The Calgary Flames started the season with four balanced lines: the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk, the second group made up of Blake Coleman and Mikael Backlund with a third winger who changed a few times, then there was the duo of Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube plus a winger, finally Sean Monahan centred the fourth line with two complementary wingers.
However, as the season has worn on, Coach Darryl Sutter has moved Monahan up the depth chart to play alongside Coleman and Mangiapane in the second group, leaving behind a very rough bottom-six. The depth chart behind Dube and Backlund starts to look weaker, and has been exploited numerous times in the last two games. Switching Monahan and Backlund’s spots doesn’t solve much yet either.
It is clear that the Flames need an infusion of talent into their bottom-six; this is a bigger issue than just reshuffling the deck. It is time to call-up Jakob Pelletier.
Who is Jakob Pelletier?
The Flames drafted Pelltier in the first round of the 2019 draft, and he has spent the last two seasons in the QMJHL as one of the league’s top scorers. The former captain of the Val d’Or Foreurs, Pelletier played almost every forward position in his time, and wore the C with the team. He also played for Team Canada at the World Juniors, where he finished with seven points in seven games.
Pelletier has since graduated from junior hockey, and is now plying his trade in the AHL with the Stockton Heat, where he plays on the team’s impressive top line alongside Matthew Phillips and Adam Ruzicka. So far this season, Pelletier has been the Heat’s second leading scorer—behind only Ruzicka—with five goals and eight assists through 11 games. He is also 11th in points in the entire AHL as a rookie, and sits third among all U21 skaters in the league. This puts him ahead of numerous high draft picks including Marco Rossi, Cole Perfetti, Cole Caufield, and Alex Newhook.
Even more impressive has just been the sheer quality of his play on the ice. From being the player forechecking and creating turnovers to being incredibly defensively responsible, Pelletier is a hallmark of a Sutter player. He currently is second on the team in plus/minus with a +8, which although it is a flawed stat, it points to the team’s ability to limit goals against when he is on the ice.
On top of that, of his 13 points, only three have come on the power play, which speaks to his ability to generate chances at even strength. Pelletier also leads all rookies in game-winning goals so far this season, which shows the team’s trust in his play on the ice when they need a winner.
Why the Flames should call up Pelletier
What the Flames need most is strength in their bottom-six, and where they need that strength is on the wing. Pelletier, although he is a left-shot, can play any forward position, allowing him to be a versatile option for the team. He also can play up and down the roster, giving the Flames options for where they put him.
The most optimal place for Pelletier based on his strengths and the team’s needs would be on the third line with Dube on either the left or right wing and Monahan at centre. What this would do would be to give Monahan two playmaking wingers who can find him in tight, give Dube more two-way support, and help that line finish their chances more regularly.
Pelletier is a hard-nosed forward. The type of player who likes to play behind the net, but with really strong two-way play that coaches love. He’s an impressive forechecker, and has really good hands and a great shot that helps him put points on the board.
The other player that the Flames could call up would be Pelletier’s linemate Ruzicka, who is also having a phenomenal season. The Flames know what they have in the Slovak forward, having seen him play at both the AHL and NHL levels to this point.
They have not done so with their 2019 first-round selection Pelletier. It would be great for the Flames to get a look at Pelletier in the NHL level, if for no other reason than to see what they have in him and to give him some practice time with the big team for a few days.
No better time than now
With the Heat off for over a week, it may be a good time to try something new with the Flames’ third line. In last night’s 5–0 win over the Buffalo Sabres, the line of Dube with Monahan and Tyler Pitlick put up a team-worst 33.3% CF% despite starting 100% of their shifts in the offensive zone. Not good. While they did not allow a goal against from the Sabres, they clearly were the team’s fourth line, playing just over 10 minutes together.
With the first line flying, the second line also looking very good, and the fourth line being decent, the Flames need to do something about this group. Love him or hate him, the Flames need to find a way to get Monahan back to being an offensive threat again, and playing him alongside uber-defensive Tyler Pitlick has not been the answer.
They also need to help Dube find some consistency in his game, as he has had some very good and some very poor moments this season. Pelletier may be the piece that this line needs to finally take-off. It’s worth a shot.