It’s hard to believe that 2022 is just about over. The Flames have had one heck of a year this season, starting and ending the season with two very different core groups. However, their prospect pool has by and large stayed the same. Some of the older prospects like Connor Mackey and Adam Ruzicka have aged out of this category, and the team has added three new ones in Topi Ronni, Parker Bell, and Cade Littler to the organization.
At the beginning of the season, we broke down the team’s top 10 prospects. Some of those prospects have taken huge steps forward in their development, earning themselves higher spots this season. Others have fallen off marginally or substantially, allowing for some new names to jump on to the board. Let’s break it all down:
This past year’s fifth-round pick, Bell has been quite good for the Tri-City Americans, putting up 33 points in 28 games in the WHL. Steady, dependable, and consistent, Bell has taken a huge step forward in his development this season. At just over 19 years old, Bell will need to show both that this production is real and that it is sustainable over a whole season. If he can do both, there is a good chance he finds himself inside the top 10 at the end of the season.
Ciona started this season with a bang, putting up 15 points in his first seven games and earning himself an entry-level contract with the Flames. Unfortunately, he has only managed 19 points in the subsequent 21 games, going a stretch in the middle with no points. All this while playing on one of the best teams in the WHL, the Seattle Thunderbirds.
I’m not convinced that Ciona is anything special at this point, but rather is a big player who can light up the WHL as a nearly 20-year-old skater. I would love to be wrong on this, but we will only know that definitively when he starts with the Wranglers hopefully next season.
Mathias Emilio Pettersen
Pettersen is a prospect who has been broadly forgotten about in the Flames’ prospect conversations. In fairness, he has been quite fine in his time with the team. That is until this season, when he has been a remarkably consistent in his play. Through 21 games, the Wranglers forward has 18 points, which has been substantially more proportionally than in years past. At 22 years old, there is a chance that he develops into an NHLer, but time is the biggest question.
#10: Arseni Sergeev (New)
Last season, Sergeev was the best goalie in the USHL with the Tri-City Storm. He had six shutouts and a 0.918 save percentage through 41 regular season games with the very good Storm side. The question about Sergeev was whether he would be able to sustain this level of production when he started in the NCAA with UConn.
This season, he has actually been better. The netminder has a 0.919 save percentage in ten starts with the Huskies this season, and has forced his way into the very crowded crease, which has four goalies fighting for starts. He sits sixth in save percentage in the NCAA’s Hockey East Conference, and is one of just two freshmen goalies to play at least ten games this season. Among freshmen netminders in the entire NCAA, Sergeev sits second in save percentage behind only Kaiden Mbereko, one of the American goalies at this year’s World Juniors.
Again, Sergeev is a goalie, and goalie development is prone to pitfalls, but he has shown at two levels now that he can be a legitimate starting netminder so far in his development. He has earned himself a spot in this top ten list.
#9: Jack Beck (New)
Jack Beck has consistently been one of the Flames’ best prospects in the CHL with the caveat being when he is healthy. Last season, Beck had 44 points in 30 games for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL and finished second on his team in points. The player who beat him for the top spot had 48 in 64 games, showing just how much better Beck was last season. However, it was a major injury that kept him off the ice.
This season, Beck started the season again with a bang, putting 13 points up in 10 games for the 67’s, but has been mysteriously injured since then. He has missed 21 games to this point in the season, and while he has looked at times too good for the OHL, missing over 50 games in the last two seasons is really not great for his development. However, when he is on the ice, he has been a phenomenal find for the Flames’ scouts. Hopefully he can find his way back onto the ice soon, but for now he has been quite good in his time in the OHL.
#8: Cole Schwindt (+2)
Lost in all the big names of the Matthew Tkachuk trade, Cole Schwindt has been a very nice addition to the Flames’ prospect pool. He had a bit of a slow start as he has adapted to the team’s playing style, but he has been quite good particularly of late. What has really stood out this season has been his shot, which is both hard and accurate, putting him fifth on the Wranglers in scoring this season. He also has a very good two-way game, which was one of the reasons the Flames really liked him as part of the trade.
Schwindt projects to be a middle-six centre in the NHL in a year or two, but has been behind a few bodies in the pecking order for the team this season. There is a good chance this changes before the end of the season.
#7: Ben Jones (New)
Ben Jones has been a revelation for the Wranglers this season. Signed this summer after the Vegas Golden Knights elected not to re-sign him this summer as a restricted free agent, the organization likely saw him as a defence-first forward, but have gotten a tonne of offence from the 23-year-old, seventh-round pick from 2017. He has 21 points in 25 games this season, playing almost exclusively in the middle-six.
Jones has snuck his way into this team’s top prospect conversation, and has quietly been one of the most effective centres aside from Connor Zary to this point in the season. He has already played two NHL games in the NHL with Vegas last season, and it is likely only a matter of time before he earns another look at the NHL level with this organization. If he can continue to put up points like this, he could be an NHLer in due time.
#6: Jeremie Poirier (+1)
Jeremie Poirier was expected to be a first-round selection in 2020, but dropped to the third round because of questions in his defensive game. This was evident in particular in his D+1 season in the QMJHL, but he has been substantially better ever since. He has rounded out into both a really good offensive defenceman but one who can also play a very good two-way game.
This season, Poirier has 19 points in 26 games in his first season with the Wranglers, and sits 11th league-wide in defensive scoring. Among U24 defencemen, he sits third in scoring and sits fifth in game score. He was also the Flames’ best prospect in the preseason, making him the last prospect cut by the team prior to the start of the season.
Poirier is a stud blueliner who probably deserves a look at the NHL level. He projects to be a top offensive defenceman in a couple years, and someone who can quarterback a power play. Poirier has been consistently compared to Thomas Chabot since his draft time, and if the Flames even get 80% of what Ottawa has in Chabot, they have one heck of a prospect in Poirier.
#5: Connor Zary (+4)
Coming off of an awful 2021–22 season, Zary was a big wildcard this season. Was he going to be back to the player who put up seven points in nine games with the Stockton Heat in 2020–21, or was last season more indicative of the player the Flames drafted in the first round in 2020? The answer has seemed to be the latter.
Through 26 games, Zary has ten goals and 18 assists, good for over a point-per-game to this point in the season. He sits 18th in scoring in the AHL, tied in points with Jakob Pelletier, but one year younger than the Flames’ 2019 first-round pick. He is also fifth in scoring among U24 skaters in the league, and is one of just 14 skaters in this age category to have over 10 goals this season in the second highest league in North America.
Zary is looking like an absolute stud, and he also plays centre, making him already especially valuable to the organization. A big, hard checking player, the Flames have a guy who could slide seamlessly into the NHL squad in their pipeline right now, and Zary projects to be an NHLer in a couple of years. He probably does not become a top line player, but if they can get a good middle-six centre out of him, they have done really well with this pick.
#4: Matthew Phillips (+1)
Matthew Phillips is easily the hardest prospect to slot into the rankings because his skill level is too good for the AHL, although this organization has not seen the need to make room for him in the NHL. He finally earned a call-up earlier this month, but suited up for just two games—hardly a representation of what he can do at the NHL level.
In 20 AHL games this season, Phillips has 30 points, good for second in the entire league in points-per-game. His NHLe of 53 is substantially higher than any other prospect in the entire system, and is higher than Ruzicka’s when he was called up last season to the big team.
The one big knock on Phillips has and continues to be his size, but he plays bigger than he is and is the type of player who has always been the smallest guy on the team. It has never bothered him to this point and shouldn’t be what holds him back now. Even if he does not get a real look with the Flames, Phillips projects to be a middle-six NHL winger when he eventually gets a shot.
#3: Jakob Pelletier (-1)
Pelletier picked up right where he left off last season, starting the year with 28 points in 26 games. He and Zary have the same number of points in the same number of games, but Pelletier has one more goal which pushes him up to 17th in scoring and fourth among U24 skaters in the AHL. This is just incredible from the 2019 first rounder.
What pushes Pelletier ahead of Zary is his two-way game, which has always been the hallmark of his game. Pelletier projects to be a middle-six two-way winger with high offensive upside, similar in a lot of ways to what the Flames have in Andrew Mangiapane. He is probably a season or two away from being a full-time NHLer still, but there is a good chance Pelletier earns himself a cup of coffee witht he Flames this season.
#2: Matthew Coronato (+1)
Pelletier has had a remarkable season, but the only thing that pushed him down a spot was how good Coronato has been this year. He has played top power play, top penalty kill, and top line centre for the Harvard Crimson, and has 15 points in 11 games so far this season. This pace is good for ninth in the NCAA in points-per-game, and third in U21 skaters.
Unlike Pelletier and Zary, Coronato projects to be a top-six or top line player in the NHL, and should make his NHL debut once the college season ends in late April. He is clearly too good for the NCAA at this point, having excelled at everything he has done at Harvard both last year and this. It is time for him to embrace a new challenge, and barring him pulling an Adam Fox on the Flames, there is a good chance we see him in the Flaming C come the end of the season.
He is the Flames’ top offensive prospect, highest upside potential prospect in the organization, and the one who looks most likely to make and stay in the NHL of anyone in the organization at this point.
#1: Dustin Wolf (Same)
One of the AHL’s top goalies, Dustin Wolf remains the Flames’ best prospect midway through the 2022-–23 season. He went into the AHL last season and was expected to be the backup netminder for Stockton, but stole the starter’s job almost right away and did not give it back for the rest of the season. Wolf finished with a 0.924 save percentage through 47 regular season games, good for fourth in the league. He then posted a 0.929 save percentage with three shutouts in the playoffs. Just unbelievable.
He then went on to put up a 0.926 this season, stealing the starting net this season completely in Calgary from Oscar Dansk. Wolf has only lost four games this season, and has three shutouts in the regular season for the Wranglers. He has played the most minutes in the entire league so far, and sits fourth in save percentage at this point. It is a question of when, not if that Wolf makes his NHL debut. He earned a cup of coffee last season, but did not get into any games at that point, but it is probably time for the Flames to see what they have in him. There is a very good chance when he starts in the NHL, he makes it very hard to send him back down.
How much will this change this season?
These prospect rankings are not cemented. One bad stretch or bad season can see a prospect go from top of the rankings right down to the whatever happened to category. Conversely, a prospect who had a down season last year could storm up the charts with a few strong months of play.
While the top spot has remained the same through the first part of the season, nobody else is in the exact same spot that they were from the start of the season. The top five is likely pretty close to cemented, with some movement inside the top-five, but from Poirier at six and down, there is lots of room for movement. A really good end to the season for a prospect like Ciona or Bell could see them jump up the rankings, while the path forward for a prospect like Sergeev is still very much in flux and he could drop right out of the rankings again.
The one prospect we haven’t mentioned that could see a big step up this season is Rory Kerins. Currently in the ECHL, the former Soo Greyhound is on a point-per-game pace and if he gets a longer look in the AHL, he could see his stock rise dramatically. The same with Ilya Nikolayev also in the ECHL. With a number of bodies ahead of them in the Wranglers’ roster—particularly those brought in as crowd pleasers as opposed to actual prospects—it is hard to see them earning a real look this season, which is a shame for their development.
However, as with prospect development league-wide, anything can happen. Only time will tell how these rankings look at the end of this season.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire