Once upon a time, the Calgary Flames used to be really bad at drafting and development. Since 2013, though, the club has consistently utilized their high-end draft picks to put players on their National Hockey League roster. Cases in point: Sean Monahan (2013), Sam Bennett (2014) and Matthew Tkachuk (2016) have become everyday NHLers. While the Flames haven’t put a ton of depth players in the NHL from their developmental system in recent years, there are a few players that are making a push from below for spots.
Here are the five Flames prospects who have done the most to cement themselves in the organization’s future plans in 2016-17.
Calgary’s top pick in 2012 has been the subject of much hand-wringing over the years. He finally finished school last season and joined the Stockton Heat for a brief try-out and performed rather well. He’s followed that up with a season where he’s scored 26 goals and amassed 49 points, leading the Heat in both and standing as one of the top rookies in the American Hockey League. He’s been consistently one of the best players in Stockton and even got a brief call-up to the NHL in November as an early reward. He could compete for an NHL spot as early as next fall.
A tiny, tiny man, Calgary’s sixth round pick in 2016 has impressed onlookers in the Western Hockey League for the past two seasons. He was a point-per-game player as a 17-year-old WHL rookie and followed it up with a 50-goal, 90-point season as he emerged as one of the most consistently dangerous players in Canadian junior hockey. He’s smaller than Flames wunderkind Gaudreau, but his game is arguably more well-rounded than Gaudreau’s was at the same age. He’s definitely a project pick, but most NHL teams would love to have “project players” that scored 50+ goals in junior.
Speaking of offense, Calgary’s third round pick in 2016 was taken from the U.S. National Development Team – where he set the single-season record for scoring by a defenseman. Fox made the leap to college on a fairly stacked Harvard team and has absolutely demolished the opposition. He was one of the top offensive defensemen in all of college hockey – as an 18-year-old – and has won a slew of Rookie of the Year awards on the college circuit. He was also a huge part of Team USA’s gold medal win at the World Juniors. He’s got to work on his play without the puck, but the kid can dazzle when he has it on his stick.
A free agent signing from the Czech Extraliga, the thought process upon his arrival was that Rittich would likely be a staking horse for “goalie of the future” Jon Gillies. But between some recurring injuries to Gillies and Rittich’s sublime play in net for the Stockton Heat, the 24-year-old has quietly been turning heads. At this point, it may not be out of the realm of possibility to see him backing up in Calgary in 2017-18 to buy Gillies another year to get ready for the NHL.
One of the Flames two strong second round selections in the 2016 Draft, Dube edges out London Knights goalie and Team USA stalwart Tyler Parsons for the final spot here due to the fact that his World Juniors experience arguably opened more eyes than Parsons’ did. Everyone knew Parsons could be a big game goalie after his experience at the 2016 Memorial Cup. Dube emerged as one of Team Canada’s most effective agitating checkers, showing tools that many weren’t quite sure that Dube had in his arsenal. As a result, there may be more paths to the NHL for the winger than originally thought.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.