In the last edition of the FlamesNation prospects report, we took a look at the NCAA players and what they were up to. This week, with the Calgary Flames spiralling out of control and now at a staggering seven straight losses, I thought it would be fun to highlight a few of the Calgary Wranglers players who deserve a call-up from the farm.
Let’s start with Connor Zary. While his entry-level contract money might be something that holds Treliving back from calling him up (his $863,333 cap hit is more than some of the others on this list), this is a kid who wholeheartedly deserves a chance. The first-round 24th overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft has been on a roll with the Wranglers this season. He has six goals, four assists, and ten points in 10 games while holding a plus-19.
The former Kamloops Blazers captain is in his second full season in the American Hockey League. He spent last season with the Stockton Heat and registered 13 goals and 25 points in 53 games, with a plus-36. Despite struggling with injuries, it was a good taste-test season for Zary and Flames management. With Zary’s success this year with the Wranglers, he could fulfill a bottom-six role with the Flames if head coach Darryl Sutter decides to sit a few of the veterans in favour of letting the rookies get some ice time.
“Connor Zary [is] a perfect example of why you feel the American League is so important in terms of…he looks like a guy who’s really made some significant strides from one year to the next.” He looked like a different player in training camp than he did last season, putting in the time and making significant strides now that he’s healthy. “I don’t think he had a very good first year because of the injuries. So, I think, in a lot of ways, he’s kicked it in now.” Sutter responded.”
It’s safe to say that Flames personnel also see the upside and potential with Zary. Now is the time to call him up and get him some games. Look at the success Arizona Coyotes rookie Matias Maccelli has been having, you never know!
Matthew Phillips is another former Western Hockey League forward who found success at the major junior level with the Victoria Royals. The former Royals captain registered a whopping 48 goals and 64 assists for 112 points in the 2017-18 WHL season. He made his AHL debut the following year with the Heat, registering 38 points in 65 games. In 2020-21, Phillips got the call-up and played just one game for the Flames. Last season he further proved why he deserves a full-time NHL job, he registered 31 goals and 68 points in 65 games. He followed up with eight points in 13 post-season games. There’s nothing left for Phillips to prove at this point.
Phillips is like an F1 car, he is all about speed. You combine that with his elite playmaking abilities and you have the makings for a dangerous top-six forward. Here’s what FC Hockey had to say
after the Flames drafted Phillips 166th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft:
“Phillips is a tiny, but intelligent playmaker with elite offensive capability. He processes the speed of the game very well and operates well when in motion. He is a quick, shifty skater who brings agility, acceleration and the power to escape a check in a blink. He is a very patient player with skilled mitts who is great at anticipating plays and adjusting to produce a better vantage point. Phillips can handle the puck at speed and in traffic. He has a good feel for the type of play he needs to make and adjusts his velocity on his passes to find his teammate’s stick. He has a quick release on his shot and is pin-point accurate with his snipes. Phillips has nice finish around the net, and knows how to beat goaltenders and opposing defencemen with skill and smarts.”
Here’s Wranglers head coach Mitch Love with a comment about Phillips:
“He just plays. He’s done it his whole career. He brings it every day, he’s got a big heart and plays the game in the hard areas.”
The monster Czechia forward is exactly the type of player that fits the mold of coach Sutter. Radim Zohorna stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 229lbs, he spent the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. In his first NHL season, he totalled four points in eight games, and 11 points in 12 games at the minor league level. Last season, he had six points in 17 games with Pittsburgh, 12 goals, and 21 points in 39 games in the minors.
The Flames claimed Zohorna off waivers last month from the Penguins. He’s currently on his second season of a two-year, two-way contract worth $750,000 per season. Zohorna plays a versatile game, he’s solid defensively but also has strong playmaking abilities and good hands. He also has played both the wing and center position, his faceoff win percentage in 202-21 was 62.5% and last season was 33.3% at the NHL level. This season, Zohorna has been striving on the farm, he is a point-per-game player and has recorded 10 points in 10 games so far. He also got into his first pro hockey fight last week in a game against the San Jose Barracuda, he fought Jeffrey Viel, and he won that with ease.
“The biggest thing for me is just watching the pace of his game evolve. That, for me, is what is going to allow him to be a consistent NHL player. He’s done a real good job for us. He’s conscientious away from the puck, he’s shown an ability to play well defensively. Then he can play the center position, he can play the wing position. So he’s a versatile player on top of it.”
Arguably one of the most deserving players, Jakob Pelletier is one of only five players selected in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft not to play in the NHL yet. Pelletier was drafted 26th overall after registering 89 points in 65 games with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. It didn’t take Pelletier long to figure out the farm quickly. Last season with the Heat, he registered 27 goals and 35 assists for 62 points in 66 games, he also added seven points in 13 playoff games. Pelletier was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team for his performance last year. After a not-so-impressive training camp/pre-season, Pelletier was sent down to play for the Wranglers. In 10 games this season, he has three goals and five assists.
Pelletier is a highly skilled offensive player who uses his high-end shot and creative tendencies to be an offensive flare. He is also a relentless forechecker, and just because he’s 5-foot-9 don’t think Pelletier won’t finish his check, because he will hit you. Here’s what Mitch Love had to say about Pelletier’s game to FlamesNation
“I think he plays the game with a high level of hockey IQ. It allows him to make that jump from junior to pro. Obviously things are faster, guys are stronger, little bit more mature than junior, but he quickly figured out what he could or couldn’t do based on his size, and being a first-year pro. And really at the end of the day, you ask any coach, they want to find trustworthy players that are going to be coachable, going to be asked to do something and try to execute, along with bringing your skill set and having a good confidence base on performance. And that’s what he did all year. He’s another guy just similar to Dustin [Wolf] in a sense that now he’s got to follow that up. I know he’s having a big off-season. He’s getting stronger, and his next goal is to try and push for a roster spot with the Flames. Whatever happens after that, those decisions will be made based on him and how he’s playing and performing. I’m excited to see what year two looks like for him.”
Overall, there are a few players that the Flames can call up in case of emergency, or in case they want to flip the script and blow the lines right up.