If you follow the same people most of us do within the spheres of Calgary Flames social media, there are two pairings of prospects that pundits and followers seem excited about. One pairing features 2019 first round pick Jakob Pelletier and 2020 first round pick Connor Zary, a pair of 2001-born players that could step right into the NHL based on their pedigree. The other pairing have taken a longer route: Stockton Heat standouts Matthew Phillips and Glenn Gawdin.
For a couple of reasons, the upcoming season is very big for Phillips and Gawdin.
Originally selected with the draft pick the Flames got from Minnesota for eating the last chunk of Niklas Backstrom’s contract in 2015-16, Phillips is one of many late round picks the Flames have managed to turn into a productive pro hockey player. The 23-year-old has played three pro seasons and is a restricted free agent.
The challenge for the Flames with Phillips is that he now requires waivers to be assigned to the AHL’s Stockton Heat, and he’s been productive enough with Stockton that an NHL club could convince themselves that he’s an upgrade over whoever they currently have on their bottom six. He’s been a 0.69 points per game player in the AHL despite being listed at 5’7″ and 155 pounds, he’s managed to be the same type of play-driving forward that he was in the WHL.
In short: the Flames could lose Phillips for nothing on the waiver wire unless he can carve himself out a spot with Darryl Sutter’s club. He’s flat-out good enough to be on the roster based on talent, but stylistically how many smaller forwards will Sutter be able to comfortably have on his team?
Like Phillips, Gawdin is a right shot forward from the WHL. But Gawdin’s a little bit bigger – listed at 6’1″ and 195 pounds – and his game arguably needs less alterations to translate to the NHL. He’s a restricted free agent and, like Phillips, he’ll be subject to waivers this coming season. He has produced at a 0.71 points-per-game basis through his time in the AHL.
The X-factor for Gawdin is his age and experience level. Presuming he signs a one year deal with the club, he’ll become a Group 6 free agent at the end of the season unless he plays 73 NHL games. In other words, the Flames could lose him for nothing on waivers or they could lose him for nothing via free agency unless he spends the season with the big club. So the big question for Gawdin is whether he can cement himself as the club’s fourth line centre. If he can translate his superb AHL game to Sutter’s system – and the evidence we have suggests that he probably can – he could be a really nice addition to the team’s bottom six.
And if he can’t, there will likely be a bunch of NHL teams hoping to add him to their depth charts.