The Calgary Flames were dealt some crushing news recently as 2019 first-round pick Jakob Pelletier suffered a serious injury in the team’s preseason tilt against the Seattle Kraken and will be out indefinitely. After making his NHL debut last season, it was expected Pelletier would play a big role in 2023–24 as a lineup regular. Now it looks like the Flames will be without his services until at least the new year, perhaps even longer.
With an NHL roster spot now up for grabs, it has exposed a major weakness in the Calgary Flames organization. That weakness of course is the lack of depth of NHL forwards. With the Flames now working to replace Pelletier’s spot on the NHL roster, it’s clear the team is not set up for success in the event of injuries due to a lack of NHL-ready options.
The Flames’ organizational depth chart is thin
There’s no doubt about it, the Flames see a major drop off in organizational depth as soon as you start digging deeper than their NHL veterans or locks to make the team. After the top-nine group in the NHL, things get real dicey, real fast.
Here’s what the organizational depth chart looks like.
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Jonathan Huberdeau||Elias Lindholm||Yegor Sharangovich|
|Andrew Mangiapane||Nazem Kadri||Matt Coronato|
|Dillon Dube||Mikael Backlund||Blake Coleman|
|Jakob Pelletier (injured)||Adam Ruzicka||Walker Duehr|
|Dryden Hunt||Kevin Rooney (Injured)||Adam Klapka|
|Lucas Ciona||Connor Zary|
|Emilio Pettersen||Cole Schwindt|
I mean it doesn’t take a long time to see where there are some major holes here. If we exclude the top three rows that all contain NHL locks, the depth drops off dramatically after them. As it stands Adam Ruzicka is technically the next man up at centre although he’s rarely played there in the NHL and is really more of a winger at this point.
Then you get immediately into AHL players or young prospects who aren’t ready for NHL action. It seemed for a moment that Kevin Rooney would make his return to the Flames after being placed on waivers less than a year ago until he also went down with a serious injury. Now the Flames are staring down a group of AHLers and young prospects for the fourth line centre role. No offence to the player but when you’re relying heavily on Rooney being healthy you’re not in a good spot.
On the wings, it gets even worse. At left wing, the Flames have no real NHL options now that Pelletier is out long-term. Your next man up would either be veteran Dryden Hunt who posted three points in 37 NHL games last year or a couple of prospects in Lucas Ciona and Emilio Pettersen who clearly aren’t NHL-ready.
The right wing is by far the worst situation though. The Flames can barely ice four natural right wingers in their NHL lineup. After Duehr, the only real other option is Adam Klapka who has just 60 games of professional hockey under his belt, all at the AHL level. From top to bottom, the situation at right wing is dire right now. This is a perpetual problem for the Flames.
A lack of NHL-ready options
With no clear-cut favourite to take Pelletier’s spot, the Flames have a multitude of options to fill his role on the team. The problem is none of them are obvious choices which really exposes the lack of NHL-ready depth this organization currently has. They’re facing a serious issue if the team is to experience more injuries throughout the season. If you’re struggling to replace one bottom-six winger, what happens when a key player goes down with an injury?
So far it looks like the major contenders to take Pelletier’s roster spot based on training camp and preseason as well as Rooney’s injury are Schwindt, Zary, Klapka and Hunt. Here’s the NHL total for those four.
|Player||NHL GP||NHL Points|
You get the gist. Outside of Hunt—who has been a fringe NHLer in the past and has just 43 career points across six seasons—there is really zero NHL experience in this group. Not exactly a great scenario to be in when you’re a team looking to contend for a Stanley Cup.
That’s not to say that every extra forward has to have NHL experience, but it’s not like the guys who don’t have experience are kicking at the door to make the NHL. It was a widely agreed-upon consensus coming into the year that both Zary and Schwindt were not NHL-ready just yet and would be better off in the AHL. Now they’re staring down a potential opening night lineup spot with the Flames.
Having a group of prospects as the next men up for your NHL team is good news when they’re NHL-ready. The Flames group is not.
Where do the Flames go from here?
There’s no easy fix for organizational depth this weak. Years of poor drafting and blocking young players with veterans has led to the situation the Flames are now in. As a team that is set on contending for a Stanley Cup this year their only hope is some of their younger and unproven players are able to jump up and play NHL minutes much sooner than expected.
If another key injury were to happen in the Flames forward corps the situation would get even worse than it already is. For now, all we can do is hope that the likes of Zary, Hunt, Klapka and Schwindt can hold their own at the NHL level.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire