Flames Rookie Camp Is Key to Keep Roster Dreams Alive

I don’t think any of the youngsters invited to Calgary Flames rookie camp have much of a shot at cracking the big club’s roster this season as things stand now. That’s not an indictment of the club’s prospect pool, nor is it to suggest that the rookie camp this year isn’t important. It’s just that the recent signings of NHL old-timers to one-year contracts (something the club did last year, too) has most likely shut the door for prospects and rookies I thought could make the team.

Related: Flames’ Veteran Free-Agent Signings Shut Door on Prospect Opportunities

Last month, I foolishly went out on a limb and named five Calgary Flames prospects who I believed had a reasonable shot at wearing the Flaming C this season. Among them were rookies Jakob Pelletier at centre (a long shot, I said) and Johannes Kinnvall at right defense.  

Related: 5 Flames Prospects Who Could Crack the 2021-22 Roster

In another recent piece, I told readers that Connor Zary was a young gun who would never be part of a trade package – that is to say, he is untouchable, at least for now. Not only that, but back in May, I said Emilio Pettersen deserved a look in the last few meaningless games of last season’s schedule with the Flames, who, at that point, were out of contention for a playoff spot. While I didn’t predict that either could make the roster this season, I was hinting that was a possibility. 

Connor Zary Kamloops Blazers
Flames Rookie Connor Zary as a Junior with the Kamloops Blazers (Allen Douglas)

Still, even though it’s unlikely we’ll be watching any of this year’s crop of rookies skating in Calgary, rookie camp still bears close watching.

Why the 2021 Calgary Flames Rookie Camp Matters

Every rookie camp is an opportunity for youngsters to showcase their potential before returning to the minors or junior leagues. Not only that, but if their rookie camp is good enough, some could be invited to the Calgary Flames’ main camp starting Wednesday next week.

For 2021 draft picks, and there are five of eight at camp this year, a successful camp can reassure team management that they have made the right choice. New picks will be watched closely for confirmation that the scouting team did its job. 

Related: Calgary Flames’ 5 Untouchable Prospects for 2021-22

Rookie camp is an opportunity for young players to turn some heads and establish their brand. That could be important because trades and injuries will always open opportunities for rookies and established prospects to crack the roster. Poor camps take young players out of contention. 

Flames Rookies Considered Long Shots to Make the Roster

I had previously predicted that established prospects Adam Ruzicka and Glenn Gawdin could crack the roster at centre, but that is no longer assured, given the acquisition this summer of Sutter stalwarts Trevor Lewis and Brad Richardson, along with other aging warhorses. Even so, trades and injuries could mean Zary gets a chance to elbow his way onto the roster.

Calgary Flames Recent Depth Signings Brad Richardson, Michael Stone and Erik Gudbranson
Calgary Flames, Brad Richardson, Michael Stone, Erik Gudbranson (The Hockey Writers)

In Saturday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers’ rookie squad, Zary was reportedly a factor on every shift. He played alongside Dmitry Zavgorodniy and Martin Pospisil.

Pelletier was also noticeable in the game, playing a huge role in a cycling play during which he fed Walter Duehr with a gorgeous pass to set him up for Calgary’s first goal. As an aside, with two points in the game, the Stockton Heat-bound Duehr no doubt moved himself up the list of prospects Flames management will be focusing on. 

Like Zary, however, Pelletier would most likely need injuries and trades to position himself for a call-up. Even then, he would need to beat out an established player like Brad Richardson for a job at centre.

Calgary Flames Jakob Pelletier Draft
Calgary Flames select Jakob Pelletier during the first round NHL draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Friday, June, 21, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Some pundits have speculated that Dustin Wolf could displace Adam Werner as the Flames’ number three goaltender this season. Based on what management has seen of him in the three games he played in Stockton last season and against the Oilers last night, it’s possible.

The question is why the Flames would want to relegate him to the number three position rather than giving him regular playing time in Stockton, especially given the hopes they are placing on him as the team’s future number one in the crease. Even so, it looks like Sutter will ride starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom hard, and they will need a third puck stopper to rest him when needed.

Flames Rookie Defensemen to Watch — Kinnvall and Yan Kuznetzov

I predicted that Kinnvall had a shot at right defense, given how depleted the Flames were earlier this summer on that side of the rink. Recent veteran signings solved that problem and have probably eliminated any expectations management had of seeing the young Swede making the big club this season.

Birthday Boy Johannes Kinnvall Turned 24-Years Old in July

Still, this season will be his first playing in North America, and he will be watched closely to see if he can make the transition from the Swedish Hockey League. His slick puck work setting up Pospisil on the Flames’ third goal last night is a good indicator that he should be able to make the transition.

Related: Getting to Know Flames Defense Prospect Jan Kuznetsov

Flames management will also want a close look at Yan Kuznetsov to confirm the glowing assessments of the 6-foot-4, 215-pound defenceman, who newly arrived in Stockton late last season following his final year with the University of Connecticut in the NCAA.

NHL Rookie Camps Still Count

It’s not unusual in the world’s best hockey league for teams to send all of their rookies back to junior, their farm system or other leagues for further seasoning after rookie camp. The road to the NHL is a tough one, and few rookies ever make it based on their first camp. Yet that doesn’t make them any less important. Good rookie camps are a stepping stone to the NHL, and every rookie knows it.

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