The NHL’s preseason has been going on for the past few days and there is a fair argument that it might last for too long. In a split game against the Seattle Kraken on Monday, Jakob Pelletier was on the receiving end of a nasty hit from Marian Studenic. This hit sustained Pelletier with an injury to his left shoulder and will require surgery next week—he will be out of action indefinitely.
Replacements for Pelletier
The injury has left a big hole in the Calgary Flames lineup. Pelletier—a rookie who was poised for a solid first year and could play on any line—is out for an uncertain amount of time. As we hope for a speedy recovery, someone will have to step up to take his role. Let’s take a look at the options available for Calgary.
Connor Zary is probably the most popular pick to fill the missing spot. The 2020 first-round pick had a bounce year with the Calgary Wranglers this past season. In the AHL, Zary looked great and experienced while posting 21 goals and 57 points in 72 games. That statline placed him second in team scoring only behind Matthew Phillips. His performance led to some conversation that there’s a chance he could surprise and make the Flames’ opening night roster this season. Zary bolstered this chance even more with a strong showing in the preseason so far. With an open spot, it’s a great opportunity for Zary to benefit from, step into an NHL role, and show what he’s worth.
Dryden Hunt came to Calgary through one of the Flames’ two trade deadline moves last year. Despite being an NHL regular for a decent amount of time, Hunt only played in the AHL for the Wranglers. In 17 games he played for them he finished 15 points and added an additional six in nine games during the playoffs. If it wasn’t for Zary’s strong preseason, Hunt would be the most obvious choice for the role. That said, Hunt himself is having a pretty good preseason of his own. He’s played an NHL role before too. His 17 points in 76 games with the New York Rangers in 2021–22 isn’t the flashiest, but he has a solid hard-working, defensive style that makes him useful. Even though Pelletier could play on any line, the Flames will likely look to fill a fourth-line position and Hunt would fit that like a glove.
Any time Adam Klapka receives the spotlight it seems he gains more fans. The 6’8″ 236lbs power forward joined the Flames organization last year after coming over from his home country of Czechia. In his first season with the Wranglers, Klapka scored 13 goals and put up 25 points in 60 games while playing mainly in a bottom-six role. Klapka has won many fans over due to his preseason performance. His giant size gives him this aura that people love to watch and cheer for. Every shift Klapka looks like he’s giving it his all because of his physical play style. Add in some solid hands and you’re looking at a potentially decent player. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Klapka make the roster and potentially get fourth line role with Pelletier out. He has this vibe to him that Walker Duehr has—not the craziest AHL totals but can still end up a solid NHL player.
Another free agent signing from 2022–23, Ben Jones decided to re-up with the Flames organization after a pretty good year with the Wranglers. Serving as a centre in the top-six, he produced 54 points in 71 AHL games, good enough for third in points for the team. Jones has seemed to be on the cusp of being a fourth-line/thirteenth forward for a couple of seasons. First in Vegas, but then he left to join Calgary and now he’s around that tier here. Just like every other player mentioned already, Jones has had a worthy preseason, picking up goals and assists while appearing solid overall. Jones could pretty easily slot onto the fourth line with the open spot and play left wing or centre.
If the Flames either want a more experienced player or aren’t happy with any of their options, claiming a player to fill Pelletier’s spot might be the way they go.
To start with the waiver-wire, it rarely ever possesses talent that becomes impactful at the NHL level but it can hold some solid bottom-six players. When cuts start to happen at training camps, waivers will start to fill up. At this point, the Flames may be intrigued by a name and want to test his abilities. Best case scenario, it works out that the Flames snag a solid player; worst case scenario, the player is back on waivers shortly after. No one is sure of the names that will be on waivers right now, but it wouldn’t be too shocking to see a Matthew Phillips reunion if his name appears. It also wouldn’t be that shocking if the Flames didn’t go the waiver route at all since the new mantra is giving spots to younger players instead of random veterans.
With Jakob Pelletier out with an injury indefinitely a large gap in the Flames roster has been left to be filled. The Flames have a few options when it comes to players who could fill in for Pelletier while he’s out. They could go the route of promoting first-round pick and top AHL player Connor Zary, who’s looking to continue to surprise people. Another option is deadline acquisition, Dryden Hunt, as he has NHL experience and a precise style that bolds well in a fourth-line role. Then there’s big brute Adam Klapka who continues to win fans over with his fun style of hockey. Ben Jones continued his good AHL play in his first year in Calgary and now could potentially make the opening roster. The last option that feels more of a last resort choice is to claim a player off the waiver wire. Some solid bottom-of-the-lineup NHL players come from waiver claims but with the Flames prioritizing their young players instead of random veterans, who knows how likely this outcome will be.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire