The Calgary Flames are going into this year’s NHL Trade Deadline as buyers, somehow. With their core pieces locked up long-term, and the team, at least on paper, in win-now mode. GM Brad Treliving will likely be adding a piece or two to the roster.
Given where this team is at, it is far more likely that the team uses their picks and prospects in a trade than a roster player. While the Flames may need to use some roster pieces to balance out money against the cap—particularly going into next season—the major parts of any trade will likely be future assets.
As an organization, the Flames have a really varied mix of prospects with high-end talent, prospects with high ceilings but some time to see if they get there, and those who are probably not NHLers. As in any trade, the ends have to justify the return, and the team will have to be careful not to move players that could be NHLers down the road unless the player coming back adds more value. With the way that the Flames lost Juuso Valimaki to Arizona and how that turned out, the team will be extra guarded in how they manage their prospects going into the deadline.
The Flames’ prospect pool broadly breaks down into four categories: prospects with low ceilings who have low value, prospects with medium to high ceilings but long runways, high floor low ceiling prospects that are close to NHL ready but probably top out as depth NHLers, and prospects with high floors and high ceilings who would be very unlikely to be traded. Let’s break it all down.
Low impact prospects
As with nearly every team, a good chunk of the Flames’ prospects probably are not NHLers. They performed well in their draft years, but between development not going the way they expected, being late round gambles, injuries, or otherwise, they probably are not going to earn a qualifying offer with the team and will be on to new adventures.
For the Flames, these are prospects like NCAA players Demetrios Koumontzis, Josh Nodler, and Jake Boltmann, all of whom really don’t look like much at this point. Then there’s Swedish forward Lucas Feuk who is currently in the ECHL with the Rapid City Rush.
Among the team’s older prospects, Martin Pospisil and Adam Klapka have both struggled mightily this season. QMJHL defenceman Cam Whynot rounds out this group of prospects who simply do not have any value to another team, not only because they are unlikely to be NHLers but also because those teams have similar prospects already in their organizations.
Prospects with a long way to go
The Flames have a number of prospects who are still big question marks. Could they be NHLers or are they likely to drop off at some point down the way. These prospects have some value in a trade, but they are still gambles for other teams unless they really liked something in their game.
I’m going to break this group into two categories: Older prospects from the 2020 draft (D+3) or earlier and younger prospects from 2021 and 2022 (D+1 and D+2).
These are prospects who are still at least a season away from being NHL-ready, but still show a good amount of promise despite being slower to develop. Emilio Pettersen is the oldest prospect in this group, having been drafted in 2018. Joining him are Ilya Nikolayev from 2019, and Jeremie Poirier, Yan Kuznetsov, Daniil Chechelev, Rory Kerins, and Ilya Solovyov from the 2020 class.
Pettersen has taken a huge step forward this season, but probably has more to show if he wants to be an NHLer. Nikolayev and Kerins have been in the ECHL this season, but both have shown a lot of promise previously, and could be NHLers in time. Chechelev has also been in the ECHL this season, and we are still a ways away from knowing what he is. Poirier, Kuznetsov, and Solovyov are all blueliners with high upsides, but have a lot of growing to do. Poirier has a ton of skill in his game, but needs to refine his defensive game if he wants to be an NHLer down the road. He is the most valuable prospect in this group.
It’s hard to see the Flames considering movng on from Poirier unless the right offer came across, but he is probably the one that could fetch the most in this group. Kuznetsov is the other prospect with a good amount of value here. He is a very steady defence-first blueliner, which is always in demand in the NHL.
These prospects are more raw, but also have higher upside as they have not been tested in the AHL or ECHL as of yet. This includes the 2022 draft class: Topi Ronni, Parker Bell, and Cade Littler, as well as William Stromgren, Cole Huckins, Cole Jordan, Jack Beck, Lucas Ciona, and Arseni Sergeev.
The Flames seem to like Ciona a lot, having signed him to an entry-level contract earlier this season. He’s been above a point-per-game all season long. Beck and Bell are the other two junior prospects with high upsides, although both have had injury issues this season.
Ronni and Stromgren have both spent time in their country’s respective men’s leagues this year, with Stromgren starting to see more time on the second line for Brynas. The last prospect that the Flames moved was Emil Heineman in the Tyler Toffoli trade, and he too was playing in the Swedish SHL. Without as many eyes on him relative to North American prospects and being a high draft pick, Stromgren may be a player the Flames look to move in a trade.
The rest of the group are probably not valuable enough or are too far away from hitting their strides to really have much value at this point, but are higher value prospects than the first group.
Fringe NHLers in waiting
One thing that the Flames have in droves are prospects and players who likely top out as bottom line or bottom pairing guys. This starts with Adam Ruzicka, who has found a nice home on the Flames’ bottom line. He did have a look higher in the lineup, but that tapered off quickly and he has been more effective in a sheltered rome on the bottom line.
Then there’s Walker Duehr, who was marginal in the AHL but excellent in his time in the NHL. He reminds me of a Garnett Hathaway type player; the kind of guy who could inject a ton of energy to the lineup but will top out as a bottom line player. Teams always look for guys like that, and Duehr could be someone that teams look for.
Recently acquired Cole Schwindt and Ben Jones could both also be part of this group. The Flames under GM Brad Treliving have only ever traded one prospect that they drafted (2014 notwithstanding as that was a Brian Burke draft) and that was Adam Fox, who was not going to sign with the team anyway. Jones has been a point-per-game guy in the AHL and has looked very good in his time with the team.
Then there’s Matthew Phillips. I really don’t like the idea of including Phillips with this group simply because I think he has a higher ceiling than the rest of this group, but given the lack of opportunity with this team, I can see him being the one moved to a team with more room for him. Whether the Flames end up as winners or losers of this trade remains to be seen, but Phillips seems like a player other teams will target.
High ceiling prospects that are almost untouchable
Four prospects fit in this group of prospects who are both close to NHL-ready and have a high ceiling. This group starts with Dustin Wolf, who is without a doubt the Flames’ best prospect and the only prospect who is completely untouchable. He has shown that he is one heck of a player, and is someone the Flames can build around for their next core. He simply isn’t going anywhere.
Then there’s Matt Coronato. Assuming he’s willing to sign in Calgary, and to sign ideally at the end of this season, the Flames are not going to trade him. He’s the highest pick the organization has had in years, and is the one prospect who is exceptional at scoring goals. For a team where goal scoring has come at a premium, moving Coronato simply doesn’t seem like an option. Unless there is such an incredible offer on the table that they simply cannot say no or if the team doesn’t feel he will sign in Calgary, do not expect Coronato to go anywhere.
Then there’s Jakob Pelletier. A 2019 first-round pick with high hockey IQ, and already in the NHL in a top-six role, the Flames clearly really like him. He’s looked really good at this level so far, and while the points haven’t hit the score sheet yet, he does so many little things right that he’s well worth keeping. Do not expect the Flames to move on from him.
Finally there’s Connor Zary. Of the four in this group, Zary is probably the most likely to be moved, but given he’s a former Whaler who is over six feet tall and a centre, it’s hard to see the Flames wanting to move him. He’s probably still a year out from being an NHLer, but he has taken enormous strides forward this season and looks like an NHL centre, something that is rare to find at the best of times.
What happens now?
The Flames are in a tough spot. The on-ice performances do not justify them making major moves, but the team’s contract structure almost necessitates a move or two to make the playoffs. It’s really hard to see them doing anything but adding right now, and if they do it’ll almost certainly be a futures based trade.
GM Treliving has been very hesitant to trade away picks he’s made. Aside from the 2014 draft, he has only traded away two players that he selected: Matthew Tkachuk and Adam Fox, both players who were open about their unwillingness to sign in Calgary long-term. However, with how deep this draft is and the fact that the Flames made just three picks last year, it may be a prospect or two heading out if the Flames do add.