Depending on which prospect pool ranking you look at, the Calgary Flames fall somewhere between mid-table to the bottom third. Not exactly close to excellent, but far from the bottom of the league. They have high-end talent, namely Dustin Wolf, Matt Coronato, and Jakob Pelletier, as well as a number of depth options that could be NHLers in the future.
This has been a very strong season for the Flames’ prospects. Many of the prospects on the bubble took strides forward this year—the end of season assessments would have them looking increasingly like future players. However, the Flames have a lot of prospects that are likely coming off the books this season, making their pool smaller and likely shallower than previously. This is in the form of players aging out and becoming free agents, but also those who simply have not been good enough. Here’s how it looks.
Pending free agents
Restricted free agents
The nice thing about restricted free agents is the Flames still hold their rights, but unless the player can perform, their is a lower chance that they earn a contract from the team. Players at this stage are reaching the end of their runway. They either look like they could be NHLers or they’re at the point where they simply are surplus to requirements.
The Flames have three prospects in this camp: Mathias Emilio Pettersen, Martin Pospisil, and Ben Jones. Of the three, Jones—the one not drafted by the Flames—is the most likely to earn a contract. Coming off a season in which he was quietly one of the best Wranglers skaters not named Matthew Phillips, the 2017 seventh-round pick is quietly looking like a player this season.
Pettersen has taken an enormous stride forward this year as an undersized playmaker, but he is well behind the rest of the Wranglers’ top talent. He likely earns one more look with the team, but will need to really show that he deserves it.
Pospisil has simply been unlucky. When he’s been healthy, he’s been quite good, but has missed significant time over the last few seasons with injuries. It feels like the end of the line for the Slovak forward, as it seems unlikely he earns another contract with the Flames.
Group 6 unrestricted free agents
When a player is 25 years old with three full professional seasons played, but has not hit 80 NHL games, they become a Group 6 UFA, allowing them to sign with any NHL team that offers them a contract. For the Flames, they only have one prospect in this category, Matthew Phillips.
Phillips is coming off of his best pro season, having been named an AHL all-star and finishing fifth in league scoring. However, with Darryl Sutter, he simply was unable to earn a look at the NHL level. It’s a shame that the smaller forward is becoming a UFA this summer, as it feels like the Flames never gave him a decent look to know what they had in him. Hopefully the Flames can convince him to re-sign this summer.
Defenceman Kristians Rubins is also a Group 6 UFA, but does not technically count as a prospect. Given he was brought in at the AHL trade deadline this year, there is a very small chance he remains with the Flames beyond this season.
Prospects that need to be signed
The Flames also have a number of prospects that need entry-level contracts after this season, that likely won’t be offered them. This starts with two older prospects Lucas Feuk and Demetrios Koumontzis, who are both in need of contracts. Feuk spent this season on an AHL/ECHL deal, but spent nearly the whole year as a substandard prospect in the latter league with Rapid City. He’s probably out of luck.
Koumontzis finished his NCAA career with ASU then signed an ECHL deal with Idaho, where he now plays defence. Having not really shown himself at the ECHL level in this short time nor at the NCAA level, there is virtually no chance he earns a look.
Both Cam Whynot and Cole Huckins were drafted out of the QMJHL and spent this season with Halifax and Sherbrooke respectively. Whynot really separated himself as a player with NHL potential and mostly looked like a decent junior blueliner. Huckins had some discipline issues last season and this season spent the year mostly as a middle-six winger in the Q on a very good team. I cannot imagine either earn a contract, but there is a small chance Huckins gets something this summer.
Cole Jordan has been so unlucky. He spent most of the last two seasons injured with one ailment or another, and simply has not played enough junior hockey to earn a look at the next level unfortunately.
The one prospect who has almost certainly earned an ELC this season is Jack Beck. While he did miss time in both of the last two seasons, he was among the best players on his team in Ottawa and has likely done enough to earn a look at the AHL level next season.
What does it mean for the organization
No matter which way you slice it, the Flames’ prospect pool is going to look much smaller after this season than it did after last. At least seven prospects are almost certainly out the door this summer not even accounting for the turnover expected for the Wranglers with players like Dryden Hunt, Nicholas Meloche, Clark Bishop and others all becoming UFAs at the end of the season.
The good news is the Flames will have a number of new players joining their ranks this summer. They currently have five draft picks going into this year’s draft—including the 16th overall pick which could turn into a top-five prospect in their system if they draft well. However, if they do opt to spend more of their draft capital this year and next in a push for the playoffs, they will begin to look like a weak prospect system in the coming years, which will only hurt them further when and if they do choose to retool from within.
The Flames desperately need to nail this year’s draft. Not only do they need a winner with their first-round pick, they need a sure-fire player in the second round, something that has been a tall order for this organization in the last few years. Having passed on Lane Hudson and Logan Stankoven for William Stromgren and Topi Ronni, this is a draft they simply cannot afford to miss on. Hopefully in the coming weeks, we are talking about the Flames having a top-10 prospect pool in the league.