Jakob Pelletier showed flashes of brilliance during an up and down 2022-23 season
Photo credit:Angela Burger/Calgary Wranglers
By Ryan Pike3 months ago
A first-round selection of the Calgary Flames in the 2019 NHL Draft, Jakob Pelletier went pro with the Stockton Heat in 2021-22 with a lot of hopes but no real expectations. Sure, he was coming off a strong major junior career, but it was difficult to project how much of his superb two-way game could translate to playing against grown men.
In 2022-23, Pelletier returned for his sophomore pro season, suiting up for the relocated Calgary Wranglers and, after a freshman campaign that saw him named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team, there were lofty expectations for what he could accomplish.
The weight of those expectations, perhaps, was too much for Pelletier as he set his sights on a potential NHL roster spot. He had a pretty disappointing training camp; he seemed like he was trying to do too much, rather than just playing his game. He was sent back to the AHL and had a fairly unimpressive October (by his standards), with four points in six games.
But from that point, he found his game again. In 23 games in November and December, Pelletier had 12 goals, 16 assists and 28 points. He was called up to the NHL for the first time on Jan. 7. He made his NHL debut two weeks later, on Jan. 21, and played 6:50 in a home win over Tampa Bay.
The good news about Pelletier at the NHL level was that he could clearly hack it. The details of his game were good, particularly on the forecheck, and he was savvy enough with the puck to not look out of place on the power play. The bad news was that he never really had a clear role, and the coaching staff seemed more concerned with shuffling around the more established wingers – guys like Jonathan Huberdeau, Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane – than finding a niche for Pelletier.
Pelletier’s play dipped a bit in March and he found himself in the press box shortly after the trade deadline. He played once after Mar. 21 – the season finale against San Jose – and then returned to the Wranglers for the playoffs.
Pelletier ended up with 37 points, 20 at even-strength, in 35 AHL regular season games. He had 10 points, 7 at even-strength, in 9 AHL playoff games. He was first over the boards in virtually every game situation with the Wranglers. He had 7 points, 4 at even-strength, in 24 NHL regular season games. He was primarily a top-six winger for the Flames when he played, but he also bounced around the other lines, too.
Is Pelletier a no-doubt NHL player come the fall? Maybe. Maybe not. At the very least, he’s a player who’s good enough and smart enough to play in the NHL. Can he be good enough to be a consistent, positive contributor? We’ll see. But he’s a really, really good AHL player, and the fact that he’s flirting with being a regular NHL player just two years into his pro career is quite impressive.
The challenge will be for Pelletier to find a way to take the lessons from the past season, including what must have been a pretty frustrating stint in the NHL press box, and use them to cement himself as a player that can fill a key niche for the Flames going forward.
Pelletier is only 22 years old and has established already himself as a top player in the second-best league in the world. He’s off to a strong start.
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