With the 2022–23 season now over for 30 teams in the league and the NHL Draft upcoming, we have polled our team and put together a consolidated list of the top 10 Calgary Flames prospects. There was substantially more disagreement down the list than anticipated, with some prospects being universally loved, while others are viewed very differently across the team.
To kick things off, let’s take a look at the prospects who earned honourable mention nods. Three prospects earned multiple votes, but were just short of earning a spot in this year’s top 10.
Last year’s 10th ranked prospect, Yan Kuznetsov had a good-not-great season this year, putting up 19 points in 63 games as a rookie. As a very defensive defenceman, this is a good production year for the prospect who played no powerplay time and was behind a number of veterans in the lineup. Perhaps more importantly, Kuznetsov did a really good job using his body to keep opposing players away from the front of the net. Coming out of the QMJHL, the jump to pro hockey is enormous with the game moving faster than before, but Kuznetsov did really well at keeping up.
Drafted in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft, Kuznetsov still projects to be an NHLer, but will have a longer runway to reach probably a second or bottom pairing defensive blueliner. He probably doesn’t develop into another Chris Tanev, but likely more of a Nikita Zadorov-type blueliner. Larger blueliners tend to take longer to develop, so it’s perhaps a bit early to say what the Flames have definitively in Kuznetsov, but if they can get another Zadorov-esque blueliner, that’s tidy business.
When he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2020 NHL Draft, Solovyov was seen as a bit of a throwaway pick. He was an over-age blueliner who was playing in Saginaw of the OHL, and despite putting up really good numbers, he was older than everyone else in the league which inflated those numbers substantially. He then spent the next year in the KHL before spending the last two seasons in the AHL.
This was a very good season for Solovyov. The Belarussian has developed into a very good two-way blueliner, putting up 18 points in 68 games, and finished with an outstanding +18, good for second among defencemen on the team. But perhaps more than that, he has turned into a very good blueliner at both ends of the ice, being relied upon as one of the Wranglers’ top blueliners this past season, even moreso than Kuznetsov and Jeremie Poirier.
The trouble with Solovyov is that he seems to have a really high floor as a very good AHL defenceman, but he really needs to take a step to show he’s an NHLer. Next season is his make-or-break year to really show what he is. If he takes a step forward, he probably tops out as a decent depth defenceman a la Michael Stone, but if not, he likely becomes a Brandon Davidson-, Nick DeSimone-, or Connor Mackey-type blueliner. Good enough to be an AHLer, but not much more than that.
Mathias Emilio Pettersen
Ranked 14th last season, Pettersen had a big season this year, putting up 44 points in 61 games. This is good for fifth on the team, and his +23 was good for third in the league. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2018 NHL Draft, Pettersen was known as a slippery smaller winger who had great hands and strong playmaking abilities. This was his third pro season, and Pettersen took a huge step forward, increasing his point totals by 18 points from last season. He was always going to be a slower developing prospect, but to see a big year from him is a really good sign.
The problem with Pettersen is that he’s 23 now and still not around a point-per-game in the AHL. Even on one of the best teams in the AHL this season, Pettersen’s point totals were still less than optimal, and he has been passed by other forwards in the depth chart including Walker Duehr, Ben Jones, Connor Zary, and others. There is a logjam between him and the NHL, and unless he can take an enormous step forward to hit the point-per-game mark in what will be his D+5 season, Pettersen may be reaching the “he is what he is” realm as an AHLer.
What’s next for these prospects?
Of the three prospects mentioned, Solovyov and Pettersen are heading into a “show the world what you’re made of” year next season. Both will need to take a step forward to really show the Flames what they have in both prospects. Solovyov likely has a little more runway, but Pettersen will need to be a point-per-game guy next year if he wants to earn an NHL spot. Now 23, the window is rapidly closing for him.
Kuznetsov has just finished his rookie season in the AHL, which gives him more leeway in his growth. It’s much harder to evaluate a defensive defenceman, but having watched him play, I was particularly impressed by his ability to close down forwards and use his size and smarts to keep players from cutting inside. He also took relatively few penalties this year, ending with just 30 PIMs all season long. This is a testament to his positioning not making him take penalties for being out of position or too slow to react to players.
For all three, there still remain questions around what they are as prospects. Solovyov and Pettersen are both reaching the point where they are what they are, but Kuznetsov still has some more space to grow. In either case, the Flames will be hoping at least one develops into a regular NHLer.
Keep your eyes here to see how the rest of this year’s top 10 unfolds for Flames prospects.