Next men up: the most NHL-ready Calgary Flames prospects
Photo credit:Provided by the Stockton Heat
By Ryan Pike1 year ago
Friends, the Calgary Flames have some decisions to make this off-season. Big decisions. Expensive decisions. Decisions that will obliterate what salary cap flexibility they might have. If the Flames have any hope of keeping all their key players – looking at you Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington – and fielding a full roster, they’ll need inexpensive help from the farm.
Here are the five prospects in the best position to step in as full-timers in 2022-23.
C Glenn Gawdin
(24; right shot; $750,000 cap hit, pending Group 6 free agent)
If we did one of these lists in each of the past two seasons, Gawdin would’ve been on them. Gawdin is a prototypical “quad-A” player. He had a cup of coffee earlier this season as fourth line centre due to some early-season injuries, but he was farmed out once Brad Richardson was cleared to play.
Gawdin’s a really good AHLer and can slot into a team’s bottom-six and provide decent if unspectacular minutes in very specific deployments, and his familiarity with the organization and systems put him on the radar. But he’s also a pending Group 6 free agent on account of never getting much NHL time despite being all of the things we mentioned, so it’s more likely that he’s playing in another organization next fall than suiting up with the Flames.
D Connor Mackey
(25; left shot; $912,500 cap hit, under contract through 2022-23)
Mackey was one of the most highly-pursued college free agents in the spring of 2020 and he chose the Flames. Since then, he’s been circling the runway (so to speak) but has yet to come in for a final landing. He played six games with the Flames in the 2020-21 season and was pretty solid, and he’s been one of the top defenders for Stockton for the past season or so.
Mackey projects as a reliable two-way defender on the left side. He’s not great at anything necessarily, but his game lacks big holes and while he probably tops out as a good third pairing defender, there are worse things in the world to be. He’ll be waiver eligible when the 2022-23 season begins and he’s already on a one-way deal, two things that work in his favour. The other thing is likely his play in Stockton, where he’s been the best of a pretty lean blueline bunch.
LW Jakob Pelletier
(21; left shot; $863,333 cap hit, under contract through 2023-24)
The Flames’ first-round pick in 2019, Pelletier was an excellent, toolsy junior player. He jumped to the pros this season and has emerged as an excellent, toolsy young pro. He’s been one of the top rookies in the AHL this season, and at times he’s been one of the top players in the league.
The thing I like about Pelletier is his two-way play. He’s a strong 200-foot player who’s adapted to the nuances of the pro game and can play in every game situation. He’s been leaned on heavily by Stockton’s coaching staff and he’s largely passed his tests thus far with flying colours. Sure, he could probably benefit from additional AHL time, but he’s already really good. If you stick him with Mikael Backlund for a 20-game apprenticeship, he could be even better.
RW Matthew Phillips
(23; right shot; $750,000 cap hit, pending restricted free agent)
If you’ve ever read this website or follow Mike Gould on Twitter, you’ve probably heard about how good Philips has been in Stockton. In short: he’s been really good. Heck, he’s been really good for two or three seasons already.
He’s not big, which will probably limit his NHL upside and versatility, but playing against big boys in the AHL he’s been able to do his thing very consistently. The only real question is if there’s an NHL role in the Flames system where he can thrive. If the Flames keep their key players next season, there really aren’t a ton of open spots on the wing – especially in more offense-oriented roles.
D Juuso Valimaki
(23; left shot; $1.55 million cap hit, under contract through 2022-23)
The Flames’ first-rounder in 2017 has had a weird pro career. He made the Flames out of camp in 2018-19. Then he had a high-ankle sprain, recovered and went to Stockton. He played in the playoffs that year, then blew out his knee in the off-season and missed the entire 2019-20 season.
Valimaki was in and out of the lineup for all of last season and a good chunk of this season before being sent down to Stockton. Down in Stockton he’s also had a weird run, with a minor injury, an abuse of officials suspension, and a lot of up-and-down play. The hope was that sending Valimaki to the Heat could help him find his swagger; he has yet to really find his consistency, let alone anything else.
If Valimaki can get his mojo back, he could be a huge asset to the Flames. He’s got speed, size and skill in an offensive-minded package. If he can return to his pre-injury form, I’m sure the Flames will find a role for him.
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