In what has been a big sigh of relief, Matt Coronato and the Calgary Flames have come to terms on an entry-level deal. This sees the 2021 first-round pick leave Harvard University after two years to join the Flames on a three-year deal, the first year of which is burned this season. How he lines up, when he starts, and how he performs are all still to be finalized, but even if the Flames do not make the playoffs, having him in the organization helps substantially.
Beyond Coronato, the Flames are quietly building out an exceptional five-piece core across all positions that should help cement this team’s future for the next generation. Despite their performances this season, the team’s current core of Nazem Kadri, Jonathan Huberdeau, Jacob Markstrom, Mikael Backlund and more are still elite players, but all are around 30 years of age. The decline will begin to set in, if it hasn’t already and the Flames are going tobe looking to build beyond them in the coming years.
Enter the new core. The Flames have five players across the lineup that, if they continue to perform the way that they are, should become top players for this team going forward. Here is how they break down.
Forward: Matt Coronato
Easily the Flames’ top offensive talent in the organization, signing Coronato is a huge benefit to the organization that has struggled to put the puck in the net all season long.
Coronato is coming off of his second season at Harvard in which he played almost exclusively on the top line, but alternated between centre and wing based on the team’s need. Given how he has developed of late, the best guess would see the right shot forward playing on the right wing, but having the ability to win faceoffs is a huge benefit down the road.
Coronato is coming off of two 36-point seasons in the NCAA, and will join the Flames this season for the balance of the season. What he brings to this team is enormous. Not only is he an exceptional goal scorer, but he has a very strong two-way game that has seen him play both sides of the special teams battle with Harvard over his tenure with the team. He is a clutch performer, known for scoring big goals when the chips are down and is known to be a leader in the locker room.
Coronato projects to be a top-six scoring winger in the league who models his game off of Calgarian Brayden Point. It will likely take him some time to acclamate to the NHL game, but if he can start being an impact game as early as next season, the Flames have a real winner in Coronato.
Forward: Jakob Pelletier
Once described as having an 8% chance of becoming an NHLer, Jakob Pelletier is quietly developing into a heck of a player for the Flames. And while his numbers have not matched up to how he has performed on the ice, his underlying metrics and career development point to him being a great fit for the Flames.
A first-round pick in 2019, Pelletier was one of the top players on the Wranglers this season, and while he has been a healthy scratch of late under Darryl Sutter, he is clearly more than just a 13th forward in the league. What Pelletier brings to the table is clear. Pelletier is a very good two-way forward who has a nose for the net and is unafraid to go into the tough areas to win puck battles. He’s a great playmaker who can also score, but really excels in his own zone.
He is likely a second line two-way winger, but is he can develop into that, the Flames have a heck of a player in him. Like Coronato, he is still breaking into the league, but give him a few more months, and he could be a very reliable piece for this team down the line.
Forward: Connor Zary
The Flames moved down twice in the 2020 NHL Draft, and somehow still managed to pick budding star Connor Zary. The former Kamloops Blazers captain has 57 points in 64 games this year as a sophomore in the league, and sits 13th in the league in scoring. Among prospects under 22, Zary is the top scorer, putting himself ahead of Marco Rossi, William Eklund, and William Dufour.
Zary is coming off of a very rough season last year which saw him put up just 25 points in 53 games and struggle as he transitioned to playing centre at the professional level. This year has been an enormous year for his career trajectory, and has seen him develop into one of the Wranglers’ top forwards, someone who can play at both ends of the ice, and most importantly, a very good goal scorer.
The most fun part about Zary’s game is the edge that he plays with. He’s unafraid to go to the tough areas of the ice, seems to be right in the middle of scrums, and just generally is a ton of fun to watch. He projects to be a middle six centre who can score a ton of goals. If the Flames can turn him into an NHL-calibre centre, that’s a huge win for their organizational depth.
Defenceman: Jeremie Poirier
With one of the two additional picks that the Flames acquired in the 2020 draft from moving down to select Zary, the Flames selected defenceman Jeremie Poirier from the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. Projected to be a late first-round pick, Poirier dropped all the way to the third round because of questions about his defensive game. However, he has taken huge strides in this department, developing into a premier offensive defenceman at the AHL level, and someone who can hold his own in his own zone.
Poirier was easily the Flames’ best prospect this summer. He excelled at Development Camp, in Penticton at the Young Stars Classic, and even was the last rookie prospect cut at training camp. Sending him back to the AHL was a very tough call for the Flames, but he has taken it in stride and has been excellent in his time with the team.
Known for having exceptional hands, Poirier is really god at creating space for himself in the offensive zone. He has been a top powerplay quarterback for the Wranglers this year, and has also been quite good in his own end this season. A big body, Poirier uses his size to his advantage, and is unafraid to throw his weight around up and down the ice. Poirier has been compared favourably to Thomas Chabot in Ottawa, and actually put up more points than Chabot in Saint John in fewer games.
Poirier is the best defenceman in the Flames’ system right now, and projects to be a top pairing offensive defenceman who can quarterback a top powerplay in a couple of seasons. He could be in the NHL as early as next season, and if the Flames paired him with someone like Chris Tanev, they may have an exceptional pairing in the making. He is a very smart prospect, and someone who sees the game at a very high level. There is so much to love about Poirier.
Goalie: Dustin Wolf
It’s wild to think that the organization has finally found an elite goalie of the future, and it was a player who was nearly not even drafted in his year. Dustin Wolf was taken with the third-last pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, and has developed into the best player in the Flames’ system bar none.
The former Everett Silvertips netminder is now in his second year in the AHL, and is coming off of a rookie year that saw him named the best goalie in the league, a first team all-star, and to the AHL’s first all-rookie team. He is likely to repeat as the top goalie and as a member of the first all-star team, and likely will also pick up the AHL’s MVP Award because of his performances. Wolf leads the entire AHL in wins, starts, save percentage, GAA, shutouts, minutes played, and more.
Wolf is the goalie of the future for this team, and is likely to be in Calgary next season with the Flames. There is nothing left for him to prove in the AHL anymore. He is simply too good for the league. The Flames need to move a goalie out, but there is simply no reason to keep him in the AHL any longer.
The future looks bright for the Flames
As with any team, you’re not going to win with every prospect, and the Flames have a long history of not landing with their high prospects. However, these five prospects are forming the core of this team going forward, and all should see NHL time as early as the start of next season. They’ll probably need a season of marinating more to really start hitting their stride, but if the team can transition from the Huberdeau/Kadri era to the Coronato Pelletier era in a couple years, it will bode well for the next era of this team.
Of course they will need to fill in more holes along the way, and they do have a number of prospects who could be NHLers down the road like Jack Beck, Arseni Sergeev, Emilio Pettersen, and others. If the team can build around this core, both from within and beyoud, the future looks bright for this team.
Photo by Marissa Baecker via NHL.com