The first part of the season is just about in the books for most of the Calgary Flames’ prospects. Almost every league has played their last game before Christmas, with some leagues even set to pause for longer due to COVID-19 outbreaks. And after a wonky season last year, some players started this season with a bang, while others barely a whisper.
Does that mean that those who started strong are necessarily better? Of course not, but some players will need to build on positive moments to have success in the second part of the season. After all, each prospect wants to do their best to stay in the top Flames prospect conversation.
The Flames are looking at probably their strongest prospect pool in the last decade currently, with three first-round picks looking very good, as well as a number of others who are making a strong case for a call up to the big club. It is tough to move up the depth chart in this organization, but here are four prospects who could make a splash next year.
Not the most well-known name in the Flames’ prospect pool, Kinnvall was signed as a free agent out of the Swedish SHL, where he played until the end of last season. Last season the defenceman totalled 22 points in an injury-shortened 32 game season, and at one point was the top scoring defenceman in the league. He finished seventh in points-per-game across the league as a 23-year-old.
However, right as the preseason began, Kinnvall picked up a leg injury and has been out ever since. It’s only a matter of time before he is back to full strength and is on the ice in Stockton. Aside from health and getting back to game shape, two big questions surround Kinnvall: his ability to adapt to the North American ice and his overall defensive game. The latter has been a question since he was signed, as his play is similar to that of Oliver Kylington/Jeremie Poirier, however it looked to have improved substantially last season in Sweden.
What he brings offensively is enormous. He has a very heavy shot from the point and the ability to quarterback the power play, which is something the Flames have needed. On top of that, he is a right-handed shot, and would be one of just three in Stockton (Nick DeSimone and Andy Welinski being the others). Kinnvall could slot in to the second or third pairings quite easily when he returns, and if he settles in to the game, he could find his name soaring up the prospect charts very quickly.
This season has not begun the way that Connor Zary probably expected. An injury-shortened the end of his final year of junior then another injury prorogued the start of his season this year. Then when he finally started, he was placed at centre—something he played in junior but which takes refinement to do well at the professional level. On top of that, he was playing in a depth role to help him adapt to the pace of the game in his role, which limited his production.
Is this a reason to write him off? Absolutely not! He is still a phenomenal talent and his production in the last two weeks is a sign that he has a lot to offer at the AHL level. Zary has moved up to the second line in Stockton as the centre, and has taken a bigger role on the power play. It is only a matter of time before he explodes at the AHL level, and he works his way back into the call-up conversation. Expect him to take a big step in the back half of this year.
Kuznetsov has had a unique development path both before the draft and even through this season. His move to the QMJHL last month is the fourth league he has played in since making the move to North America in 2018. He also played in the USHL for a season, the NCAA for two seasons, then the AHL for the first part of this year.
Through four games in the Q so far to end this year, he has three points including a big goal for the Saint John Sea Dogs. He is probably the best defenceman on his team at this point, and among the best in the Q. In a league that prioritizes offence, his shutdown ability will only grow as he faces off against the best offensive prospects from across Eastern Canada.
He has also shown a lot of promise offensively, something he has not been known for to this point. Despite being snubbed by Team Russia for the World Juniors this year in an unprecedented decision, expect him to continue to put up more points and grow his game further in the back half of the season.
Coronato already has 12 points in 11 games at Harvard, can you really ask for more? The Crimson freshman forward has played primarily on the team’s top line, as well as finding a home on the top power play and top penalty kill units this season.
At this point, Coronato sits third on the team in points and 36th in the league in points-per-game. Among all under-20-year-old skaters, he sits 20th in the league in points and eighth in points-per-game. This is great no doubt, but he clearly has more to give.
Coronato has been incredibly unlucky in games this season. Harvard has been hamstrung by incredibly hot goalies to this point, and Coronato has been snakebitten in a number of games. Of his twelve points, six came in the first two games. He has shown he has the offensive ability to put up more multi-point nights going into the back half of the year—what matters now is execution.
In our midseason prospect rankings, Coronato came in at number three, but with his pedigree and potential, he should be pushing for the top spot. Following the World Juniors—where he will be the sole Flames’ representative—expect him to really make his mark.
Make way for the young guns
Putting all your chips on prospect development is never a sound strategy for any team—or any sport for that matter—but it’s undeniable that the Flames do have a lot more worth being excited over than compared to years past. Until these players make a splash at the NHL level, they’re still just prospects. However, the Flames have good odds at seeing draft picks develop into really good hockey players. Here’s to hoping this turns into reality in the future.