The first of two rookie matchups between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers rookies did not disappoint.
Last night in Edmonton, prospects from teams clashed in an entertaining Battle of Alberta that saw the Flames lose 4–3. However, several top Flames prospects impressed, including two first-round picks in Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary.
The Flames rookies got off to a blistering start in this one. It was a sloppy game throughout, but the Flames capitalized first off a solid forecheck. Walker Duehr put home his own rebound after a nice feed from Pelletier right into the slot. Zary received the secondary assist on the play; it was a rare 5v5 shift with both Pelletier and Zary on the ice.
Under a minute later, Ryan Francis gave the Flames a 2-0 lead off a gorgeous tic-tac-toe. Assists went to Francis’ QMJHL teammate Jeremie Poirier and to Duehr.
The Oilers were on their heels, but managed to get back into the game with their power play. Henry Rybinski finished a nice passing play to cut the lead down to one goal. The Flames answered back with a goal from alternate captain Martin Pospisil, also on the power play, cleaning up garbage in front.
The first period ended with the Flames up 3–1.
The second period belonged to the Oilers. Rybinski scored another power play goal, and then Phil Kemp scored off a very unfortunate deflection off Johannes Kinvall’s stick into the top corner of Dustin Wolf’s net. That tied the game at 3–3 heading into the third.
There was just one more goal in this tilt, Kemp’s second of the game to give the Oilers their first lead of the game. That would hold up as the game winner.
Forwards that stood out
The first positive from this rookie game was the play of both Flames first rounders, Pelletier and Zary. Both were all over the ice and making skilled plays in all situations, and looked exactly the way they should have as the best players wearing red.
Zary’s skill was on display as he was making quick moves to keep the puck and set up his teammates both on 5v5 and the power play. His work on the half wall of the man advantage was superb and with better finishing talent around him the Flames could have had a few more goals directly because of Zary’s skill.
That being said, I think Pelletier was the Flames’ best skater. He was much, much faster than I expected after only watching him in the QMJHL and the World Juniors, and he used his speed very well on both offense and defense. I particularly liked his play on the penalty kill where he was very aggressive and hounded the puck every chance he got.
It’s just one game, but I think Pelletier is going to make things very difficult on the Flames’ brass when main camp rolls around. He looked real good.
Another pair of forwards that really stood out were Duehr and Emilio Pettersen. Duehr is a massive human being and used his size very well to create scoring chances. He was a monster out there, chipping in on offense and dishing out punishing hits. Pettersen is a player whose skill shines through every time he has the puck. He is very slick and crafty with the puck and is clearly a very talented player. He’ll be an interesting name to watch in Stockton this year. If he can score at a high rate he could earn a call up to the big club as soon as this season.
Defensemen that stood out
On the back end, Koletrane Wilson was noticeable almost every shift. He is also a big body and likes to throw his weight around. He did get into some penalty trouble because of his aggressive style of play, but he was a force on the blueline and that’s what his calling card is. There was one segment of the broadcast where the Oilers’ team was trying to spotlight their most recent first round pick Zavier Bourgault, but the entire reel they played just showed Wilson running around hitting people. It was great.
As well, Poirier was a fun player to watch in this one solely due to his high end offensive instincts. He’s clearly an offensive defenseman that loves to play in the offensive zone. He was walking the line, waiting out defenders, and making truly excellent offensive plays from his spot on the blueline. He has all the makings of a future power play quarterback and he should be an absolute force for the Saint John Sea Dogs this season.
Wolf was the only goalie the Flames dressed in this first game, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him suit up on Monday night for at least a portion of that game as well. He’s the goalie of the future and the more times the Flames can see him in game action against his peers, the better.
It was a solid game for Wolf, not spectacular but that wasn’t completely his fault. He was beat on two power plays and one truly horrible deflection off his own defender’s stick, but the game winning goal should have been stopped and Wolf definitely regrets that one getting past him.
He made a number of very impressive saves and was generally quite poised in his own net. He was scrambling a bit when there was confusion and chaos behind the goal, but he was able to recover on most occasions and make timely saves. I hope he does end up playing in Monday night’s rematch because, with all due respect to Connor Ungar and Carter Serhyenko, I’m more interested in seeing how Wolf bounces back from this loss than I am to see those two in a game, period.
The Flames and Oilers rookies will play one more game on Monday night before rookie camp wraps up. From there, a select few from this group of rookies will be invited to participate in the Flames’ main camp, Zary and Pelletier likely leading that group.
Hopefully the Flames can draw even with the Oilers on Monday night and go into main camp on a high note.