Yes, the Calgary Flames’ 2021 training camp isn’t close to being over. Isn’t it too soon to project what the Flames’ affiliated American Hockey League team might look like, especially considering we don’t yet know who will start the 2021–22 season in the NHL?
Perhaps… but, that being said, it’s pretty hard to imagine the Flames entering the upcoming season without all of Erik Gudbranson, Brett Ritchie, Trevor Lewis, Brad Richardson, and Michael Stone on the NHL roster. With those players likely all locked into NHL spots, it becomes much easier to start assembling a potential 2021–22 Stockton Heat lineup.
The Heat stumbled to an 11-17-2 record in 2020–21, including a miserable 3-15-2 run down the stretch. That sudden regression closely coincided with numerous personnel losses, including Connor Zary (to the WHL), Martin Pospisil (injury), and Justin Kirkland (injury).
Stockton’s current roster appears to be much deeper than its 2020–21 counterpart, particularly up front. Let’s start by taking a look at the forwards.
Projected depth chart:
Connor Zary* – Adam Ruzicka – Matthew Phillips
Jakob Pelletier – Glenn Gawdin – Luke Philp
Emilio Pettersen – Martin Pospisil – Dmitry Zavgorodniy
Justin Kirkland – Byron Froese – Walker Duehr
Alex Gallant – Mark Simpson – Eetu Tuulola
Wes Michaud – Ryan Olsen – Reid Perepeluk
* Zary is currently listed as week-to-week with a fracture in his left foot
Gallant, Simpson, and Tuulola were all regulars on the 2020–21 Heat. They’ve all been pushed off of this roster by the arrivals of Zary, Pelletier, and Duehr, all set to embark on their first full seasons of professional hockey.
The Ruzicka/Phillips connection will likely remain intact to start the 2021–22 season. Those two players tied for the team scoring lead in 2020–21 and played some of their best hockey while slotted alongside one another. Zary played his first nine professional games as the left wing on that line and looked confident while doing so, racking up three goals and seven points in nine games.
It remains to be seen whether Gawdin will make the Flames out of training camp. If he’s recalled to Calgary during the season, it’s easy to imagine Philp shifting to centre and Pettersen moving up into the top six.
Froese is far too qualified to toil as a fourth-line AHL centre but it’s hard to see him displacing anyone ahead of him on that depth chart. Maybe Pospisil moves to the wing, Zavgorodniy shifts down a line, and Froese slides into the No. 3 hole? It’s possible, although one would imagine the Flames would want both Pospisil and Zavgorodniy to get as many top-nine reps as possible at this stage.
Poor Eetu Tuulola looks destined to be the 13th forward on this team. It wasn’t long ago that Tuulola scored 23 points in 50 games as a 21-year-old AHL rookie; now, he’s likely a year away from heading back to Finland. He scored just seven points in 29 games last season and has been surpassed on the Flames’ prospect depth chart by so many other players.
Projected depth chart:
* Kinnvall is currently listed as week-to-week with a lower-body injury
Who are Welinski, Gravel, and DeSimone, you ask? The Flames signed all three of these veteran defenders this offseason; they’re experienced—if low-upside—options who will likely be tasked with helping North American newcomers Solovyov and Kinnvall find their way in the AHL.
Will Mackey be on this team? The 2021 Canadian Division all-star is exempt from waivers and will likely be returned to Stockton to allow Oliver Kylington and Michael Stone to remain with the Flames. Mackey, who just turned 25, is an excellent two-way defenceman at the AHL level.
Kinnvall looks to be a potential powerplay quarterback for the 2021–22 Heat, having scored 62 points in his last 83 Swedish Hockey League games with HV71. DeSimone, who has 97 points in 198 career AHL games, will definitely be used with the extra man.
Solovyov looks to be the wild card of this Stockton defence corps. The 2020 seventh-round pick spent the entire 2020–21 season playing a regular role on a KHL club, a very impressive feat for a 20-year-old defenceman. Solovyov put his offensive chops on display with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves in 2019–20, tying for sixth on the entire team with 40 points in 53 games.
Werner, 24, is certainly the most experienced of this goaltending crop. In 46 AHL games, Werner has strung together a 26-15-2 record to accompany a .907 save percentage. He’ll likely be the first called to action if the injury bug bites either Jacob Markstrom or Dan Vladar during the season.
Wolf is one of hockey’s most intriguing goalie prospects. He received his first taste of AHL action early in the 2020–21 season and excelled following a rough start. After allowing six goals on the first 12 shots he saw in the AHL, Wolf subsequently stopped 62 of the final 64 shots he faced over his final two appearances (both wins).
Shortridge and Greenfield—the latter of whom is a former Calgary Dino—have AHL contracts with Stockton but will likely spend the majority of the season in the ECHL with the Kansas City Mavericks. Chechelev also has an AHL deal but, as a recent Flames draft pick, should receive at least a handful of opportunities to prove his worth with the Heat.
Parsons, 24, is coming off a disastrous year where he appeared in just one game and allowed five goals after missing significant time with an ankle injury. Notably absent from the Flames’ 2021 training camp due to being “unable to satisfy quarantine regulations,” Parsons will be present in Stockton to begin the 2021–22 season. After battling injuries in every season of his entire professional career to this point, step one for Parsons this season will simply be to stay healthy.
Bringing the heat
The team playing out of Stockton is poised to be much better than it was last year, despite flashes of brilliance coupled with disastrous runs in parts of the 2020–21 campaign. With any luck, this team will find itself in the win column more often than they did. With how the roster is shaping up, that should be the expectation.
Photo from StocktonHeat.com.