Going into the 2022–23 preseason, all eyes on the Calgary Flames were aim at forward with an open roster spot seemingly up for grabs. The thought process was that the Flames were set in net and on defence, with the one question surrounding the latter was whether the Flames lose a player on waivers before opening night.
Even more than that, it felt as though the defensive side of the roster was already in place. The NHL group of defenders would consist of MacKenzie Weegar, Chris Tanev, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Nikita Zadorov and likely Oliver Kylington. Michael Stone was brought in on a PTO, with all signs pointing to him earning the seventh spot on the team, and the rest of the Flames’ older defencemen, Juuso Valimaki, Connor Mackey, Nick DeSimone, Nicolas Meloche, Dennis Gilbert, et al. jostling for the first call-up.
The one name that has forced his way very much into the conversation has been Jeremie Poirier, who has been on an enormous upward trajectory starting as early as last season. He’s an excellent dark horse candidate for breaking into the NHL for a few games as early as this year.
Poirier’s rise in the defensive depth rankings
A 2020 third-round pick, Poirier has always been known for his incredible offensive game, but has steadily worked out building his defensive game. Work which has paid off in spades.
He spend last season in the QMJHL with the Saint John Sea Dogs, putting up 57 points in 67 games. This was good for fifth on his team, and seventh among defencemen league-wide. What is most impressive is that he managed to record a plus-minus of +30, good for 14th among defencemen league-wide, and a huge step up from the -25 he put up in his draft year.
He finished his junior hockey career as the Sea Dogs’ top point-producer among defencemen with 168 points in 225 games. This put him ahead of Thomas Chabot, who previously held the record. The two have been compared both at the time of their draft, but even going forward with Chabot learning quickly how to play at both ends of the ice. Both were expected to be first-round selections, with Chabot going 18th overall and Poirier instead falling to 72nd.
This summer, Poirier was invited to the Flames’ Development Camp, and was lauded for his ability all week. He was the clear standout in the scrimmage, both for his offensive ability but also for his strong play in his own end. He has developed a skill for shutting down speedy forwards trying to cut towards the front of the net. At 6’1″ and weighing in just under 200 pounds, he has the size to really shut reasonably large players down.
Then Poirier played all three games for the Flames in Penticton at the 2022 Young Stars Classic, and while the team went 0–3 in the Young Stars Tournament, Poirier was one of the few bright spots. He was creating chances offensively, while also being quite good in his own end. The Flames also utilized him a lot as the quarterback on the power play, which is a role in which he excels. He contributed here with an assist on a Jakob Pelletier deflected goal.
If this wasn’t enough, Poirier was excellent in the Flames’ first preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks. He ended with just one assist, but played both sides of the special teams battle and was effective up and down the ice. He knew when to pinch and when to drop back into his own zone, and was good at covering for his much weaker defence partner Colton Poolman.
Poirier has been skating with the Flames’ main group at camp, giving him an early edge ahead of Valimaki, Gilbert, and others in the depth chart. And while it has been just one game of the preseason, it is easy to see him passing someone like Mackey in the pecking order. He had a substantially better game than Mackey in the first preseason game.
What happens with Poirier now?
There are two big caveats with Poirier right now. The first is that the sample size of legitimate NHL games is zero. Development camp, the Young Stars Classic, and one preseason game are simply not enough to earn him a spot on the Flames this season.
The second is the Flames simply do not have a spot for him in their lineup right now. Barring a trade, the top three pairings on this team has been completely spoken for, and there is no point giving a rookie time in the pressbox when he could be playing AHL games with the Wranglers.
But Poirier is making one heck of a name for himself already at camp. He has turned heads with his smooth hands and slick skating, and it is starting to look like he could find his way into the mix to be the Wranglers top blueliner this season. If there ends up being an injury or two to the Flames’ blueliners, it’s not impossible to think Poirier may earn a game or two in the NHL this season.
For now, Poirier can continue to make it hard for the Flames to cut him at training camp, continue to curry the favour of Head Coach Darryl Sutter, and just keep showing that he deserves a spot on the Flames’ roster. Even if that spot isn’t there right now, there is no harm in showing that he’s closer to NHL-ready than anyone thought he was prior to this season.
Photo by Marissa Baecker via NHL.com