The Calgary Flames have six players in the CHL this season: Rory Kerins in the OHL, Dustin Wolf and Connor Zary in the WHL, and Jakob Pelletier, Ryan Francis, and Jeremie Poirier in the QMJHL. Of the six, three—Pelletier, Wolf, and Zary—have been named to their respective leagues’ first all-star teams. While the WHL did break theirs down by division as opposed to by league this year, the fact that the Flames had three this year is incredibly impressive.
Connections between CHL all-stars and the Calgary Flames
It is incredibly rare for them to have more than one prospect on the all-star team of even one league in any given year. Let’s break down how they have done in the past.
While the Flames have three prospects in the Q this season, only one has ever been on the all-star team and that is Pelletier. This season, he was one of the six on the first all-star team, and was on the second all-star team in 2018–19.
While there is a very strong case to be made that Jeremie Poirier should have been one of the four defencemen on either of the two teams, it was not to be. The last time a Flames prospect made the first all-star team was 1995, with first-round pick Denis Gauthier earning the honour in 1995–96. He played parts of seven seasons with the Flames, and racked up over 500 NHL games and over 700 penalty minutes in his career.
The only other Flames player (who was not drafted by Calgary though) was a former member of the QMJHL’s second all-star team, and that was Paul Byron. A former sixth-round pick, Byron was traded to the Flames as part of the Robyn Regehr trade, but was lost on waivers to the Montreal Canadiens where he is still today.
While the Flames have not done as well at the QMJHL level, they have had much better luck at the OHL level. In fact, the Flames had two first all-star team players in 2015–16: Rasmus Andersson and Matthew Tkachuk. They were the only two who were drafted by the Flames, but are joined by former Flames Dougie Hamilton (2011–12), James Neal (2006–07), and Dennis Wideman (2003–04).
However, they have really shone on the second all-star team with six draft picks making the team. Prior to making the first all-star team in 2016–17, Andersson was on the second team the year before. Tyler Parsons made the team in 2016–17, snubbed from the first team by undrafted goaltender Michael McNiven who is currently with the Laval Rocket.
They are joined by sixth-round pick Andrew Mangiapane (2015–16), Sean Monahan (2011–12), Greg Nemisz (2008–09) and Kevin Mitchell (1999–00). Nemisz was the Flames’ first-round pick in 2008, but only featured in 15 NHL games. Mitchell was a ninth-round pick in 1998, but never made the NHL.
Aside from former draft picks, there have been three Flames who have made the OHL’s second all-star team. They are current Flames UFA Brett Ritchie (2012–13), the aforementioned Hamilton (2010–11) and netminder Tom McCollum (2008–09). McCollum was hardly in the Flames system, recall that the Flames had every intention to expose him the Vegas Expansion Draft.
The phrase, “West is best” holds true for Flames prospects in the WHL, where the team has had some of its best success in making the all-star teams. Far and away the most successful of the lot is Wolf, who has been a first team all-star for the last three seasons. He joins just five players since 1968 to have made the team three times, including former Everett Silvertips netminder Carter Hart.
Zary has also been named to the first team twice, 2019–20 and 2020–21. He will turn pro next season and will not have a chance to go for a three-peat. Joining him in the repeat category are Juuso Valimaki (2016–17 & 2017–18) Matthew Phillips (2016–17 & 2017–18), Dion Phaneuf (2003–04 & 2004–05), and Leland Irving (2005–06 & 2006–07). Interestingly, Irving is still playing in Austria with Bolzano HC.
The WHL breaks up their all-star team into East and West. On the West side, the Flames had Mitch Wahl (2009–10) as the only player to have made the team just once. He was a former second round pick who never made the NHL, and is currently in the German DEL. Former Flame Nigel Dawes also made the first team but was not drafted by Calgary. He is currently in the KHL.
As for the second team, the Flames have Dillon Dube (2012–13), Sven Baertschi (2011–12), Patrick Holland (2011–12), and Adam Cracknell (2005–06) as the players who made this team once. Holland was at one point a promising seventh-round pick, but only featured in a handful of NHL games after the Flames moved on from him. Cracknell meanwhile was a ninth-round pick, who actually got into over 200 NHL games after the Flames moved on from him. He is currently playing for the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL.
On the East first team, the Flames only drafted Keith Aulie (2008–09). However, the team later acquired Glenn Gawdin (2017–18), Curtis Lazar (2013–14), Alexander Petrovic (2009–10), and Troy Brouwer (2005–06). As for the second team went, the Flames had draft picks Laurent Brossoit (2012–13), Griffin Reinhart (2011–12), Micheal Ferland (2011–12), and John Negrin (2008–09). Negrin was a third-round pick in 2007 and played in just three NHL games.
While they did not draft them, the Flames also had Rinat Valiev (2014–15), Hunter Shinkaruk (2012–13), Brandon Davidson (2011–12), Travis Hamonic (2009–10) and Michael Stone (2008–09) on the second all-star team in the East.
Translating junior success to higher leagues
While it is incredibly impressive for the Flames to have three players on their respective all-star teams, it is clear from the litany of bodies who never had success at the NHL level that there is an enormous jump up from the CHL to the NHL. Here is hoping Zary, Pelletier, and Wolf have careers more like Tkachuk and less like Nemisz.