Flames’ Pelletier Part of Youth Injection That Could Save Season

The Calgary Flames returned to the comforts of the Scotiabank Saddledome this past Saturday (Jan. 21) after a lackluster five-game road trip against opponents from the Central Division. As the team continued to search for answers on why they remained a fringe playoff team so deep into the season, injecting some youth in the lineup rarely came up in discussion.

Until recently, the Flames rarely allowed their top-end prospects to spend time at the NHL level, instead choosing to tinker with the current lineup that continued to stumble through lengthy losing streaks. Complacency has crept into the room, and after so much success in 2021-22, the team has taken a step back. 

Jakob Pelletier Calgary Flames
Jakob Pelletier, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite the rollercoaster ride, the Flames finally tried something new to fight the woes by injecting some prospects into the lineup. On the weekend, Jakob Pelletier made his NHL debut in a 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite limited playing time (6:50), he instantly made headlines when his coach Darryl Sutter didn’t mince words in his post-game press conference. Fortunately for all parties involved, Pelletier took the entire situation in stride, and the Flames are now 2-0 with the 21-year-old in the lineup. 

Pelletier’s Journey to the NHL

Pelletier grew up in Quebec, playing minor hockey at the AAA level before advancing to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) with the Moncton Wildcats. After producing at more than a point-per-game pace, he entered the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, where the Flames called his name with the 26th selection. 

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Electing to stay in the QMJHL, he finally earned a promotion to the American Hockey League (AHL) in 2021, netting 62 points in 66 games with the Stockton Heat. Now, as a member of the Calgary Wranglers, since the Heat moved in the offseason, Pelletier has 34 points in 31 games to be the team’s third-leading scorer. 

Sutter’s Press Conference Created Unnecessary Friction

If anyone missed Sutter’s post-game press conference after the Flames’ win over the Lightning, a reporter posed a question about Pelletier’s performance, which he shrugged off with a two-sentence reply. Unfortunately, the coach’s comments set off a media storm, with many across the hockey community weighing into the unnecessary situation. 

Sutter is considered an “old school” guy. However, the game is in the 21st century now, and methods that may have been commonplace in 1983 no longer fit into today’s game. Sadly, Pelletier did nothing wrong in his first NHL game to warrant the ire of his coach. Nevertheless, the unwanted media attention was directed toward Sutter instead of the rookie player. 

Yes, Sutter was out of line and out of touch with his comments on his prospect, whose youthful presence may turn out to be the spark this stagnant team needs. Moreover, Pelletier responded with an excellent performance against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

In his second game, with the media focused on the return of the franchise’s former star Johnny Gaudreau, it was noticeable that the rookie had an extra spring in his step. Showcasing confidence with the puck and positioning himself in areas for chances, Pelletier earned some extra ice time, jumping up to 7:36. 

During the broadcast, Kelly Hrudy mentioned that Sutter liked Pelletier and wanted to see him work his way to double-digit minutes a night. Surprisingly, the commentator tried his best to smooth over the situation, which may or may not have been as bad as the media painted it. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell what happened in the dressing room or behind closed doors since Saturday night. However, the situation didn’t affect his game during Monday night’s win over the Blue Jackets.

A Youth Movement May Save the Flames Season

It will be interesting to see how the Flames continue to play with prospects Pelletier and Walker Duehr now in the lineup on a nightly basis. This recent injection of youth should push the veterans to play better since the kids could end up eating into their ice time if off-games become slumps. 

Furthermore, the Flames are treading water, needing help to stay in a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race. Additionally, Sutter dropped the ball with the first opportunity to highlight the importance of these rookies in the lineup. 

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Eventually, the coach’s comments will get swept away with the latest breaking news story, like the announcement of Chris Tanev’s absence after sustaining an injury. As the saying goes, time heals all wounds. 

Tonight’s game and every contest moving forward is a clean slate for the players, the coach, and the team. Consequently, instead of embracing negativity, they should focus on the positives and keep plugging away as the playoffs are within grasp. Overall, thanks to some new blood in the lineup, this team may finally find itself and achieve success together. 

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