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11 different rookies played for the Calgary Flames in 2023-24

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
When Craig Conroy was announced as general manager in May 2023, he pledged to give young players a chance to play for the Calgary Flames. He and head coach Ryan Huska followed through on that pledge, with 11 different rookies playing games for the club in 2023-24 – a big increase from the six that made appearances in the prior season.
These rookies didn’t just “appear” in games, several of them made significant impacts.

The 2023-24 rookie class, at a glance

In order of games played, here are this past season’s rookies:

F Connor Zary

63 games, 14 goals, 34 points, plus-12, 3 game-winning goals, 0.69 game score
Zary was called up from the Wranglers on Oct. 31 and made his NHL debut on Nov. 1, scoring a goal against Dallas. Aside from an injury absence and a single game as a scratch, Zary was a fixture in the Flames lineup for the majority of the season. Zary showed the ability to be effective on the wing or up the middle, and his versatility and attention to detail in all three zones could make him quite valuable to the club going forward.

F Martin Pospisil

63 games, 8 goals, 24 points, plus-14, 109 penalty minutes, 0.48 game score
Pospisil was called up on Nov. 3 and made his NHL debut on Nov. 4. Pospisil found an immediate niche as a forechecking wrecking ball on Nazem Kadri’s wing, but he also had a sneaky offensive streak made possible by his speed and smarts. Pospisil has developed a bit of a reputation around the league as being a bit of a pain in the ass to play against – during exit interviews he snarked “I don’t really care” about his reputation – but after three ejections and a suspension as a rookie, he’ll need to find the right balance in his physicality.

F Matt Coronato

34 games, 3 goals, 9 points, minus-15, 0.11 game score
Coronato really had two lengthy runs with the Flames. He made the team out of camp and early on he played on the power play, but bounced around the forward ranks without any clear five-on-five role and struggled overall. He came back up in early March and played mostly on the fourth line. But Coronato’s attention to detail away from the puck was vastly improved, and it resulted in him creating a lot of good chances for his team. If he can build upon this season with a good summer, he’s well positioned for a potential breakout in 2024-25.

D Brayden Pachal

33 games, 1 goal, 6 points, minus-1, 0.19 game score [also played 17 games with Vegas]
Claimed off waivers before the trade deadline, Pachal was a third pairing fixture for the remainder of the season. Praised by the coaching staff for his simple, reliable game – he’s a defence-first player who’s an effective hitter in his own zone – Pachal isn’t flashy at all, but he’s a really consistent player who seemed to earn a lot of trust this season.

G Dustin Wolf

17 games, 7-7-1, .3.16 goals against average, .893 save percentage, -0.62 game score
For much of the season, Wolf was a short-notice call-up whenever there was an injury to Jacob Markstrom or Dan Vladar. His numbers were fine, but he didn’t really seem to settle in. But when he came up after the trade deadline he finally seemed to develop a rhythm. From Mar. 12 onward, he went 6-4-0 with a 2.74 goals against average and a .902 save percentage – not spectacular, but a nice foundation to build upon next season.

F Jakob Pelletier

13 games, 1 goal, 3 points, plus-1, 0.20 game score
Oh man, poor Jakob Pelletier. Pencilled in for an opening night spot, he lost several months due to a shoulder injury suffered in pre-season after a hit from Seattle prospect Marian Studenic and just never seemed to find his mojo fully after he returned. Pelletier just seemed a bit tentative this season at the NHL level – moreso after an re-injury near-miss on a hit from the Rangers’ Jacob Trouba – and as a result, he wasn’t nearly as effective as the Flames feel he can be.

D Ilya Solovyov

10 games, 0 goals, 3 points, minus-3, -0.28 game score
Solovyov played a couple short runs in the NHL. His first run coincided with the team’s overall defensive scheme being a bit of a mess, but he was really sharp late in the season. He’s a meat-and-potatoes defensive defender, with his game being built around penalty killing, defensive zone starts and just making life difficult for the other team’s skill players. He could be a third pairing option in the near future.

D Nikita Okhotiuk

9 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, minus-2, -0.19 game score [also played 43 games with San Jose]
Okhotiuk’s run in Calgary was a bit uneven, as he bounced in and out of the lineup and didn’t really have a chance to work himself into any rhythm. That said, he also didn’t do much in the games he did play. (You could argue that Solovyov did more to acquit himself than Okhotiuk did.)

F Adam Klapka

6 games, 1 goal, 1 point, minus-1, -0.28 game score
Klapka played in two different call-ups on the fourth line. He was most noticeable late in the season, including Game 82 against the Sharks where he had his first fight and his first goal.

F Cole Schwindt

4 games, 0 points, minus-1, -0.09 game score
Schwindt played four games on the fourth line. He was perfectly acceptable in a role where he’s hard to really do much to stand out. We’ll need to see more from him in the future, but it’s hard to really judge him too harshly given the small sample size.

D Yan Kuznetsov

1 game, 0 points, minus-1, -1.26 game score
Kuznetsov played one game. He was okay. But it was just one game, so it’s hard to be too negative on him.

2024-25 statuses for the 2023-24 rookies

Five of the 2023-24 rookies will remain eligible for the Calder Trophy, as they didn’t play enough games to use up their eligibility: Wolf, Solovyov, Kuznetsov, Klapka and Schwindt.
Six of the 2023-24 rookies won’t be considered rookies going forward due to playing out their eligibility: Zary, Pospisil, Coronato, Pachal, Pelletier and Okhotiuk.
Zary and Coronato remain on their entry-level deals, though, and both have potential performance bonuses included with their 2024-25 compensation: $212,500 for Zary and $850,000 for Coronato.

Quotable

During Friday’s end-of-season press conference, Huska was asked about putting Zary and Pospisil in such prominent spots to begin their NHL careers.
“Well, Posp’s first game was with Mikael Backlund, if I’m not mistaken, in Seattle, I think was his first game and that’s where he played to start with. So, we felt like we needed a little bit of pace and we needed somebody that we thought could compliment Naz a little bit on the wing that had some ability. Connor’s definitely not a fourth line player. It’s not the way he’s built, it’s not the way he plays, so if we don’t put him in a position where he has a chance to succeed, how are we helping him? So, part of our job is to help the guys out, and put them in positions to succeed, and then it’s up to them to take advantage of it and that’s what Connor was able to do.”
In his chat with the media, A.J. Greer mentioned the importance of Coronato spending time on the fourth line. When asked about Coronato’s fourth line duties, Huska explained the differences between him and Zary.
“Matty, to me, is a little different than Connor. They’re a little bit different player. They’re both guys that we’ll look upon to generate offence, but there’s a little difference between the two of them where I think Matty has the ability to bounce up and down and all over the place. Maybe it’s because of where he went to school, he’s a smart player. And I’m not saying that Connor’s not, but there’s a little difference between the way the two of them play the game. In certain situations, if you ask Matty to be hard on a forecheck, he can do that. Connor’s more of a, he’s got to possess the puck and use his body to make plays and create. So there’s a slight difference between them. But what we liked about Matty this year was his time, he got better each time he got brought up and he really focused on the details of the game, to try to make him a better player away from the puck and it was noticeable to us as a staff.”
Asked if he’ll still be aiming to keep spots open for youngsters in the future, Conroy noted the team’s contractual situation, but also noted that they want the push from below to continue.
“We have a few guys under contract right now, so it’s probably not… But yeah, you want competition. You want the best player to be… It’s the NHL, it’s just not because you have a contract or you’re this player or that player. You want the best player in and we want these young guys pushing just like they did this year. So we want them to take another step and all these guys underneath to try to say ‘Okay, I’m coming to take a job so I can play in the NHL.'”

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