Naturally, the 2020 NHL Draft cracked some crevices in our first spitballed Calgary Flames prospect rankings—you need to reorganize the freezer to squeeze in fresh meat, after all. Undersized yet supremely skilled QMJHL centreman Ryan Francis thereby wriggled into our list after the Flames nabbed him in the fifth round last month, likely thanks to his generosity and ingenuity with the puck.
How did we get here?
Born in Beaver Bank, Nova Scotia, Francis has skated on the ice slabs of Canada’s Ocean Playground for his entire life. The 5’9″, 176 pound pivot played Bantam AAA at Newbridge Academy in Lower Sackville, a Halifax suburb, and logged one Midget season in that Atlantic hockey prodigy factory known as Cole Harbour.
His entire junior career has since unfolded for the Cape Breton Eagles (who tragically bottled all their “Screaming” in 2019), from whence the Flames plucked him in the fifth round, 143 overall, at this past virtual NHL Draft.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
A breakout season for Cape Breton in the 2019-20 season launched Francis from middling obscurity to NHL front-office radar. He only notched 34 and 32 points in his first two respective major junior seasons, but last year something sparked and erupted into a far more impressive 24 goal and 72 point performance. He finished 17th in the QMJHL in points, so he did not exactly shatter any records, but he hurdled his own previous ceiling with such finesse that he established a name for himself in the league—seemingly out of nowhere.
Upon examining some highlights, it appears that he hacked his way out of a middle-six role output junior because he unleashed a secret weapon: one heck of a slick stick.
Ryan Francis chips the puck around a pinching defender and breaks down the wing before finding Derek Gentile with a slick backhand pass for his first of 4 points as the Eagles beat the Mooseheads 7-1. He’s now up to 29 points in 16 games. #NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/F6VE33jfSX
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) October 30, 2019
He pokes, lassos, loops and propels that puck with pure poise and confidence. That explosive individual effort is not the look of a third-line guy, but a gifted scorer with tangible promise. A suave demeanour is all it took to separate Dick Whitman from Don Draper, right?
Add some shifty finishes to the repertoire, too. Francis tweaks his speed, direction and orientation to shake legs and swell lanes—as recently as last week…
The good news is what a dangle tonight by 2020 Flames’ fifth-rounder Ryan Francis on his first of two goals for Cape Breton. The bad news is the Saint John defenceman he took to school was 2020 Flames’ third-rounder Jeremie Poirier. pic.twitter.com/8FnfNgZmHo
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) October 31, 2020
And as early as last season (forever ago)…
— Brandon Holmes (@BHolmes_Hockey) April 1, 2020
Those clips prove that in the right moment Francis can boast some blinding hands, flaunt some scorching speed, breeze unto and befuddle any goalie in his way. But his assist totals drastically eclipse his goals. Francis is a natural playmaker, and one particularly deceptive pass from last season may even outshine some of the goals.
2020 NHL draft eligible Ryan Francis of @CBEHockey with the effortless zone entry on the power play before directing traffic and finding Nathan Larose with a sweet feed into the slot for the tying goal #NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/NMgttPakVx
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) October 3, 2020
Sights one teammate, smuggles the puck elsewhere. Francis sells the back-door pass initially, staring cross-ice until the lone defenceman guarding the crease swivels to block that lane. By that point, the deserted high guy drifts into the slot and Francis swings his hips and scopes him in one flourish, fooling anyone within a poke-check radius of the crease. Cue the profits, and cue the possibilities of a sleeper playmaker in higher leagues… someday.
Those in the know
We chatted with Cape Breton head coach Jake Grimes about Francis’ draft stock and his potential.
“We thought he could go anywhere from late second to the fourth,” said Grimes. “We had no idea he’d end up in the fifth, but the drafts are always different and always funny, and credit to Calgary for getting him where they did. They got a great player in the fifth round. He’s got third round skill for sure, easily, and maybe even second round skill. As he starts to complete his game and continue with some grit and just continue on his process, you never know, but his skill level is super high. You never know what you could end up with with a guy like that.”
In terms of what Francis needs to improve to keep growing his game, Grimes gave a quick assessment:
“Putting together his 200-foot game and his puck management skills and how to address what to do and when in the game, what’s left on the clock, what’s the score, all these types of reads he’ll get better and better at.”
On the horizon
Sporting the alternate captain crest on his sweater for Cape Breton, Francis has posted 3 goals and 11 points in 10 games so far in the 2020-21 season.
He obviously plans to continue producing at a point-per-game pace this year, and rounding out his game in all three zones will best refine the image of him already imprinted on the Flames’ front office. Come eventual rookie camps and stabs at the pro level, he will need that stocked and polished arsenal of both marvelous skills and matured smarts to stake his claims despite his size.
FlamesNation Top 20 Prospects 2020
|The no-votes||Missed the cut|
|#20: Tyler Parsons||#19: Alexander Yelesin|