Flames Prospect Cole Schwindt May Have Unheralded Upside

Let’s talk about Cole Schwindt. “Who?” you might ask. On July 22, Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving traded star winger Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers. Tkachuk had told the Flames that he was not interested in signing an extension, and fellow star Johnny Gaudreau had already departed for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency. To avert what would have been a disastrous offseason, Treliving managed to flip Tkachuk and a conditional 2025 fourth-round pick for the biggest return he could find: Jonathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, a conditional 2025 first-rounder, and Schwindt.

Much has already been said and written about Huberdeau and Weegar, and for good reason. Huberdeau, who scored 115 points (including a league-leading 85 assists) last season, essentially gives the Flames a bigger and stronger version of Gaudreau. Weegar is a very versatile two-way rearguard who makes an already-robust Calgary defense even stronger. Both are very significant acquisitions that deserve the headlines.

Related: Flames Shouldn’t Rush to Extend Mackenzie Weegar

Schwindt is naturally the overlooked man in this trade. The Flames assigned him to their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Calgary Wranglers, on Sunday, and he may well spend his season there. However, the youngster is not just a random body that the Panthers offered up because they could. His upside warrants a closer look.

Who Is Schwindt?

Schwindt is 21 years of age and hails from Breslau, Ontario, a town of just over 5000 people. He is a 6-foot-2, 183-pound right-shot forward who can line up at both center and right wing. He played three years of junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Mississauga Steelheads before the Panthers picked him 81st overall in the third round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

Cole Schwindt, Mississauga Steelheads
Cole Schwindt Mississauga Steelheads (Photo Credit: Charles Warburton – CWP)

Clearly Schwindt was not regarded as an elite prospect, and his road to the big show won’t be easy. TSN’s Travis Yost found that only around 30 percent of third-round draft picks turn out to become at least low-end NHL regulars. If the former Steelhead is going to make it at hockey’s highest level (even as a bottom-six forward), he’ll have to beat the odds.

Schwindt does have a few obvious things going for him. He’s got the kind of height scouts look for, and while he may benefit from adding more muscle, he won’t face the same challenges as a smaller prospect like fellow Flames hopeful Matthew Phillips, who is 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds. The Ontario native can also play two positions, a useful asset for someone who was not highly touted coming out of junior.

Moreover, Schwindt put up respectable numbers in the OHL. His draft-year production was nothing to write home about (19 goals and 49 points in 68 games), but in 2019-20, he notched 28 goals and 71 points in 57 appearances. Those stats are comparable to the 31 goals and 78 points that Sean Monahan put up in 58 games during the 2012-13 OHL season. Monahan, of course, was drafted sixth overall based on his high offensive ceiling, but Schwindt still proved he could distinguish himself at the junior level.

Obviously, the NHL is a much tougher test than junior, so has the ex-Steelhead truly done anything to suggest he might become relevant in the big league? A closer look at his game reveals reason for optimism.

The Case for Cole

During his inaugural AHL campaign with the Charlotte Checkers in 2021-22, Schwindt registered 19 goals and 40 points in 72 regular-season games. Those numbers were good enough to tie him for second in team scoring with 30-year-old journeyman winger Scott Wilson (who has since signed with HC Vityaz of the Kontinental Hockey League). Schwindt also led the Checkers with a plus-22 rating as a rookie, indicating that he is mature beyond his years.

Cole Schwindt Calgary Flames
Cole Schwindt, Calgary Flames (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In fact, some NHL scouts have recognized Schwindt’s maturity. Sportsnet’s Jason Bukala praises him for being well-rounded, attentive to detail, and capable of winning faceoffs all over the rink. “There isn’t an ounce of cheat in Schwindt’s game,” Bukala wrote. “He tracks back the full length of the ice. He never cuts corners.” Meaningful praise for a 21-year-old forward, especially one who doesn’t have the high-end skill to make up for lapses in judgment or effort.

Some hockey writers have likewise noticed the positives in Schwindt’s game. Shane Stevenson of FlamesNation points out that the Ontarian is reliable in all three zones because he’s usually in the right place at the right time. He is also good at maintaining puck possession through the neutral zone, reading his teammates and opponents off the rush. These skills may not always lead to highlight-reel goals, but they represent fundamentals that every championship team needs. A hard-nosed veteran coach like the Flames’ Darryl Sutter is not going to be impressed by razzle-dazzle alone: he also wants the effort and attention to detail that prospects like Schwindt bring to the table.

With the Wranglers somewhat short on right-shooting forwards, the ex-Steelhead should get plenty of ice time to develop his game in various roles. Schwindt is an established two-way factor in the minors with the poise and intelligence to play on both special teams units. Many players never crack an NHL roster because they lack sufficient hockey IQ and/or fundamental habits, but he does not have those issues. In time, and with good coaching, he could conceivably become a versatile bottom-nine forward and penalty killer in a Flames uniform.

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