Breaking down which Calgary Flames prospects could earn an entry-level contract

The next entry-level contract signing window is officially open. NHL teams are now officially able to sign their prospects to ELCs which kick in at the start of the 2022–23 season. The Calgary Flames have a number of prospects who are eligible for a contract this year, here’s the full breakdown.

Almost guaranteed to get a contract

The Calgary Flames have two prospects whose rights they hold until June 1 of this year. The good news is both are almost certainly going to earn an ELC for next year.

Rory Kerins

It was hard to guess what this season would look like for Rory Kerins after spending most of it in the press box in Stockton after the OHL’s season was canceled. However, I don’t think anyone had him challenging for the OHL’s points lead this season as a 19-year-old. His numbers have project him to be a very good NHLer down the road assuming he continues to perform at the next level.

It makes no sense to send him back to the OHL next season. He has shown that he is too good for that league and needs a bigger challenge. Do not expect him to put up the same numbers in the AHL next season, but if he can continue to grow his game and put points up at that level, the future looks very bright.

Ryan Francis

Francis is an interesting case. He started the season with Stockton but did not really make an impact with the AHL club. As a 20-year-old, he was expected to be among the best players in the QMJHL, especially after finishing last season as the sixth-best player, ahead of even Jakob Pelletier.

This season, he has been the 39th best player by points-percentage, which is a bit of a step backwards for him. While he does sit over a point-per-game, he has not been excellent in a shortened season while playing on the second line for Saint John.

His development path has been compared to that of Paul Byron; a slower-developing prospect but one who projects to be a depth forward at the NHL level. He likely earns a contract this summer, but will need to do a lot of work to show that he really belongs at the next level.

Not a lock but likely

Two Russian prospects have taken rather unorthodox routes to their development. Following this season, they will both be in a limbo-like position, and may be best served by heading to Stockton.

Daniil Chechelev

The jump from the Russian MHL to the ECHL is a big one, but Chechelev has found a home in Kansas City. He is just below a 0.900 save percentage behind one of the weakest teams in the league, and has looked decent in this role.

With Tyler Parsons likely out after this season, Dustin Wolf pushing for the NHL, and Adam Werner likely looking for a bigger role somewhere else, the Flames could do worse than to see what their 2020 fourth-round pick could do at the AHL level. He was unbelievable in the first half of his first season in Russia, that there is still hope he could turn into something down the road.

Ilya Nikolayev

Nikolayev was fine if not unremarkable in his season with Buran Voronezh in the VHL last season, but has been excellent in the USHL with Tri-City this season. The centreman sits fourth on his team and 17th in the league in points-per-game, and boasts a plus-minus of +24, good for seventh in the league.

While most players in the USHL head to the NCAA, Nikolayev will be 21 years old this summer, making that move seem unlikely. He probably ends up in Stockton next season simply based on having nowhere else to really go.

Deserves a contract but realistically coming next year

Matthew Coronato

Coronato has been very good while playing a deep Harvard Crimson side. He has 25 points in 28 games, good for 15th among all U20 skaters in the entire NCAA in terms of points percentage. On top of that, he has played in all situations for the Crimson, heading the top power play, top penalty kill, and playing in the top-six at 5v5. He really has done it all.

Here’s the catch-22. Coronato has been very good, but it may benefit him both on the ice and off it to have one more year of college hockey. He probably needs another year of growth and development to show that he really is too good for that league. The case of Yan Kuznetsov shows the risks of taking a player out of college too early, as there is a steep learning curve at the AHL level.

For the Flames, signing Coronato now gives them assurances that they will be able to get him to play for them at the NHL level one day. Losing him to not signing like they did with Adam Fox would be a huge step backwards for this organization that could use an elite sniper. However, is it better for his development to sign him now and let him potentially struggle in his first year in the AHL or risk him not signing after another year of college? This is the big question facing GM Treliving.

I err on the side of the former, hoping this is a moot point for Coronato that was addressed prior to drafting Coronato. Let him develop properly at Harvard and spend another year with the program where he can absolutely light up the league, then bring him to Stockton and let him earn a role with the Flames from there.

Jack Beck

Jack Beck has been one of the Flames’ best prospects this season despite having played in very few games. His 1.32 points-per-game puts him 20th in the OHL in scoring as an 18-year-old, and seventh among U19 skaters. The 2021 sixth-round pick has been another exceptional find by the Flames’ drafting department, who have a knack for finding talents particularly in this round.

Beck may actually be too good for the OHL right now, but you want your prospects to get a good number of junior hockey games in under their belt before moving them on to the next level. He has only played in 75 games in his OHL career combined, not nearly enough to say he has enough experience in game to move on to the next level. With an injury-shortned season this year and a non-season last year, getting him a full year next year in the OHL (fingers crossed) would be really good for his development.

Too early to say

The rest of last year’s draft class from the CHL, including the likes of Lucas Ciona, Cole Huckins and others, still have their rights held for one more year. The Flames also have time on their NCAA prospects, with just Mitchell Mattson and Demetrios Koumontzis‘ rights expiring after next season.

It is probably too early to know how the rest of the unsigned prospects look at this point. Some, like Cole Jordan, Arseni Sergeev, and Jake Boltmann could be something down the road, while others are unlikely to progress beyond their current levels. The good news is that while we will be saying goodbye to some prospects as we do each year, the Flames will have a whole new draft class coming in this July, and the cycle of prospect development will continue.

Ahead of tonight’s Flames contest, the bookies have predicted a double underdog, with Betway Sports pricing the Flames at +115 and the Wild at +150 to win the game in regulation, with an overtime decision being priced at +330.

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