Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames need to heavily restructure their AHL team this offseason

As much as the Calgary Flames have been hurt by the free agency loss of superstar Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets last week, the Flames’ AHL affiliate team has quietly taken a massive loss in personnel this offseason too. Over the last few weeks, the team has lost ten players who played at least 20 games for them last season, including numerous big names who left as free agents. Here’s how it broke down and what the team will look like next year.

Heat players moving on from the organization

The team saw a number of players leave prior to free agency, with many taking on contracts overseas. This includes two big names Johannes Kinnvall, who signed a deal with Brynas IF of the SHL and Adam Werner, who will be in the SHL as well but with the Malmo Redhawks. Kinnvall was a story of what could have been. He came over as a highly touted offensive defenceman, but once he recovered from a nasty injury to start the year, he was not much more than a good power play quarterback. This was not enough to get him into the lineup regularly.

Werner meanwhile was expected to be the Heat’s starting goalie last season, with Dustin Wolf learning the ropes as the backup. However, as we all know, Wolf promptly stole that job away and made it his own. Werner ended up only slotting into 21 games this past season, and did not feature at all in the playoffs.

The Heat also lost Mark Simpson, Eetu Tuulola and Greg Moro to teams in Finland, and mutually terminated Dmitri Zavgorodniy’s contract so he could return to Russia, where he spent this past season on loan.

The bigger names are the ones that hurt more. The team lost all four of their Group Six unrestricted free agents this summer in the aforementioned Werner, Justin Kirkland, Luke Philp, and Glenn Gawdin. None of the three played enough NHL games to have their RFA rights held by the Flames, and all three moved on to new destinations.

Once very promising as a depth forward, Gawdin quietly faded into the background. He ended the season as the Heat’s third-leading poing producer with 50 points in 62 games, but fell behind Adam Ruzicka in the team’s depth chart. Good but not breaking down the door to the NHL-level good. He has signed with the Anaheim Ducks.

Kirkland was a fine prospect for some time, but really exploded this season, putting up 48 points in 66 games for the Heat in the regular season, then adding a team leading 12 points in the playoffs for the team. He was one of the better prospects at training camp last year, and really took a step forward this season. Unfortunately, it looked like the opportunity may have been better elsewhere, and Kirkland will be joining Gawdin in the Ducks’ system.

Philp meanwhile has been a decent add for the Heat, playing in a middle six role for the team. He had 44 points in the regular season as a two-way guy, but seemed destined to be an AHLer for his career. He has joined the Chicago Blackhawks’ organization, and will likely play for the Rockford IceHogs.

The other big name forward that the organization did not retain is Byron Froese, who has signed with the Vegas Golden Knights. The former Heat captain had 37 points in the AHL, and even managed to get into six NHL games this season, recording a goal. He was a great add for the organization in the time he was there, but probably wasn’t destined for more than an occasional NHLer in Calgary.

Alex Gallant is also likely moving on from the Heat this year. In 53 games, he had six points and added 115 penalty minutes. A free agent, he is on the hunt for a new home this coming season.

On the blueline, the Heat brought in three experienced AHL blueliners last season, and lost two of them in free agency this summer. Andy Welinski played in 39 games this season, adding 19 points in that time, but was one of the team’s better blueliners when he was healthy. He has joined the New York Rangers.

Kevin Gravel was a good mostly second pairing shutdown defenceman, putting up 14 points in 59 games this year. While his point totals do not jump off the page, he was a very steady presence defensively for the team this season, but has signed with the Nashville Predators to start next season.

The other names that could be moving from the AHL are guys who may push for an NHL job at the start of the season. The most likely players for this are Ruzicka and Connor Mackey, both of whom looked too good for the AHL this year. Expect one or both to start the year in Calgary.

Matthew Phillips, Jakob Pelletier, and Juuso Valimaki all have an outside chance of making the Flames to start the new season, likely in that order. Phillips and Pelletier both had outstanding seasons this year, while Valimaki had a very poor season in the AHL, but is a high pick who will no doubt be looking to rebound next season.

Players remaining on the team

Assuming Ruzicka and Mackey start the season in Calgary, while Pelletier, Phillips, and Valimaki start in the AHL, here is how the team’s depth chart looks this season. Players with one asterisk were added in free agency and players with two asterisks signed from overseas.

Left WingCentreRight Wing
Jakob PelletierConnor ZaryMatthew Phillips
Emilio PettersenClark Bishop*Walker Duehr
Martin PospisilBen Jones*Adam Klapka**
Left DefenceRight Defence
Ilya SolovyovNike DeSimone
Colton PoolmanJuuso Valimaki
Dennis Gilbert*Nicholas Meloche*
Dustin Wolf
Oscar Dansk*
Daniil Chechelev

This is, in two words, not great. Aside from in net with Dustin Wolf in the starting role and one of Oscar Dansk or Daniil Chechelev in the backup role, the AHL squad is looking very very thin. The team has signed two blueliners in Gilbert and Meloche, but this does not inspire a great deal of confidence at all.

Up front is brutal right now. The team has little centre depth behind Connor Zary, who struggled to make an impact through the first half of his shortened AHL season. Aside from Pelletier and Phillips, the majority of their remaining players are guys who need to take a big step forward if they want to be in the discussion for an NHL call-up. This includes Duehr, Pospisil, and Pettersen, while also having new signees Klapka from Czechia, Ben Jones from the Henderson Silver Knights, and Clark Bishop from the AHL’s Belleville Senators joining the squad officially at this point.

New additions to the AHL club

Thankfully the team will have a number of new faces joining the team from the team’s prospect pool. Up front, the big name to get excited about is Rory Kerins, who was the second leading scorer in the OHL last season with 118 points in 67 games. His insane points-per-game numbers puts him among very elite company as a 19-year-old.

He will be joined by Ilya Nikolayev from the USHL’s Tri-City Storm, where he had 72 points in 58 games. While he was a bit older than most players in the league that year, these numbers are still very impressive, and Nikolayev will hope they can translate to the AHL next year.

The most exciting prospects joining the team are the additions of Yan Kuznetsov and Jeremie Poirier, who both won the Memorial Cup with the Saint John Sea Dogs last season. They played much of the season as a pairing, and will likely slot in together in Stockton next season. Kuznetsov was a Memorial Cup all-star and was one of the best defensive defencemen in the league this season. Expect him to continue to be a defensive stalwart in the A next season.

Poirier was historically the opposite from Kuznetsov—where he was instead an incredibly gifted offensive defenceman—but has become very capable in his own end. He was one of the standouts at the team’s recent development camp scrimmage, and has made a mark on this team. If he does well in the AHL, he could push for a roster spot with the Flames sooner than expected. Here is how the AHL roster looks with these four added in.

Left WingCentreRight Wing
Jakob PelletierConnor ZaryMatthew Phillips
Emilio PettersenClark BishopWalker Duehr
Martin PospisilBen JonesAdam Klapka
Rory KerinsIlya Nikolayev
Left defenceRight defence
Ilya SolovyovNick DeSimone
Colton PoolmanJuuso Valimaki
Yan KuznetsovJeremie Poirier
Dennis Gilbert*Nicholas Meloche*
Dustin Wolf
Oscar Dansk*
Daniil Chechelev

What the team still needs

The long and the short of it is this: The Flames’ AHL team does not look nearly as deep as they did last season. The team lost its top two scorers in the playoffs and five of their top 10 point producers in the regular season. The team has gotten substantially younger with the addition of numerous young players, but without adding proven AHL veterans and players who can put the puck in the net reliably at this level, it’s hard to imagine the team challenging for the Calder Cup like they did this past season.

Expect the Flames to add more up front, particularly at centre. They will need at least one more player who can play that position in a middle-six role. Assuming Ruzicka slots into the top line centre role, the depth from there starts to look weak, even if you put Kerins and Nikolayev both in the middle.

They will also need to add more on the right side, and probably add a few more pros to help the young guys learn what it takes to make it at the AHL level.

Expect the team to also add maybe one more blueliner, as the team has always been keen to have a very strong defense pipeline. This is particularly important on the left side, as Solovyov and Poolman do not inspire much confidence at this point.

The team is probably set in net at this point with Wolf and Dansk as probably the two that take the net this season, and Chechelev pushing hard for minutes as the season goes on. He had a fine season in the ECHL, but likely needs to show more to earn a role even as a backup in the AHL.

The summer is still young, but GM Brad Treliving still has a lot of work to do. This tweet from Patrick Williams of the AHL really sums up the value of a good AHL team:

At every position, if the Flames need to borrow a player from their AHL side, it makes it especially hard for their AHL team to remain competitive as they have fewer great pros on their roster than in previous years. There is immense value to giving your AHL squad playoff experience and building a winning mentality, and the Flames’ management will have to work hard to do so this offseason.

One thing is for certain: the Flames are not done building out their AHL club yet. They will need to add a few more pieces to help buildout this roster, and how they do that will be fascinating to watch.

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