With the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline now behind us, teams are limited to recalling just four players on a non-emergency basis to the big club from their AHL affiliate. Some teams prefer to save them for later, but with a few injuries to the main players, the Calgary Flames have called up three players, Connor Mackey, Adam Ruzicka, and Juuso Valimaki, to slot into their roster. The good news is that both Ruzicka and Valimaki were emergency loan recalls, which means the Flames still have three regular recalls remaining.
Because of the injury to Sean Monahan, there are no worries about cap space availability, and this move gives the team a chance to evaluate some of their younger guys. It also gives players—especially guys like Mackey and Valimaki who have played zero and eight games respectively—a chance to learn the Flames’ system in advance of the playoffs. There is always a chance that a player could be injured in the playoffs and giving young guys a chance to settle into the system prior to is a great idea.
The Flames have been exceptionally lucky on the injury front this year, and as a result have not had a need to try their Stockton players in Calgary. This also means most in Calgary have not had a chance to really get to see guys like Mackey and Valimaki this season. Here is what each brings to the Flames:
Clearly the most well-known quantity for the Flames, Ruzicka was almost certainly called-up in place of Brett Ritchie, who took a nasty fall in the 6-4 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. The Slovak forward has developed nicely into a bottom-six centre for the Flames, playing a very aggressive style in the corners and behind the net without being a defensive liability.
Without Ritchie and Monahan, the Flames’ forward depth is limited. Ruzicka should push Ryan Carpenter for the fourth line centre role, but can also slot in on the wing in place of Dillon Dube, Trevor Lewis, Milan Lucic, or others if there are injuries. It’s pretty likely we see Ruzicka more regularly towards the end of the season, and if he can perform, expect him to continue to play. While he is technically an emergency recall, do not be surprised if he is converted to a regular one pretty quickly.
An undrafted college defenceman, Connor Mackey has been the Stockton Heat’s best blueliner by a country mile, and one of the best blueliners in the league. He has earned rave reviews from his coaches and observers of the league both for his offence, but especially for the little things he does to limit chances against.
However, without injuries to the Flames’ defencemen until recently, there hasn’t been a chance for the Flames to really see what they have in Mackey at the NHL level to this point. Aside from some NHL games at the beginning of last season, he hasn’t had a chance to really show what makes him so special to this point. He has 36 points in 53 games for Stockton this season, while the next closest defenceman, Nick DeSimone, has just 20 in 58 games. This is good for 11th in the AHL in points among defencemen.
I would bet the Flames play Mackey in Kylington’s absence. He has done incredible work for the Heat at the AHL level and deserves a look in the NHL at this point. A left shot two-way blueliner, Mackey could slot in alongside Chris Tanev with ease. The team could ease him into the lineup with a strong partner beside him this way. As good as Michael Stone is, Mackey has a far higher ceiling and has more than earned a shot.
It’s been a weird season for Juuso Valimaki, and I’m not sure if anyone really knows what to make of him. He struggled to get into the lineup early in the year, sitting out multiple games before being sent down to Stockton. While there, he struggled to make a huge impact and was even suspended three games for physically abusing a referee.
While he did rack up 17 points in 30 games, he was an occasional healthy scratch for the very deep Stockton side, and did not really take charge on the team the way many had expected. On top of that, of his 17 points, only eight were primary (two goals, six primary assists). He was expected to at least push for at least close to a point-per-game in the AHL, and to take a prime role on the team’s top power play, which he wasn’t able to do.
The fact that the Flames called him up probably signals another Flames’ blueliner is struggling with something. It probably doesn’t make sense to roll eight healthy defencemen at this point and burn one of their four recalls without a real purpose. Darryl Sutter was very vocal about not wanting extra bodies on his team as it impacts his ability to practice the way he likes.
Unless another injury on the blueline becomes official, I can’t see the Flames keeping Valimaki as a regular recall at this point. It simply does not make sense to have a young defenceman not playing at this point in his career. Let him get into a routine in Stockton for the balance of the year and be ready if the Flames need him.
What happens now?
With the risk of injuries an ever-present danger, the Flames likely hold off on any more call-ups until they need to or until they clinch the top spot in the Pacific Division. The Heat have already clinched a playoff spot so there isn’t a huge rush to keep their best players down there for the time being, but getting players like Jakob Pelletier, Dustin Wolf, and others into games regularly is still key for their development. Do not expect either to come up unless the Flames really need them or if Stockton is knocked out of the playoffs and they come up as black aces in the playoffs.
The Flames have a lot of players they can call-up at depending on what they think they need. This includes both Matthew Phillips and Pelletier, probably the most deserving of a look, but also Byron Froese, Walker Duehr, Martin Pospisil, Glenn Gawdin, Nick DeSimone, Andy Welinski, and more. All will be needed by Stockton in their playoff run, but if the Flames’ are short a forward at any point this season, they have plenty of options to choose from.