland to get some games under his belt. Visp plays in the Swiss second division, which is confusingly called the Swiss League.
However, between COVID-19 cases and other unknown reasons, Gawdin only managed to get into one game in his stint overseas. Hopefully he enjoyed the chocolates and got some skiing in.
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Having put up 67 points in 40 games last season with the Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL, Zavgorodny was due to start in Stockton this season, but the Flames found a home for him in Russia instead.
Zavgorodny made the jump immediately to the KHL, Russia’s highest league, as a 20-year-old. Fresh out of junior, this was his first time playing professional hockey, and managed to put up three points in his six games. SKA St Petersburg is an incredibly strong team, currently top of their division and third in the KHL. Being a young loanee, Zavgorodny struggled to get reliable playing time.
While he did get to play alongside former Flames Linden Vey and Oscar Fantenberg, Zavgorodny pointed to a team trip to the opera as a highlight of his loan stint.
When the Flames sent Zagidulin back over to Russia to play with his former club, they expected the transition to be a bit more seamless, and for him to perform a little better than he did. Unfortunately that was not the case. Big Snag Zag was not as prolific at making big saves this time around as he was in Stockton last season. He last played in October, nearly two months ago.
While his loan stint did not work out as well as many had hoped, he got to be back with his old club for a while. Located at the base of the Ural Mountains, maybe he got some skiing in as well.
Unsurprisingly, all eyes were on Valimaki to see how his loan stint would go. Having been out of action for over a year rehabbing his knee, Flames management and fans alike were eager to see what type of shape he would be in going into this season.
Thankfully, Valimaki was dialed in and elevated his play, performing at a point-per-game pace, and helping Ilves take the top spot in Liiga. On top of that, numerous European scouts looked to him as not only the best defenceman in the league, but potentially as the best player this season. Not bad for the 22-year-old.
Although Valimaki is back in Calgary, hoping to claim a spot in the defensive rotation, his time in Tampere was spent under the spotlight. Outside of hockey, the defenceman would have spent his time in a place dubbed the Manchester of the North. Tampere is known for mustamakkara, a black sausage similar to English blood pudding. While Valimaki would have a tough time bringing that back through customs, we are told his suitcase was filled to the brim with delicious Finnish chocolates.
When the Flames sent Tuulola back across the pond on a loan stint in the Swedish Allsvenskan, they likely expected that is where he would end his stint. However Vasterviks had a player rejoin the team, and as such there was no room to carry Tuulola on their roster. He finished his stint in Sweden with four points.
From there, the mighty Finn found his way across the border east to his homeland of Finland, where he joined SaiPa. Unlike Valimaki’s Ilves team, SaiPa toiled near the bottom of the standings in Liiga, and Tuulola immediately slotted in to the top line to try and right the ship. However in his stint there, he did not pick up any points. His impact on the ice with his team was unfortunately not reflected with his stat line.
Coming back to Stockton for his second season, Tuulola is hoping to improve from an impressive rookie season in which he put up 23 points in 50 games. Moving to West Coast California from the extreme east edge of Finland, Tuulola hopefully made the most of his time in Lappeenranta. Located just 30 kilometers from the Russian border, the forward has moved around plenty and will find comfort in a more stable role.
A 2018 4th round pick, Pospisil finished his rookie season in Stockton with 10 points and 56 penalty minutes in 56 games last season. This season, the Flames found a home for him in his home country of Slovakia. Interestingly, prior to coming over to North America to join the Sioux City Musketeers, Pospisil played in the Red Bull Salzburg system in Austria, former home of Derek Brassard
While all other Flames prospects have come home, Pospisil is still playing in Slovakia, and continues to put up points. As resported by Ryan Pike of FlamesNation, Pospisil contracted COVID-19 and was unable to return to Canada for training camp. He will likely be back for the start of the Stockton Heat camp, barring any further complications.
Probably one of the least discussed Flames prospects on a loan stint, Pospisil continues to have an excellent campaign for Kosice. He sits third in goals on the team and fourth in team scoring. He accomplished this having played between three and seven games less than the rest of his teammates. He is also third in the entire league in penalty minutes with a whopping 90. Pospisil definitely brought grit and truculence over to Slovakia in his hockey bag.
When it does inevitably end, his loan stint can only be considered a success. Pospisil continues put up great numbers, and make a mark in the Slovak League. When he was due to leave, Kosice signed Chris Langkow, brother of former Flame Daymond Langkow to fill his spot. He will likely get into game action once Pospisil makes the trip back across the pond
All in all, these loans allowed the handful of Flames prospects to continue their development. Now as the focus is shifted on the NHL, the resumption of top-level North American hockey is full steam ahead. The loans allowed for some additional evaluation of the Flames’ prospect cupboard. With any luck, the upcoming year will carry forward with a safely executed return to hockey for the leagues involved.