Which Calgary Flames prospect could be signing entry-level contracts soon?
Photo credit:Gil Talbot/Harvard Crimson
By Ryan Pike9 months ago
Friends, we’re in a unique spot during the National Hockey League calendar. Central Scouting mid-term ratings are out, we’re three weeks away from the trade deadline, and we’re creeping up on the Mar. 1 date after which teams can start signing prospects to deals that don’t start until 2023-24.
While we’re all focusing on trade deadline buzz, let’s take a quick snapshot of the chances we’ll see the Flames sign some prospects to entry-level deals in the near future.
Strong cases for ELCs
Two prospects have really stood out this season – aside from Lucas Ciona of the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds, who signed an ELC in the fall.
Parker Bell has been awesome for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. A late-round pick in 2022, he’s big, he’s still pretty raw, but he’s been a really consistent scorer for his team. The Flames see him as somebody that can make big strides if he can keep developing, both in terms of his game and his physical development.
And of course, there’s Matt Coronato, the Flames’ 2021 first-round pick. If Coronato wants to go pro this season, he’s definitely earned an ELC. He’s been one of Harvard’s best players pretty consistently this season, and his game has really started to round out with him adapting both to a two-way role and to playing centre. The big question in terms of Coronato is whether he’d be willing to spend some time in the AHL with the Wranglers or try to jump right onto the NHL roster. (And the answer to that question really frames how potential contract discussions will unfold.)
Leaning towards yes
Four players have probably shown enough (so far) to have good cases for ELCs, though it’s possible that only one of these players signs right away.
Jack Beck has been superb (when healthy) for the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s. He’s had some bad injury luck, including a freakin’ kidney contusion last season, but when he’s been healthy Beck has been a consistently good, impactful offensive player who can contribute in all three zones. The only question mark is his relatively small post-draft sample size.
Topi Rönni has been quite good for Tappara in the Finnish Liiga this past season, though he’s suffered a bit from a few minor injuries and a post-World Juniors lull in his play that’s seen him bounce around the line-up a bit. But Rönni was good enough to make the Finnish team (and is young enough to play for them again at next year’s World Juniors), so he’s trending well. His contract with Tappara expires this summer, so he’ll have options.
Arsenii Sergeev was drafted in 2021, and he was the top USHL goaltender in 2021-22 and has been a pretty good collegiate netminder for UConn this season. The Flames have Dustin Wolf in their system right now, which gives them the benefit of not having to rush any other goalies in their system. They have the ability to bring Sergeev along slowly, which they probably will. (He’s trending well.)
William Strömgren was drafted in 2021 and after looking like he stalled in his first post-draft season, he switched Swedish teams – going from Rögle to Brynäs – and really found a niche as a two-way energy winger. He made the Swedish World Junior team and has been playing second line minutes for his team this season. His SHL contract runs through the 2023-24 season, and it seems likely that he’ll play out his deal before anything happens with the Flames on a contract. (The nuances of the Swedish transfer agreement are wonky, but the gist of it is there’s no real incentive to press him to get out of his SHL deal early.)
Could go either way
Daniil Chechelev has spent the past two seasons as the Flames organization’s fifth-string goaltender, playing primarily in the ECHL (first with Kansas City, more recently with Rapid City). It’s hard to really evaluate goaltender performance using ECHL stats, because structural defensive play in that league is… uh… well, it doesn’t exist, so we just have his small AHL sample to evaluate. Chechelev is still a bit of a long-term project, and the question is if he can get enough meaningful developmental reps playing behind Wolf in the pecking order (and if the Flames would be comfortable having a fairly untested 22-year-old Russian as his backup next season).
A pair of 2021 draftees from the QMJHL had fairly blah 2021-22 campaigns, but have been much better this season: Sherbrooke’s Cole Huckins and Halifax’s Cameron Whynot. Huckins has been a really effective secondary offensive player for the Phoenix – he’s not a play-driver, but he’s essentially the Jiri Hudler of Sherbrooke’s top six group – while Whynot is a power play specialist, but he’s been good in that role for the Mooseheads. The bounce-backs from these gentlemen are good signs, and it might just be a matter of whether the Flames feel they have too many bodies in their entry-level system for these players to keep progressing.
Leaning towards no
Three college prospects are facing an August signing deadline: Notre Dame’s Jake Boltmann, Arizona State’s Demetrios Koumontzis and UMass’ Josh Nodler. None of these guys have really taken a big step, at least offensively, over their collegiate careers, and usually a lack of offensive progression leads to a lack of an ELC.
Lucas Feuk was drafted out of Sweden in 2019 and has spent the past season in the ECHL with Rapid City (on an AHL contract). He hasn’t made a big impact in the ECHL and it doesn’t seem like he has a great case for an ELC.
Cole Jordan was somebody who impressed a lot of WHL scouts in his draft year, but he’s really struggled with staying healthy since then, to the point where he’s played just 63 games (regular season and playoffs combined) for Moose Jaw since being selected in 2021. He hasn’t had enough game reps to really progress, so an ELC may be a big gamble for the Flames. (If he goes unpicked through the 2023 draft, though, he’s the type of player you sign to an AHL deal and then see if he can move the needle.)
Too early to tell
Cade Littler has been a really effective player in the BCHL. He’s committed to Minnesota State Mankato for 2023-24 and he’s a bit of a long-term project as a big, raw, late-round pick. He’s been good in the BCHL, but it’s way too soon to tell if he’s going to take the necessary steps in college to be a pro.
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