Prospect Profiles – Matt Pelech

CALGARY, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 15: Matt Pelech #56 of the Calgary Flames battles with Jean-Francois Jacques #22 of the Edmonton Oilers in the third period of the pre-season NHL game on September 15, 2009 at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Mike Ridewood/Getty Images)


Behind Mikael Backlund, Matt Pelech is the Flames prospect closest to make the leap to the big leagues. In fact, some could argue after three years in the minors, Pelech is closer to NHL ready than the young Swede. A first round choice from Calgary’s disastrous 2005 draft, Pelech has been held back by depth and injuries. He’ll turn 23 years old this September and is nearing the critical point when a prospect goes from "viable future NHLer" to "fringe player". The obstacles facing him at this point, however, aren’t trivial.

Pelech was the 41st ranked NA skater in his draft season. He fell down the lists a bit due to an injury plagued season that limited him to just 31 games. Apparently the Flames felt they were getting an undervalued skater, because they chose him well outside of his consensus rank. Pelech continued to battle injuries throughout his tenure in the OHL – the most games he played in a single season was 64 during his rookie season.

It’s been a similar script for Pelech in the AHL. He appeared in 77 contests his first year, 59 his second and just 42 last season due to a pinched nerve in his neck. He did, however, manage career highs in goals (2), points (10) and plus minus (+7), although the value of a defense-first rearguard isn’t captured by the counting stats. Like Regehr, Pelech’s performance is measured in the quality of opposition and the amount of minutes he plays. None of which are available due to the limited nature of AHL stats records.

Pelech appeared in 5 NHL games in 2008-09 when the Flames were battling injuries at the end of the season. He averaged more than 15 minutes in three of the contests, including twice breaking the 17 minute mark. He looked relatively comfortable during his cup of coffee, even going +3 in his final appearance (although it was a game versus the woeful Edmonton Oilers, many of whom had alrady checked out for the year). Pelech has frequently looked like a man against boys to my eyes whenever I’ve seen him live against other prospects. And he is, in many ways, now five years removed from his draft year. His seemingly slow progress made me wonder what the average age of similar-type players is in the current NHL. Conventional wisdom holds that most shut-down defenders take more time to develop into their roles, but it was something I wanted to investigate nonetheless.

The chart shows Pelech’s comparables from last year (all data from I limited the sample to guys who played in 50+ games and at least 10 minutes of ES ice per night. I also only looked at guys who produced points at the bottom-end range.

The "age" column shows the age at which each player broke into the league more or less for good. As you can see, the data is actually somewhat encouraging – the mean rookie age for this sample was 22.7, or right about where Pelech is now. Obviously many of the elite guys made the show at a younger age (Bouwmeester, Regehr, Foote) but even if Pelech turned out to be a Greg Zenon or Colin White, the org would no doubt count that as a "win". This at least suggests that Pelech isn’t as far behind in his development as one may assume.

Pelech’s path to the big league is blocked by more than just a history of injury though. The Flames currently boasts no less than 6 NHL defenseman on the roster (Regehr, Bouwmeester, Pardy, Giordano, Staios, Sarich) plus RFA Ian White who may or may not be retained. Should White be re-signed (and the likes of Sarich and Staios stick around), it will take a something akin to a long-term injury to one of the encumbants for Pelech to climb his way over all that established, expensive, veteran depth.

The guy Pelech is most likely to usurp is Adam Pardy. Pardy is the cheapest player on the Flames blueline and arguably has the lowest ceiling (ignoring the fact that Staios is on the downslope of his career for a moment). The Flames under Sutter have shown a willingness to move apparently "stalled" youngsters the last few years (Boyd and Kobasew srping to mind) and it wouldn’t much surprise me this summer if Sutter decides to bet on Pelech over Pardy and moves the older guy for a mid-round draft pick. The fact that Pelech may no longer be waiver exempt (he’s also an RFA this year now that his ELC has expired) will probably play a role in that decision as well. 


  • Great information. I think they have to give Pelech an oppurtunity with the big club before giving up on him. I would love to see them move players like Staois, Pardy, and Sarich and put White and Pelech in their place. If he isn’t cutting it they still have players like Kronwall that can take his spot.

  • Graham

    Despite some set backs, both Pelech and Negrin should be making a push for a 6/7 spot this year. Pelech looks like a potential bottom pairing type guy, a big stay at home dman with decent skating.

    You have to think that the GM has not finished retooling his defense corp, White is still a question mark (can we afford to resign him)
    and I expect one of Regehr or Sarich to be moved for salary cap relief.
    Depending on how things break, and our salary cap issues, we might have spots for one or two of the younger dmen next year, and maybe one spot the year after (replacing Staios).
    I think it is time to give Pelech, Negrin, Kronwall and possibly Seabrook a chanceto compete for a spot on the big club.

    Besides giving away Aulie, the one guy that got away last year is Strallman….

    • Not enough to say anything meaningful. He’s apparently been a top 2 defender for the last couple seasons, but that’s going on reputation and rumors more than anything.

      Guys like this are tough to track. Until you see them reliably take on the big boys consistently, you really can’t know if they’ll be able to do it or not.

      Because his ELC is over and he’ll be facing the waiver wire, the team will have to make a decision on him sooner rather than later. If they don’t think he’s ready yet, it might just make sense to trade him for whatever they can get rather than risk losing him for nothing.

    • jeremywilhelm

      I have. He is a decent defenseman. Likes to make a big hit. He is EXTREMELY agressive in his own zone. Especially in front of the goalie and in scrums after the whistle.

      He will play the man more than the puck. He probably has about the same offensive skills as Sarich, when Sarich is playing at his best. Not that great of a shot. Passing is passable.

      He is pretty much your typical tough guy defensive D man. He takes alot of penalties from his agression. Something he is gonna have to become a little smarter with in the NHL.

      • jeremywilhelm

        Do you know what kind of players does he play against?

        Also is there anybody on the minor league roster ahead of him on the depth chart at evens?

        This is what I really want to know. If he can play tough minutes in the minors then he’s probably ready for an extended stretch as #6/7 in the bigs. And at 22 years old… he might yet grow into a bigger role.

        • A potential project may be to go through the AHL gamesheets to see who he was on the ice against when goals were scored (a la Jonathan Willis). It’ll be time consuming, but may help us see who he was routinely playing against.

        • jeremywilhelm

          Blurgh, I haven’t looked at the sheets at all. From what I recall, before and after the injury, Pelech would spend the majority of the time with top pairing minutes. The kid is looking to hurt people (legally and borderline) every shift.

          If you remember that first game he had with the Flames last year, where he laid that huge hit and then fought immediately after. That is pretty much what he is trying to do every shift, if the opportunity is there.

          He backs down from no one and often targets the best players on the opposite team to pick on and scrum with. This gets him into trouble quite a bit. Like I said before, he will need to learn how to channel that in the NHL if he wants a legit chance at a roster spot.

  • That’s about the same as the NHL from the perspective of me getting the relevant numbers. Assuming they don’t have the frustrating more-than-occasional errors like the NHL game sheets do.

    The issue is always that of motivation I suppose. I don’t really care about the AHL that much 🙂

  • “I have. He is a decent defenseman. Likes to make a big hit. He is EXTREMELY agressive in his own zone. Especially in front of the goalie and in scrums after the whistle.”

    I saw him play about 10 games for the heat this season, and I agree. He looks and plays downright MEAN at times.

    What do you guys think of Staffan Kronwall?? He may have a bit more offensive upside, he was playing a lot on the power play in the games I saw, and has a pretty good shot.

    • I think Kronwall is a fringe NHLer who could probably play a 6th/7th role well enough. Playfair made it sound like he was the Heat’s best all around d-man by the end of the year in his interview. Which kinda makes sense, given the fact he’ll be 28 in Sept.

  • Grant F

    I echo the comments about his mean streak. The dude is NASTY on the ice and make life very hard on the other team’s forwards.

    His skating has always been good for his size but from my limited viewing he’s really improved his footwork and general agility in the last 2 years.

    He won’t be an all-star but he could be a very solid #4.

  • Grant F

    Huh, I’d never even thought about Pelech’s waiver eligibility.

    If he’s (Pelech) smart he’ll sign a new short term (1 year)contract for around league minimum. The only reason I can think of for Sutter to go out and get Johnson and Kronwall over using Pelech (since I thought Pelech made a good enough accounting for himself in the AHL and when he got his cup of coffee) is that their deals were for around 500K and Pelech’s 1st round ELC was for more.

    Regardless there isn’t any room on the roster for him as of now. So either Sutter makes a deal to make room/save cap or Pelech’s going to be lost on waivers/traded.

  • jeremywilhelm

    why dont the flames just buy ouy staios, and let pardy, pelech, negrin, and kronwall duke it out for the 5 and 6 spots. White will probaably be packing his bags, and staios’ salary is to big, for the role he gives, for the flames to swallow

  • Kent, I wrote this in P.Stien’s blog and want your humble opinion. Could the Flames not give Staois, Sarich, and Kotalik away for real late draft picks if they want the salary cap space? I realize that your essentially giving them away for nothing but couldn’t you use that money for signing White and maybe a free agent or two. It would free up alot of money for trades or maybe even a front line winger. I may be way off here but it’s just a thought. Thanks.

    • They could only if others would accept them. We don’t know what the market for such players is, but I would suspect it’s limited, even for a guy like Sarich. All three guys are paid too much for their contributions and the various GM’s around the league know it.

      I think the best we could for is one of those three being dumped for a pick. Sarich is most functional, but also the most expensive. Kotalik’s terrible season and 3M cap hit (which extends for two more years) make him all but immovable. And I think we’ll have to demote Staios to get rid of his dollars.

      If it can be done, I’d be on board. Big if at this point though.

  • jeremywilhelm

    Bury Staois, Keep Kotalik, Trade Sarich.

    All three are very real and likely options for the Flames.

    Kotalik is interested in making himself worthwhile. Give him a chance. I think he likes the western conference style as he looked a heck of alot better playing for Edmonton and Calgary than he ever did playing for the Rangers.

    Sarich has trade value. I don’t care what anyone says about the guy. His play picked up after the olympics when the team needed him, unfortunately everyone else not named Giordano and White, dropped off.

    Staois can go to the minors. The guy is useless and old. He paired with Bouwmeester, who is at his worst a defensively sound defenseman, and made him useless.

    Sarich and Staois off the books frees up enough money to re-sign White and bring in a decent top 6 forward.

    Game on!