The Calgary Flames are in full offseason mode now that the Stockton Heat have also been eliminated from Calder Cup contention. After a historic run from start to finish this past season, the Heat will now begin the process of migrating the team to the city of Calgary for the start of the 2022–23 AHL season.
The Flames can now look at their entire prospect cupboard and assess their talent heading into the 2022 NHL Draft. This of course begs the question, which forward in the Flames’ prospect system is the most exciting right now? We asked, you answered.
The Flames have fire power
To say the Flames have an exciting group of prospects is an understatement. With prospect development being a key part of the Flames’ identity over the past several seasons, the next batch of forwards are knocking at the door for their chance to move up in the depth charts.
Development at the professional level is never linear, and there’s no telling which prospect will pan out and which will fade to dust over time. However, for the Flames, they are on the cusp of having a good run of graduates into the NHL.
For this week’s poll, we wanted to see which players had the fan base most excited. This included three players who are at the verge of NHL deployment in Jakob Pelletier, Matthew Phillips, and Adam Ruzicka, as well as one player who is still a few years away in Matthew Coronato.
All the praise for Pelletier
Pelletier’s rookie season in the AHL was nothing short of phenomenal. He was one of the Heat’s best players and was consistently making clutch plays when the team needed it most. This past season saw his stock rise up higher and higher, and there’s a nontrivial chance that Pelletier could earn an NHL look as early as next season.
There’s no rush for Pelletier to make the jump as he’s still just 21 years old, but he brings real skill and tenacity to the game that will make it tough to count him out. Whether he continues next season as a leading forward for the yet-to-be-named AHL farm team, or starts getting reps as a bottom-six player on the Flames, both will bring tremendous value to his game either way.
Considerations for Coronato
The dark horse prospect that definitely won’t be seeing NHL action any time soon, Coronato is still early in his NCAA career. The fact that he was voted higher than two AHL players suggests that the excitement lies in determining what his ceiling is. A young player with plenty of room to grow, his usage with Harvard wasn’t always that of a top player. That said, if he continues to develop as projected, then he can bring legitimate scoring to any team he players for—the Flames would undoubtedly love to see that.
It’s time to free Phillips
Phillips has had a long journey in his development so far. After finally making a one-game NHL debut at the end of the 2020–21 season, he seemed destined to be a frontrunner as an NHL call-up for 2021–22. However, that was not the case and he instead spent the whole season being on of the Heat’s top players.
Posting over a point-per-game, he was a top offensive producer. If there’s a time to give him a serious look to assess what the Flames have in him, it’s this coming season. After going unprotected and unclaimed in the Seattle expansion draft, there was relief among Flames fans to see Phillips remain with Calgary. Now, after a big season of production in Stockton, finding out what he can do at the NHL level is the logical next step.
With the Heat relocating to Calgary, it might make it easier to give prospects some rotations with the Flames, although Darryl Sutter might go against that and keep his playing rosters as consistent as possible.
There’s room for Ruzicka
After being told he should look for a place in Calgary, it seemed all but certain that Ruzicka was the next permanent NHLer for the Flames. However, he was partially a victim of the trade deadline where his spot in the lineup was no longer consistent with the arrival of Calle Jarnkrok and Ryan Carpenter.
That said, Ruzicka’s path to the NHL was a quiet and consistent one. Although he didn’t bring quite as much fanfare as bigger name prospects, Ruzicka was always reliable and there’s no reason to believe he can’t earn a more permanent role after the Flames will see inevitable turnover from their roster.
The future is bright
There’s plenty of reasons to be excited about Calgary. A lot of aspects for the team are all trending upwards. It’ll be up to each individual player to see who can take their play to next level. Who else are you excited about? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.