After the loss of Johnny Gaudreau via free agency, the Calgary Flames fanbase were down in the dumps. It appeared that after a very successful 2021-22 season, they may go back to being a middling club in the NHL, if not even worse given that a potential Matthew Tkachuk trade had become a matter of when not if. However, the optimism amongst the fans has grown dramatically since general manager Brad Treliving was able to acquire both Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar along with Cole Schwindt and a 2025 first-round pick on Friday evening.
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With that trade, the Flames, at least on paper, appear to be one of the better teams in the Western Conference once again. That said, they did still lose a 115-point player in Gaudreau for nothing, meaning they will need others to step up. Lucky for them, they have a number of young players who have the opportunity to do just that in 2022-23. Let’s take a look at them here.
Since being drafted 56th overall back in 2016, it has been clear to Flames fans that Dillon Dube has an abundance of talent. He proved that with his big offensive totals during his time in the Western Hockey League with the Kelowna Rockets, and continued to put up numbers while in the American Hockey League (AHL) as a member of the Stockton Heat. To this point, however, that offensive ability has yet to show itself at the NHL level, at least not in a consistent form.
After being called up during the 2019-20 season, Dube showed glimpses of his potential, registering 16 points in 45 regular season games while also notching four goals in 10 playoff outings. The strong postseason showing had fans believing he could break out in 2020-21, but that wasn’t the case. He struggled to find a role under Darryl Sutter, and as a result, was a healthy scratch on a number of different occasions. By the time the season came to an end he had just 11 goals and 22 points in 51 games.
Dube’s struggles continued into the 2021-22 season, as he had managed just four goals and 11 points in 42 outings by the time the All-Star break came along. However, to his credit, he kept his head down, worked hard, and was rewarded for that over the second half. In 37 games post-All-Star break, he put up a much more respectable 14 goals and 21 points in 37 outings, including a nine-goal, 11-point stretch through the final 15 games of the regular season.
Thanks in large part to how strong Dube finished the regular season, there is hope that he can build off of that and finally become the player many believe he is capable of. At 24 years old there is still hope he can be a reliable secondary scorer at the NHL level, though the clock is slowly beginning to tick. As such, this 2022-23 season will be an important one when it comes to showing that he belongs.
Standing at 6-foot-4, 220-pounds, Flames fans prayed that one day Adam Ruzicka could become an everyday player at the NHL level, and his 2021-22 season gave plenty of optimism in that regard. The 23-year-old was able to suit up for 28 games with the Flames this past season, where he recorded a respectable five goals and 10 points despite limited ice time.
Given the long look he was given from Sutter and the Flames last season, one would imagine that he has a great chance to earn a roster spot this Fall with a solid training camp. His numbers through the past three seasons indicate that he has plenty of offensive potential, and now the hope is he can translate that to the NHL. While he won’t by any means set the world on fire in 2022-23, he has a chance to be a reliable bottom six producer.
After being signed as an undrafted defenceman out of college by the Flames back in March of 2020, many believed Connor Mackey may have had what it took to become a regular NHLer that very next season. As we now know, that has not been the case, as the 25-year-old has logged just nine career games with the Flames to this point. That could soon change, however.
With his growth in the AHL the past two seasons, Mackey has as great of a chance as ever to crack the Flames roster out of training camp this Fall. If given regular minutes, he is a player who can provide offense from the blue line while also maintaining strong play in the defensive zone.
Mackey is heading into the final year of a two-year deal that carries a cap hit of $912,500, meaning the 2022-23 season is a crucial one for him to prove his worth. Given his age, this could very well end up being his last legitimate shot at becoming an NHL regular, something you can bet he won’t take lightly.
When the Flames brass selected Jakob Pelletier with the 26th pick in the 2019 Draft, they clearly had a lot of belief in him, but even they would likely admit to the fact that they didn’t believe he would become this good, this quick. The 21-year-old put up big numbers for years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and didn’t miss a beat in the AHL as a rookie this past season, registering 27 goals and 62 points in 66 outings.
Despite his great season, Pelletier wasn’t called up to the Flames in 2021-22, making it clear they are wanting to be very patient with his development. That may mean he begins the 2022-23 campaign in the AHL, but a strong training camp might make it impossible for Sutter to send him down. If he is able to stay up with the big club, he could quickly prove to people just how good of a player he is.
Room for Optimism with Flames
While this offseason didn’t get off to the start any Flames fans had hoped for, things have really turned around in Calgary as of late. On the ice, the loss of Gaudreau will certainly hurt, but you can bet Sutter will use that loss as motivation for this group, meaning they will not be an easy matchup for opponents all season long. If the players mentioned above are able to take steps forward, they could be a dangerous club once again in 2022-23.