The NHL offseason is officially underway as all teams are now turning towards the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Over the past few weeks, The Win Column closed out our prospect coverage over the 2020–21 season with our Calgary Flames 2021 Prospect Rankings, which highlighted the top-15 prospects as ranked by TWC.
Final Flames prospect rankings
Let’s break down some of the trends seen in the rankings.
Lots of consensus
First and foremost, the TWC team felt very strongly that Connor Zary is the Flames’ best prospect. Every one ranked him first overall. This should not come as a surprise given not only his incredibly junior hockey career, but how electric he was at the AHL level to start the season. Given how well he did in pro hockey, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him in the NHL as early as the beginning of next season.
Beyond that, the team felt strongly in the entire top-five. Zary was joined by Jakob Pelletier, Dustin Wolf, Matthew Phillips, and Connor Mackey in this group, Only one person ranked Mackey outside the top-five—placing him sixth behind Jeremie Poirier.
Again, this grouping should not be a surprise. Wolf has been among the best goalie in the WHL in each season he has played, while Pelletier has been among the best player in the entire QMJHL for the last two seasons. Phillips and Mackey are closing in on being full-time NHLers.
Oddly enough, the only other close to consensus pick was Adam Ruzicka at 10th overall. With just one ranking at 12 and one at 11, the team seems incredibly bullish on the Slovak. While he did have a very good season, with some calling for him to be an NHL regular, this production is largely coming out of the blue. Without a track record of strong play, there are a number of risks that this could be a flash in the pan from him. However, having seen him play in various leagues, it is clear that he has the tools to be incredible effective.
Lots of divergence of opinion
Three prospects inspired a lot of division in the rankings. Glenn Gawdin was the most divisive, with two writers placing him sixth, one fifteenth, and one did not rank him at all. While everyone agreed that he was a strong producer for Stockton—tied for the team lead in points this season—there were questions around his ceiling. Some viewed him as a very good AHLer or a 13th forward type player in the NHL, while others felt he could rise as high as the middle-six. Next season will be very telling for the former Swift Current Bronco.
Johannes Kinnvall also inspired a lot of doubt among our team, being ranked as high as sixth and as low as 14th. The Swedish offensive defencemen was incredible for the recently relegated HV-71 in the SHL, but it will be interesting to see how his game translates over to North America. He will probably need a couple seasons of marinating in the AHL and working primarily on his defensive game. But if he can improve that, he could be an effective power play quarterback at the NHL level down the road. Whether he gets there will be the question.
Finally the Flames sole Norwegian prospect, Mathias Emilio Pettersen also inspired a lot of doubt. He was ranked as high as sixth but as low as 13th in this season’s prospect rankings. After being nearly a point-per-game for the University of Denver, he took a step back by putting up just 14 points in 29 games in the AHL. This while shooting an whopping 16.2% all season long. This is remarkably high, so it will be up to Pettersen to show that he can continue to produce and drive play at the AHL level in order to work his way into the NHL conversation. With a number of young players heading to the Heat next season, he will have a fight on his hands to show he deserves to be in the conversation.
On the outside looking in
Finally, a number of prospects did not garner any votes. This included last year’s picks Jake Boltmann—who played a split season between the Lincoln Stars of the USHL and Notre Dame in the NCAA—and Rory Kerins—who struggled to earn icetime in the AHL when the OHL did not restart. Next year will be a big year for both as Boltmann will be looking for his first NCAA point and Kerins will be looking to take a step forward in his development in junior.
Neither of the Flames’ two prospects who have only played in Russia so far made the cut either: Ilya Nikolayev or Daniil Chechelev. Nikolayev had a productive season playing primarily in the VHL. He will be looking to take a step forward next season in the KHL.
Chechelev meanwhile had a tale of two seasons, starting off red hot but cooling down substantially in the back half of the season. He is currently without a contract in Russia, and has an outside chance of coming across to North America to start next season. Is he ready for that? It seems like no, but his numbers in both the MHL and VHL to start the season show there may be more than what meets the eye with him.
Finally, three significant Heat prospects were unranked this year: Luke Philp, Eetu Tuulola, and Colton Poolman. Philp had an excellent season for Stockton, putting up 17 points in 30 games, but going on 26, it feels like his runway is getting really short to make the NHL. Tuulola has been a character and cult favorite in the Flames community, but his on-ice play leaves something to be desired. In his sophomore season with the Heat, he managed just seven points, and will need to make a mark next season to stay in the conversation.
Finally, Poolman has been a steady defensive option for the Heat this season, with six points in 21 games as a rookie. Could he work his way into the conversation down the road? Possibly, but there are a lot of pieces on the left side for him to jump over if he is going to make the NHL.
The long and the short of it is the future looks bright for the Flames. With high-end elite talents like Zary, Pelletier, and Phillips, a potential goalie of the future in Wolf, and number of prospects who could turn into NHLers down the road including Jeremie Poirier, Ryan Francis, and Emil Heineman, the Flames have a good set of prospects in their system.
We will all watch their careers with great interest, as making it to the NHL is the ultimate goal. Soon enough we’ll know who will make the jump for the 2021–21 season and beyond.