The Calgary Flames are mere games away from clinching a playoff berth. Once most teams hit that point in a season, they opt to rest a few of their banged up players to prepare for the playoffs, while also getting an opportunity to showcase and evaluate how their prospects progressed over the season.
For the Flames, they have a few prime candidates to call up for this purpose, both to see how they might perform at the NHL level as well as reward them for a stellar year with the Stockton Heat. Who should get a look? We asked, you answered.
Calgary’s prospects who are due
The Flames have three players in Stockton right now that fit the bill. Prior to this week, Connor Mackey would have also been a great candidate for a call up, and lo and behold he was and has slotted into two games. In just under 30 minutes of 5v5 ice time over the two games, Mackey has a CF% of 57.41, and an xGF% of 67.01% playing primarily with Chris Tanev. Not bad for his first couple of NHL games this year.
Elsewhere with the Stockton Heat, they’re currently the best team in the AHL and are preparing for playoffs of their own. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to have them as favourites for the Calder Cup, and it’d be amazing to see if the team can put together a deep playoff run as well.
Of course, the Flames wouldn’t want to take away too much of the team in Stockton for the sake of NHL experience, when preparing for the AHL playoffs would be valuable too. Especially with the team they have right now, Stockton wouldn’t want to see their best players gone when they have a good shot at glory for themselves too.
So the Flames could look to call up a couple players for the sake of rewarding them with an NHL game or two—rather than finding spots in the main roster—and then have them return to Stockton to focus on the Heat’s playoff run. Heat head coach Mitch Love probably wants his best players to be available in top roles rather than filling depth roles in Calgary.
Out of all viable options, the players that could earn a quick stint in the NHL that haven’t been called up before in the season include Matthew Phillips, Jakob Pelletier, and Dustin Wolf.
The case for calling up Phillips
In 56 games played, Phillips has 28 goals and 34 assists to lead the whole team. With nine games remaining in the regular season, Phillips has already broken the single season scoring record for the Heat. Should he pad more to that number to cement his mark with the team, or would skating in a few games with Calgary be more rewarding?
For Phillips, he’s been one of the most patient prospects for the Flames. Having multiple seasons where his call up seemed imminent, he has just one NHL game under his belt. Throughout this season, he seemed poised to get the call, but was first passed by Walker Duehr earlier in the season, and then Adam Ruzicka later on.
With all due respect to those two players, there’s a non-zero chance Phillips might just have been even better or at least just as good. If he had gotten his opportunity earlier in games that mattered more, this would not be a question mark at all. But with just one game played in the last game of a disappointing Flames season, the Flames need to evaluate Phillips more.
If he was a part of any other prospect system, he probably would have been called up already—all other top AHL players have gotten the call—but the Flames are playing the long game with Phillips instead.
The case for calling up Pelletier
With one of the best rookie campaigns the Stockton Heat have ever seen, Pelletier has 26 goals and 30 assists in 58 games played. Pelletier is on track to break rookie records and has been a primary offensive driver for Stockton all year long.
Having capped off his QMJHL career last season with the as captain of the Val-d’Or Foreurs, Pelletier’s transition into the AHL has gone better than anyone could have hoped for. His point total is second on the team only behind Phillips, and he’s the top rookie in the AHL right now.
For similar reasons to Phillips, that kind of performance deserves the reward of an NHL game, but the Flames have a lot more time with Pelletier. If he doesn’t slot into a Flames game at all this season, it’s not the biggest deal at all given that it’s his first AHL stint. He’s a bona fide leader on that team and keeping him in Stockton does nothing but good for him.
However, he’s the player that most people want to see play in a game with Calgary before the season is over. And that’s absolutely fair. It’s been a while since the Flames have had a prospect quickly transition into the NHL, the last player who was successful at that was Matthew Tkachuk (who skipped the AHL entirely).
There’s a small case for Juuso Valimaki being another player that made it into the NHL quickly, but his injury luck and development has been turbulent, and he’s still transitioning between the NHL and AHL to this day.
It’d be nice to see the Flames essentially confirm that they drafted well and call up their 2019 first-round pick for his first look in the NHL.
The case for calling up Wolf
Like Pelletier, but not to be overshadowed, Wolf is also a rookie in the AHL this season. After capping off his WHL career with numerous accolades to his name, his only destination this season was Stockton. He’s been one of the best goaltenders in the AHL, let alone rookie goaltenders, and has a whopping 32–6–3 record. The only thing he hasn’t accomplished yet is recording a shutout.
The Flames are clearly using Jacob Markstrom for as much as possible, even though their playoff spot is essentially guaranteed. There’s a quiet chance that they are chasing the Flames’ single season shutout record set by Miikka Kiprusoff in 2005–06 with 10, but they really should be switching gears towards playoff preparation soon enough.
Daniel Vladar has been solid in most of his starts and is one of the most reliable backup goaltenders the Flames have had in years. Calling up Wolf to play in a game is a far cry from testing the goaltending depth, but would instead be a reward for him as well.
Vladar is not at risk of losing his backup job, and Wolf will be hungry for playoff success at the AHL level too. Just like Pelletier, the Flames shouldn’t be rushed to call up Wolf as it’s hardly for evaluation.
As goaltenders are completely different from forwards and defencemen, the more reasonable route here would be to let him play out his season with Stockton, and see where he’s at come the 2022–23 training camp—whether he’s able to challenge for the backup gig then or not.
Calling all Flames
Right now, both the Flames and the Heat are set for the playoffs. It’s a great situation to be in, and there’s lots to look forward to before the skates are hung up for the season.
Should the Flames elect to call up some new players, it would be purely for the purpose of rewarding their prospects with some NHL experience and time with the main club. They could very well reserve this opportunity for players who have already gotten called up as well, like Duehr for example.
Only time will tell what the Flames ultimately decided to do. This is a good problem to have and there’s really no right answer, it just depends on how both teams want to prepare for their playoff runs and there’s bound to be plenty of communication between the clubs in terms of what’s the best thing to do for both.
Who would you like to see get the next call up before the season is over? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.