2023-24 Calgary Flames predictions: Flames have two rookies make their NHL debuts
Photo credit:David Moll/Calgary Wranglers
2 months ago
The Calgary Flames in 2023-24 are going to be a young team no matter what. The development of their players with little experience at the NHL level is going to be close to the top of the priority list going into the year, and that means giving them time at the NHL level, even if it’s only nine games. That experience gives them a taste of the speed and physicality of the best league in the world. And even though the Flames don’t have one of the most impressive prospect pools around the league, it feels like this is the year for trial and error, which includes prospect debuts.
Prediction: Flames have two players make their NHL debut
Last season, we saw three young guns make their NHL debut: Jakob Pelletier, Matthew Coronato, and Dustin Wolf. All of them took their own paths to get some action in the top league, but they made it there nonetheless, and they will be important pieces in 2023-24.
The likelihood that the players who play their first NHL games (however many that may be this season) will be as important to the team’s future as Pelletier, Coronato, and Wolf is low, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be entirely unimportant; it will just be to a lesser extent unless they show otherwise. The three that I’ve named in this piece appeared to separate themselves from the rest of the pack in the Flames pool both with production and skill.
But who would be first up on the list? What would it take for them to put their names into consideration and get on NHL ice? There are two that come to mind immediately, although some other names could pop up in the mix.
The first name that comes into play is Adam Klapka
Klapka didn’t have the most incredible year last year in the AHL with the Calgary Wranglers, scoring 25 points in 60 games as well as four points in six games (all four of which were goals), but it was the prospect showcase games where he truly shined. Of course, the games in themselves are meaningless, but they give us a chance to see which players could be taking center stage at training camp, and Klapka was one of them, putting his name in the mix as the most effective player in those games among any in a Flames uniform. He’s a big, big body (6-foot-8 and 236 pounds) with plenty of skill in his hands, and even though he’s not going to be a top-six talent, he could be in contention for a 13th-forward-type role.
The second name it’s easy to think of is Connor Zary.
Zary was a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and even though he has shown flashes of it in the AHL, he hasn’t taken the *next* step in his development. That needs to be what happens this year, and what better way to show that than making his debut? In 2021-22, he put up 25 points in 53 games, and last season he played 72 games, scored 21 goals, and totaled 58 points. In an ideal world, the next step is a point per game, more development in his physicality and transition ability, and a test of his skills at the NHL level. If he continues to play how he is with the Wranglers, it’s likely he could see a small bit of NHL time, possibly in the bottom six or even in the middle six if head coach Ryan Huska believes he’s up for the challenge.
Of course, if there is a smattering of injuries that cause the Flames to need extra assistance from their young players (God forbid), that could help them reach the “two prospects make their debut” threshold that I’ve set for them. But, as of now, those would be the two players I bank on the most to be in a Flames jersey at least once before season’s end.
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