Evaluating which Calgary Flames forward prospects could see NHL time this season

This has been by far the Calgary Flames’ biggest summer in recent memory. Gone are Mathew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan. In their stead, the Flames added Nazem Kadri, Jonathan Huberdeau, and MacKenzie Weegar. These adds make the Flames look like a much deeper, more dangerous team especially on the back end, but leave a few questions up front.

Flames lineup composition

Here is how the Flames look right now if everyone plays their natural position without factoring for line cohesion from last season:

Jonathan HuberdeauElias LindholmTyler Toffoli
Andrew MangiapaneNazem KadriBlake Coleman
Dillon DubeMikael Backlund
Milan LucicKevin RooneyTrevor Lewis

These lines as they stand now leave at least one outstanding spot in the rotation. It could be at right wing, with Dube on the left or it could be the opposite with Dube playing his off-wing. There is also a low but not impossible chance that the Flames elevate someone at centre and use Rooney on the wing or as the 13th forward.

This leaves the door open for the Flames to acquire a winger in free agency. The team has been linked heavily to Evan Rodrigues—who would be a wonderful fit—but the team does have a number of players who could slot into their lineup reasonably easily at some point this season.

Flames prospects who can fill the gap

In particular, there are prospects knocking at the door who can arguably get the job done just as good or even better than other options. Here are their who they have available.

Jakob Pelletier

It is hard to imagine that prior to making the jump to the AHL, some pundits were writing Pelletier off as a likely career AHLer and now he is one of the Flames’ top prospects with a chance of being a full-time NHL this season. Pelletier is coming off a phenomenal season this past year where he put up 62 points in 67 games, and was named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team. He spent most of the season on the team’s top line and was probably the team’s best player not named Dustin Wolf.

The good news with Pelletier is that he can play in any position on the forward line. He spent most of the season on the left wing, but could realistically slot in at centre like he did in the QMJHL with Val d’Or. A strong two-way player, he could slot in with Backlund at centre to help him adjust to the NHL in a sheltered role. This would also allow the Flames to role a more offensive two-way line with Kadri and Mangiapane and either Dube or Coleman. This would probably be the best fit for the Flames.

Matthew Phillips

The diminutive winger just keeps getting better with each passing year, and keeps showing that he deserves a look at the NHL level. Phillips led the team with 68 points this season and was simply unstoppable in the offensive zone. If he has a really strong camp, he could earn an NHL role to start the season.

Phillips slots in similarly to Pelletier, but with more offensive upside than the French Canadian first round pick. The ideal slotting for Phillips is likely on the right side of Kadri and Dube. Kadri provides a triggerman for Phillips to set-up, and also adds a ton of playmaking skill.

Dube meanwhile, creates a ton of space to work and has combined well with Phillips in the AHL in the past. The chemistry is already there between the two former WHLers, and could be combined easily in the NHL. If the Flames opt to keep Mangiapane on the left, Phillips could be the natural fit on the right.

Adam Ruzicka

While he is still unsigned, Ruzicka is the most likely prospect to make a full-time jump up to the NHL this season. A natural centre who can play on the wing, Ruzicka slotted in quite well to the Flames’ bottom line last season and added more scoring and offence than expected.

The problem is that the Flames probably need a higher ceiling prospect to slot into the holes that they do have in their lineup. Ruzicka has offensive upside, but probably tops out as a third line player but not much more. If the Flames are looking for a player who can play heavy, Ruzicka is the guy, but for more finesse or two-way play, they may be better served with another player.

Cole Schwindt

The Flames’ newest prospect, Schwindt was acquired by the team as part of the Huberdeau trade that sent Tkachuk to Florida. A strong centre who plays an effective two-way game, Schwindt finished sixth in U-21 scoring in the AHL with 19 goals despite playing next to no power play time. When the Flames acquired Schwindt, they noted that he projects to be a middle-six centre who could play a heavy checking style and handle penalty kill minutes.

Schwindt feels like the type of player the Flames would use as a call-up. He would slot in wherever they need him and would play a strong two-way game and could still add offensive upside. Less upside than most of the Flames’ other prospects, but very limited downside risk of having him in the lineup plus the ability to take faceoffs. He is primarily a centre at this point in his career, but if the team needs depth there, expect him to be in the conversation for a call-up.

Connor Zary

Zary had a really tough start to last season, and while it did get marginally better, it was nowhere near as good as his first taste of AHL action during the pandemic-shortened 2020–21 season. He finished last season with 25 points in 53 regular season games mostly playing in a bottom-six role. However, the Heat really pushed him to be a centre last season, which was a tough transition for the 20-year-old.

However, Zary has shown he has the chops to be an impact player at the AHL level, but will need to start the season with an absolute bang to get himself into the conversation for a call-up. He clearly is a better player than his last season numbers suggest, but will need to show that on the ice for the Wranglers if he wants to wearing the flaming C next season.

Matthew Coronato

While Coronato won’t join the Flames at the start of the season, as he has committed to be back with Harvard in the NCAA this season, there is a very good chance that he finishes his sophomore season in April and is playing NHL games in Calgary right afterwards.

Coronato is far and away the Flames’ best prospect not currently in the AHL, and boasts one of the highest ceilings in the prospect pool. If dominates the NCAA the way he’s expected to this season, it would not be a surprise to see him join the Flames directly out of college for the end of the year and the playoffs.

Best of the rest

The rest of the Flames’ prospect pool is comprised of the prospects not eligible for a call-up to the NHL as they have not signed their entry-level contracts yet and prospects with a professional contract but who have not yet reached the level of being worthy of a call-up.

The few exceptions are prospects like Walker Duehr and Ben Jones who probably could earn a game or two but likely not much more than that. If either has a good camp, there is a chance that they do earn a look, but it’s unlikely that look extends beyond a few games.

The prospects to really watch for are Pelletier and Phillips, as with a good camp, either could find their way into NHL on a full-time basis the way Ruzicka did last season. However, the one I’m most intrigued by is Zary, who showed true brilliance in his short stint in the AHL two seasons back, but really struggled last year. He clearly has something to prove this year and will be looking to show he still has it. Expect him to really push to be in the conversation this season.

We are just a couple weeks away from the Penticton Young Stars Classic then the NHL preseason begins just after that. It is nearly time for the start of the season!

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