75Dustin Wolf
Photo Credit: Chris Mast/Everett Silvertips

Ten prospects to watch during rookie camp

Friends, it’s extremely unlikely that anybody participating in Calgary Flames rookie camp will be starting the 2021-22 regular season with the NHL team. In short: the Flames have a lot of veterans on one-way deals, so there aren’t any spots left for rookies.

But there are still 10 prospects worth keeping an eye on over the next week, including in the two rookie games with Edmonton on Saturday and Monday nights.

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The incoming pros!

Three highly-regarded prospects are going full-time pro in 2021-22. They’ll all probably start with Stockton, but this camp could give an indication of how close they are to pushing for NHL games.

Connor Zary (#2 on our prospect rankings) played AHL games last year and was one of Stockton’s top players before the WHL started, and he reverted back to being one of Kamloops’ best players (before an injury ended his season a little prematurely). If he’s close to what he was during last season’s AHL appetizer, he could push to the front of the line for forward recalls – nudging veterans like Adam Ruzicka, Glenn Gawdin and Matthew Phillips out of the way.

Jakob Pelletier (#3 on our rankings) is about as highly-regarded by prospect wonks as Zary is, and Pelletier shined in last year’s World Juniors as he acted as a jack-of-all-trades for Team Canada. Pelletier’s not big, but he plays big, and his versatility and tenacity made him a superb junior player in Quebec. How can he fare against some bigger, older players at rookie camp?

Dustin Wolf (#4 on our rankings) is coming off perhaps the best junior or college run of any Flames goaltending prospect in decades. Like Zary, he had a cup of coffee in Stockton last season and looked strong in two of his three starts – and that was behind a defensive group that can charitably be described as “AHL level.” The Heat will be better defensively this season with a bunch of veteran additions, but can Wolf be anywhere close to his Everett excellence right away?

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Going back to junior!

The Flames have four youngsters who are headed to major junior for the season, but this camp could answer some key questions about where they slot.

Ryan Francis (#8 on our rankings) excelled last season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. He’s not huge, but he’s smart, elusive and good on both sides of the puck. He’s 20, so another year in the QMJHL to round out his game a bit will be good for him – especially given how jam-packed Stockton looks to be – but getting some reps in alongside a few of Stockton’s forward group could provide a glimpse at how he needs to develop to move forward. (Francis has shades of Andrew Mangiapane in his game, and figuring out how to turn him into another Mangiapane could be the organization’s great development project.)

Jérémie Poirier (#9 on our rankings) is another Saint John-bound player. He’s an offensive-minded defender who is a joy on the power play and in the offensive zone with the puck at five-on-five, but probably needs to fill in the gaps a bit. He’ll be on the ice with some minor pro defensemen, and hopefully he can continue to learn and grow during the next week or so. He could be a big offensive weapon on one of junior hockey’s best teams this coming season.

Jack Beck (unranked on our rankings) is a bit of a hockey unicorn. He played zero games last season, and this camp will be his first dive back into the proverbial pool since the pandemic began – the OHL didn’t have games at all last year. Beck was a really nice complimentary piece for the Ottawa 67’s two seasons ago (as a 16-year-old) and he’s been developing physically, but how his off-ice development translates into on-ice development is a complete mystery. Scouts are high on his potential, though, especially given a lot of players have graduated from the 67’s and he’ll be given tons of opportunity this season.

Update: Aw man…

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Ilya Nikolaev (unranked on our rankings) is another unique player. After bouncing around between Russia’s junior MHL and minor pro VHL last season, and landing in Belarus briefly this season, Nikolaev is headed to the USHL to play with the Tri-City Storm. But right now, he’s (finally) in town for Flames development staff to get a closer look. He was highly regarded as a future two-way forward in his draft year – perhaps a Russian Mikael Backlund – and perhaps he can get back on track after a couple uneven seasons. He might not be here for long, though: the USHL’s roster deadline is Sept. 20 and their season starts on Sept. 23.

Coming back to the AHL!

Martin Pospisil (16th on our rankings) could be awesome. The refrain from folks like us over the years has been that the Flames skilled players aren’t terribly big and their big players aren’t terribly skilled. Pospisil is big and burly and uses his size well – Brad Treliving has joked that he’s the type of player that could find trouble in a church, based on his agitating playing style. He also managed to translate those attributes into a lot of offense last season for Stockton, and that emergence from his development cocoon could signal something big. Pospisil was one of Stockton’s offensive leaders while playing through a shoulder injury that required surgery, and his scoring tear was only ended when he suffered a knee injury that ended his season. If he’s back at 100%, it’s easy to get excited about what he could do with a full, healthy season.

Who knows?

Yan Kuznetsov (15th on our rankings) is another supremely interesting prospect. He played in the NCAA and at the World Juniors last season (he’s eligible to return to the World Juniors this season). He signed an NHL deal, and because he was also selected by Saint John in the CHL Import Draft over the summer he’s eligible to play in the QMJHL (Saint John), or AHL (Stockton), or ECHL (Kansas City) this season. The Flames need to figure out where he slots in, and quickly, so they can maximize his season’s development potential. He’s touted as a really smart defensive blueliner, but his offensive game hasn’t caught up yet. The big question is where they can place him to maximize that scoring potential. (I’m leaning towards the QMJHL, personally, because that team is going to be stacked and could go on a very long run this season.)

Other players in rookie camp that made this year’s Top 20 rankings include Emilio Pettersen (11th), Johannes Kinnvall (17th), Rory Kerins (18th), Cole Huckins (19th) and Ilya Solovyov (20th).

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Who are you most excited to see at rookie camp? Sound off in the comments!