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The Calgary Flames have some interesting prospects at forward, but need some elite level skill

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
For better or for worse, the Calgary Flames franchise has traditionally been defined by their most prominent forwards.
We’ve seen the Flames offensive attack bolstered by the likes of Kent Nilsson, Lanny McDonald, Theo Fleury, Jarome Iginla, Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau – and such teams find a good amount of regular season success. We’ve also seen the Flames forced to shuffle their deck in-between the emergence of their next big forward star.
As the Flames approach the 2024 NHL Draft, their reserve list features quite a few talented and versatile forwards… but arguably no stars or superstars as of yet.
Here’s a quick rundown of where the Flames stand in their forward ranks a few weeks out from the draft.

A forwards snapshot

Under team control for 2024-25:
  • Mikael Backlund (centre)
  • Nazem Kadri (centre)
  • Blake Coleman
  • Kevin Rooney (centre)
  • Jonathan Huberdeau
  • Dryden Hunt
  • Andrei Kuzmenko
  • Clark Bishop (centre)
  • Andrew Mangiapane
  • Walker Duehr
  • Yegor Sharangovich
  • Dillon Dube (restricted free agent)
  • Sam Morton (centre)
  • Martin Pospisil
  • Riley Damiani (centre) (restricted free agent)
  • Adam Klapka (restricted free agent)
  • Jakob Pelletier (restricted free agent)
  • Cole Schwindt (centre) (restricted free agent)
  • Ilya Nikolaev
  • Connor Zary
  • Rory Kerins
  • Matt Coronato
  • Lucas Ciona
  • William Stromgren
  • Parker Bell
  • Samuel Honzek
Unsigned draft picks:
  • Demetrios Koumontzis
  • Cade Littler (centre)
  • Aydar Suniev
  • Jaden Lipinski (centre)
Unrestricted free agents:
  • A.J. Greer
  • Ben Jones (centre)

Recently drafted forwards

Over the past 10 drafts (2014-23), the Flames selected 38 forwards. Their drafting outcomes have varied quite a bit.
10 players signed deals with the Flames and played NHL games with the club. Among them are current Flames players Andrew Mangiapane (2015, sixth round), Martin Pospisil (2018, fourth round), Jakob Pelletier (2019, first round), Connor Zary (2020, first round) and Matt Coronato (2021, first round). Also in this category are former Flames Sam Bennett (2014, first round), Matthew Tkachuk (2016, first round), Matthew Phillips (2016, sixth round) and Adam Ruzicka (2017, fourth round), as well as Dillon Dube (2016, second round), who missed a significant portion of last season on leave. (Over at Daily Faceoff, Frank Seravalli briefly discussed Dube’s situation.)
Another 11 players signed entry-level deals with the Flames but didn’t play any NHL games. Among them are current prospects Ilya Nikolaev (2019, third round), Rory Kerins (2020, sixth round), William Strömgren (2021, second round), Lucas Ciona (2021, sixth round), Parker Bell (2022, fifth round) and Samuel Honzek (2023, first round). Some of these guys will probably play NHL games at some point. Players no longer in the system that didn’t appear in the NHL include Hunter Smith (2014, second round), Austin Carroll (2014, seventh round), Eetu Tuulola (2016, sixth round), Emilio Pettersen (2018, sixth round) and Dmitry Zavgorodniy (2018, seventh round).
Finally, a baker’s dozen of Flames forward picks never signed NHL deals with the organization and their rights have lapsed. They are Pavel Karnaukhov (2015, fifth round), Linus Lindstrom (2016, fourth round), Mitchell Mattson (2016, fifth round), Zach Fischer (2017, fifth round), D’Artagnan Joly (2017, sixth round), Filip Sveningsson (2017, seventh round), Milos Roman (2018, fourth round), Lucas Feuk (2019, fourth round), Josh Nodler (2019, fifth round), Ryan Francis (2020, fifth round), Cole Huckins (2021, third round), Jack Beck (2021, sixth round) and Topi Rönni (2022, second round).
Demetrious Koumontzis (2018, fourth round), Cade Littler (2022, seventh round), Aydar Suniev (2023, third round) and Jaden Lipinski (2023, fourth round) haven’t signed deals (yet) but the Flames hold their rights. It seems probable that at least one or two of them end up signing NHL deals.

The rundown

Heading into the 2024 NHL Draft, the Flames need, well, a bit of everything.
Up the middle, they have three pretty reliable veteran centres at the NHL level in Kadri, Backlund and Rooney… and then some projects, and arguably none of their best prospects are centres. Both Sam Morton and Cole Schwindt impressed in the latter stages of the Wranglers’ season, but neither project as a top six pivot at the higher levels.
On the wings, the big challenge organizationally is the lack of right shot players. They have four: Kuzmenko, Klapka, Duehr and Coronato. They could use more. Their lefties are pretty versatile and many can play both sides – and it seems likely that we’ll see Zary, Pospisil and Sharangovich dabble at centre, too – but adding some right-handed depth would help the club have more players stay on their natural side.
And as we saw with the blueliners, the Flames have a lot of interesting prospects among the forwards, but arguably no can’t-miss, elite level young talent. They have several potentially very good young players, but no potentially great players. We’ll see if they can address that elite talent deficit when they head to Las Vegas at the end of June.

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