The 2020 NHL Draft was a unique on that will be remembered for many years to come. Having already taken a look at the 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 draft classes, it is now time to take a look at the 2020 draft class for the Calgary Flames. The team went into the draft with six picks, their own picks in the first, second, fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds along with the fourth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres which they received in the Michael Frolik trade.
On draft day, the Flames traded down twice, picking up two third-round selections to bring their total to a whopping eight selections in the draft this year. Let’s break them all down.
24th Overall: Connor Zary
This was the draft in which the Flames traded down not once but twice in the first round in order to take the player that they wanted the entire time in Connor Zary. A smart two-way forward with a nose for the net just screams the type of player that the Flames love. Zary is beloved for his work ethic and drive to do better game after game.
Since being drafted, Zary spent the start of his first season in Stockton, putting up seven points in nine games as a driving force on the team’s top line. He then went back to the WHL and put up 24 points in 15 games in an injury-shortened season for the Kamloops Blazers.
This season was a bit of a step backwards for Zary. He started the year with a lower body injury that kept him out of the lineup then he was transitioned to playing centre in the AHL—a very tough move to make as a rookie. He ended the year with 25 points in 53 games this season and two in 13 playoff games. For a rookie, these numbers are about what you would expect from pretty well anyone.
When you see the Flames’ other two A-list AHL rookie prospects—Dustin Wolf and Jakob Pelletier—putting up massive numbers, it’s easy to write Zary off as a bust. Don’t make that mistake. Zary showed flashes of brilliance this year as a rookie, and while he has a lot of work to do this offseason, expect him to put in the work and come back strong next year. This season was one that saw a lot of hard work and growth without results, but expect more production next season and beyond.
50th Overall: Yan Kuznetsov
Yan Kuznetsov was drafted as a pure defensive defenceman out of the University of Connecticut Huskies of the NCAA. He was the youngest player in the NCAA that year, and managed to put up 11 points in 34 games while being tasked with heavy shutdown minutes. A huge physical presence, Kuznetsov is a strong skater with a big shot, but needed to work on creating offence more often.
He spent one more year in the NCAA before being signed to an entry-level contract (ELC) by the Flames. He then spent the start of this season with Stockton, featuring in 12 games, but was then sent to the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, who had his rights in the CHL’s Import Draft. This is where his offence really came to play. Kuznetsov put up 13 points in 25 games for the Dogs paired with fellow draft pick Jeremie Poirier. The two formed a formidable pairing together.
Both he and Poirier will be heading to the AHL next year in Calgary, and will likely need a couple of seasons to grow their games before they make the jump to the NHL. Kuznetsov’s all-around game has grown tremendously, and he may quietly be one of the best defencemen in the Flames’ system. He is something of a cross between Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov, heavily defensive in his play but bringing the grit and a bit of offence that Zadorov has. He is definitely someone to watch as he heads to the AHL next year.
72nd Overall: Jeremie Poirier
Where Kuznetsov is heavily defensive, Jeremie Poirier is so much more offensively driven. Some scouts even thought he may be better as a winger. Initially expected to go in the late first round, Poirier fell right into the Flames’ lap in the third round where they managed to nab him at 72nd overall.
Poirier was frequently talked about for his incredible hands, with some saying they were the best in the draft class. Not just among blueliners, but among all skaters. His skating ability is excellent, and he has a hard shot that can beat goalies clean from the blueline. However his defensive play was highly suspect in his draft year, and he finished with an abysmal -25 on the year.
He spent last season and this season in Saint John, working primarily on his two-way game. This year, Poirier had 57 points in 67 games, good for seventh among blueliners, and finished the year with an excellent +30. Not bad for a player described as a defensive liability in his draft year. He also broke the Sea Dogs’ all-time record for points among defenceman, a record previously held by Thomas Chabot.
Poirier has signed his ELC with the Flames and will almost certainly start with the Heat in Calgary next season. Expect him to take some time to grow in the AHL as he tries to translate his game from the QMJHL to the much faster and tougher AHL, but if he can do that, he could work his way to being one of the Flames’ best offensive defencemen in a few years. Tons of high-end potential in Poirier.
80th Overall: Jake Boltmann
A completely off-the-board pick, the Flames took Jake Boltmann out of the Lincoln Stars of the USHL where he had nine points in 17 games. The blueliner is primarily defensive, and is known for being a sandpaper blueliner.
He then spent the first half of the year in the USHL then joined the University of Notre Dame for the back half. Unfortunately, between the two teams he did not record a single point in 25 games. However, because he joined the Fighting Irish halfway through the year, he did not burn a year of NCAA eligibility, and returned to the team this season as a rookie.
This past year, he finally found the board, recording 13 points in 40 games for Notre Dame, and played almost exclusively on the second pairing. The Irish are a supremely deep team, with four players in their fourth or fifth year this past year, so for Boltmann to get into nearly every game in a top-four role is enormous for his potential.
For Boltmann, this next year is going to be huge to see what he can turn into. He has flown mostly under the radar to this point, but has a ton of potential to really showcase his progress. The blueliner has the potential to develop into an NHLer in a few years if things all break the right way, but how he does this next year will likely set the tone.
96th Overall: Daniil Chechelev
Yet another off-the-board pick for the Flames. They took over-age netminder Daniil Chechelev out of the Russian MHL, where he put up a 0.922 save percentage and five shutouts in 49 games for Russkie Vityazi Chekhov.
He then went on a phenomenal run to start his first season as a Flames prospect, putting up ten straight wins and recording an impressive 0.943 save percentage. While his numbers did slow down through the back half of the year, he still ended with a 0.924 save percentage in 19 games in the MHL and a 0.912 save percentage in 21 games in the VHL. Very decent numbers indeed.
For some reason, he was unsigned at the end of the year in Russia, but found his way to North America to play with the Kansas City Mavericks this season. While they were a brutal team, Chechelev ended the year with a 0.894 save percentage in 30 games for the ECHL club. Coming over from not even playing a single game in the KHL to North American pro-hockey is a huge jump, so these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Chechelev play second-fiddle to Dustin Wolf in the AHL next year, and be pushed by another netminder for starts in Stockton. The Russian netminder will need to show he deserves to be part of the conversation by taking a step forward in his second season in North America next year.
143rd Overall: Ryan Francis
Once one of the most promising prospects in the Flames’ arsenal, the pride of Beaver Bank Nova Scotia was taken from the Cape Breton Eagles after he put up 72 points in 61 games. Francis played primarily on a line with Ottawa Senators prospect Egor Sokolov and Shawn Boudrais, and was mostly the third fiddle on that line.
In the next year, Francis exploded with 50 points in 32 games, good for eighth in the QMJHL in scoring, ahead of even Pelletier in points. For this and his exceptionally good preseason, Francis started the year in Stockton with the Heat. Unfortunately, he only featured in four games for the team before being sent back to the Q with the Saint John Sea Dogs.
This year, he started off really slowly, but exploded late with 65 points in 54 games as an over-ager playing mostly on the second line. As good as these totals were, he wasn’t able to really transform the game the way an over-age forward should be able to, and the Flames opted not to retain his rights. Francis will now re-enter the draft this year.
174th Overall: Rory Kerins
What a pick Rory Kerins is looking to be. Drafted out of the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, the forward put up 59 points in 64 games for the team. Not bad but nothing that numbers that would jump off the page in this league.
The next year was a write-off for Kerins as the OHL did not operate at all. He spent the year in Stockton with the Heat, but only got into four games the whole season. While he was very young, the fact that he could not get into more than that in the AHL was not a great sign.
Thankfull Kerins was out to prove doubters wrong, and he absolutely exploded this season. The Greyhound put up 118 points in 67 games, good for second in the entire league this year, ahead of numerous former first round picks in his draft year. His 1.76 points-per-game as a 19-year-old also puts him among some very elite company.
Kerins has solidified himself as one of the Flames’ top prospects, and earned himself an ELC with the Flames. He will join the Flames’ AHL affiliate next season, and will be hoping to stake out a large role next year. He will have a lot of competition for minutes next year on what is expected to be a very young team next year, but if he can continue to perform the way he did in the OHL, the Flames may have a heck of a player in Kerins.
205th Overall: Ilya Solovyov
The Flames took the Belarussian over-ager in the final round of the draft after he put up a very good 40 points in 53 games for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL in his first season in North America. He then went over to the KHL next season, putting up nine points in 41 games for Dinamo Minsk in the KHL, which is actually very decent for a rookie defensive defenceman in that league.
Then he spent this past season in Stockton, playing mostly on the third line for the very deep team. Solovyov had eight points in 51 games while having a rotating cast of partners from Johannes Kinnvall to Juuso Valimaki and others. He will be back with the team, this time in Calgary, and will be looking to take a step forward. He has room to grow for sure, but will need to show he can be an NHLer this year if he wants to remain in the organization.
This may be a historically good draft year for the Flames
It is far too early to really know the outcomes of this draft, but nearly every pick from this draft has a chance to be an NHLer at this point. Zary and Solovyov will need to take a step forward in their second seasons with the Heat, but there is huge potential in Poirier, Kuznetsov, and Kerins going into their rookie AHL seasons. All three are going into their first seasons with very high expectations and the determination to show they deserve to be in the NHL conversation.
Boltmann and Chechelev both have a few years at this point, with the former needing more seasoning in the NCAA before earning a look at the AHL level, and the latter likely needing a couple years in pro hockey before he can really be talked about in the call-up conversation. That being said, both still have enormous potential to be NHLers if everything goes well for them.
It’s obviously very unlikely that the Flames get seven NHLers out of a draft, but to have that many in the conversation two years later is a really good sign. This is also a testament to the Flames’ scouts and management for being able to identify prospects with this much potential. There is so much to be excited about from this draft class.
Photo credit: The Calgary Flames