The NCAA college season is over, and free agents are being interviewed and recruited by teams in the hopes of moving towards an NHL job down the road. These are players who typically were not drafted but have developed through their time in college to the point of being potentially good enough for an AHL or NHL job.
The Calgary Flames have had some big years looking at the college system but this year, they have been very quiet with just one player signed to an amateur tryout (ATO) with the Stockton Heat. Let’s take a look at what the Flames have done over the last few years.
2014: Garnet Hathaway
A trip down memory lane. The Flames signed Garnet Hathaway to an AHL deal in March 2014 as he was coming off of a 15 point season with Brown University. His first season with the Adirondack Heat was a resounding success, as he put up 36 points in 72 games. The Flames turned the AHL deal into an NHL deal the following season, and Hathaway featured in 14 NHL games in his debut year.
While he did not end up remaining a Flame, signing a four-year, six million dollar deal with the Washington Capitals in 2019, he was a fan favourite in his time in Calgary and a big energy guy in the lineup.
2015: Kenney Morrison
The 6’3″, 208-pound blueliner was signed out of the Western Michigan University Bisons at the conclusion of the 2014–15 season. Kenney Morrison was coming off a year where he put up 15 points and recorded 36 penalty minutes. With almost no right shot defencemen in the organization and Morrison having a strong season under his belt, this should have been a really good fit.
Unfortunately, it really was not. While he did put up six points in his first ten games on an ATO, he put up just 25 combined over the next two seasons and was not re-upped at the end of his ELC. He is now in Germany in the DEL2. Playing in the AHL was the highest level of hockey played for Morrison.
2017: Josh Healey
A two-time conference all-star, the left shot defenceman was signed out of Ohio State after putting up 25 points and 70 penalty minutes in 35 games. The hope was that he would help bolster the team’s blueline.
Spoiler alert, he did not. Healy appeared in 107 games for the Heat, and recorded just 15 points in that span. He is still in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals.
2017: Spencer Foo
The undrafted right shot winger was signed after three years at Union College following a massive 62 point season. Spencer Foo was among the mostly highly sought after free agents that year, and the Flames, who were desperately short on the right side, felt lucky to get him.
Unfortunately his AHL play was not as strong, finishing both his years in Stockton at around a half-point-per-game. He also featured in four NHL games, recording two goals. He is currently in the KHL with the Kunlun Red Star and played for Team China in the Olympics this past year.
2020: Connor Mackey
Connor Mackey was signed out of Minnesota State Mankato following a 25 point season as a defenceman. He was also very sought after in his draft year, and was apparently interviewed by nearly every team that season.
At the time, there was little fanfare over the acquisition, but high praise from then Captain Mark Giordano and then head coach Geoff Ward raised his profile in Calgary. He finished his first season with 16 AHL points, and found his way into six NHL games, recording three points in that time. Not bad for an undrafted blueliner.
This season he has been among the best defencemen in the AHL with 36 points in 53 games, and has been very steady in his three appearances with the Flames. He seems to have passed Juuso Valimaki in the depth chart, and may end up getting a longer audition in Calgary next season.
2020: Colton Poolman
Also signed at the same time as Mackey was Colton Poolman, the younger brother of the Vancouver Canucks’ forward Tucker Poolman. The former captain of the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks recorded 17 points in his senior year before being signed. Unfortunately his offence has mostly dried up, and Poolman has just 12 points in 55 games this season in Stockton. It is unlikely the Flames offer him a new contract.
2021: Walker Duehr
Like Mackey, Walker Duehr was signed out of Minnesota State Mankato following his senior college season. The right shot winger had 17 points in his final year, and looked to add depth to the Flames’ organization but not much more. After a fantastic training camp, Duehr got into his first NHL game and was the first South Dakotan to feature in the NHL. Since then he has been a fine AHLer, with 21 points in 52 games for the Heat.
2022: Jack McNeely
There must be something in the water in Mankato. The Heat have signed Jack McNeely to an ATO following his senior year with the team. In 44 games, the right-shot defenceman had 17 points and was a whopping +35.
McNeely is a very smart player, with strong positioning and good decision making skills. He builds his game out of the back end, and is rarely a liability for his team. Offensively, he has the capacity to make key passes while also possessing a hard shot from the blueline. The one thing that really stands out about his game is his work ethic—McNeely plays hard in the corners and is able to outwork his opponents regularly. He plays a heavy physical game, and stands a towering 6’3″ tall.
The other big thing that McNeely brings is a winning pedigree. Mankato has won the WCHA Championship four times in McNeely’s time with the team. He also won the Clark Cup in the USHL previously. He is aware of what it takes to make it when the chips are down—something the Heat will need as they hope for a long playoff run.
For the Heat, McNeely gives them another right handed blueliner with a strong two-way presence. The team has not been comfortable playing Johannes Kinnvall every night, and this gives them another depth blueliner to slot in.
From college to Calgary
On the whole, the Flames have found some diamonds but a lot more rough in the college system. However, to find an undrafted free agent who even makes it into a single NHL game is found money for the team. Compared to the players that were drafted and developed by the team in the NCAA over GM Treliving’s time as coach, this isn’t a bad looking group. Here’s hoping McNeely goes the way of Hathaway and Mackey and not Healey and Morrison.
Photo credits: Minnesota State Mankato