Predicting which prospects may be able to make the Calgary Flames’ 23-man active roster this fall is a mug’s game — especially in the middle of summer. Even so, I’m going to take a crack at it, although I won’t be wagering any money on my predictions.
What makes it risky, of course, is that a lot can happen from now until Oct. 16, when the Flames travel to Edmonton to do battle against the hated Edmonton Oilers in their first game of the season. Big summertime trades can send pundits scurrying to revise their depth charts.
What’s more, training camps matter. More than one long-shot prospect has shocked the naysayers with a stellar camp that earned them a spot on the roster.
Here are my bets as of today:
Adam Ruzicka and Glenn Gawdin – Centre
Today there are three locks down the middle for the Flames – Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund. To complete a full set, the Flames will need at least one more centreman, especially if Monahan’s recovery from hip surgery does not go as hoped.
Unless Froese surprises at training camp, he is unlikely to see action this year in Calgary. At 30 years old, he is on the backside of his career, and his points production in the last few years shows that. He played six games in Calgary this year, marking the score sheet for a goal and an assist. His points production was no better in Stockton, averaging one point every three games.
The 22-year-old Ruzicka led Stockton in scoring last year, putting up 21 points in 28 games, with 11 of them being goals. That should give him the nod over Gawdin, who scored far fewer points on a per-game basis than the young Slovak. What’s more, in the seven games Gawdin played in a Flaming C sweater, the 24-year-old Richmond B.C. native managed only one assist.
Ruzicka’s scouting reports certainly give him an edge over Gawdin. His 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, combined with his skating ability, blistering shot and command of the faceoff circle, give him the potential to become a power forward.
Still, training camps matter and with a good one, Gawdin could give management pause for second thought. It’s important to remember that two years ago he led all scorers in Stockton, producing almost a point-a-game. Maybe last year was a glitch.
Given how thin the Flames are down the middle both on their roster and in their prospect pool, a few injuries would see Gawdin with regular ice-time this season. If not, my bet is that he’ll spend most of his time in the press box.
I am well aware that all of this speculation would go out the window if Flames general manager (GM) Brad Treliving engineers a trade this summer for a centreman. I have no doubt that’s high on his to-do list, especially if head coach Darryl Sutter has his way.
Matthew Phillips – Right Wing
The Flames are reasonably strong on the right side of the rink, with Dillon Dube joined by new acquisitions Blake Coleman, Tyler Pitlick and Trevor Lewis. Brett Ritchie re-signed with the team for another year last month, pitting him against Matthew Phillips for regular ice-time.
Ritchie is a Sutter favourite, and that could give him an edge over Phillips as a regular. Still, with only eight points last season, it’s not clear where he would slot among the four lines. Last season, much of his role was banging and crashing in the offensive zone to create turnovers that he could put onto the sticks of Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Both Pitlick and Lewis can play that role this season. And so too can Milan Lucic.
While the knock against Phillips is that he stands just 5-foot-7 and weighs 150 pounds after a pre-game meal, he has proven himself over three seasons in Stockton. He tied Ruzicka for most points with eight goals and 13 assists over 30 games with Stockton last season.
Phillips is a pure playmaker who could bring NHL-calibre finesse combined with speed and superb passing to the Flames this season. Many pundits argue that now is his time in the NHL – play him or move on from him.
Connor Mackey – Left Defense
With lefties Noah Hanifin, Nikita Zadorov, and Juuso Valimaki, the Flames are complete on the left side of the blue line. Yet they will probably want to carry seven defenders, which could set up a battle between Connor Mackey and Oliver Kylington to play that spare role.
The Flames don’t seem to know what they want to do with Kylington. He played in just eight games last season and registered a lone assist. After six seasons of traveling back and forth between Stockton and the big club, the young Swede finds himself with yet another one-year, two-way contract for the upcoming season.
Connor Mackey notched a goal and two assists in six games last season with the big club. In 27 games in Stockton, he racked up 16 points, the fourth-most on the team. He will turn 25 before the start of the season, and that will mark the end of his days as a prospect. This is the season he must establish himself as a regular on the third defense pairing.
2021-22 is likely a turning point for both 24-year-olds. For the sake of their careers, both badly need the seventh rear-guard spot on the roster.
Johannes Kinnvall – Right Defence
The right side of the blue line is light for the Flames, with only Chris Tanev and Rasmus Andersson as locks there. That sets up a battle between Flames prospect Johannes Kinnvall, Nick DeSimone and Andy Welinski for a spot on the third defence pairing.
DeSimone has never played a game in the NHL, while Welinski has appeared in 46 games with the Anaheim Ducks over the past six seasons. He spent most of his time with the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) franchise. Both are on one-year, two-way contracts.
The 23-year-old Kinnvall is an interesting prospect who could edge out DeSimone and Welinski for a roster spot. He was undrafted and signed an entry-level contract with Calgary last year, after which he was put out on loan to play in the Swedish Hockey League. In the 2019-20 Swedish season, he put up 40 points in 51 games, and last season, he notched 22 points in 32 games. While not big, at only 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he is mobile and could add an exciting offensive dimension to the Flames defence corps.
If I had to bet on the prospects with the best odds of making the 23-man active roster, I’d say Mackey and Gawdin will be regulars in the press box at least to start the season, while Ruzicka and possibly Phillips will see steady ice-time dressing as part of the 20-man gameday roster.
There will be more trades this summer, and that could push most prospects out of contention for a roster spot. Nevertheless, fate is a fickle mistress. Injuries and stellar performances at training camp have changed the fate of many young players.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney