In October, the NHL held its first virtual entry draft because of the global pandemic. On day two, the Calgary Flames selected forward Ryan Francis from the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Eagles with the 143rd overall pick. Due to his late December birthday, Francis had to wait until the 2020 Draft to hear his name called, but he had already played in 183 games in the Quebec league. He quickly caught the eye of Flames fans as one of the top players in the league this season.
The QMJHL had one of the longest seasons in junior hockey in the last seven months. Not all teams played the same number of games but 15 of the league’s 18 teams played 30 or more matches and are now in the postseason. Francis got into 32 regular-season games with the Eagles and Saint John Sea Dogs and another six postseason games.
Francis is 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, but he brings a big game and has already drawn comparisons to Andrew Mangiapane. This season, the winger took another step in the right direction with 50 points in 32 games. His 1.56 points per game average (PPG) was fifth in the league, sandwiched between 2020 first-round picks Dawson Mercer (1.57) and Mavrik Bourque (1.54).
Cape Breton to Saint John
After the “Q’s” shortened season, Francis has now played a total of 215 games with 188 points. In his first two seasons with Cape Breton, he put up 34 and 32 points, respectively, before adding 72 points in 61 games in his third season. He ranked 55th on the NHL’s Central Scouting final rankings among North American skaters following the season.
He started the 2020-21 season in Cape Breton and scored six goals and 15 assists in 15 games; his 19 points rank seventh on the team. He was traded to Saint John in January and played 17 games with 10 goals and 19 assists. He finished fourth in team scoring, despite playing in half as many games as a Sea Dog. On April 13, he scored three goals and three assists against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to tie the Sea Dog’s franchise record of six points in one game.
Not only did Francis have a breakout season despite getting traded, but he also did it with the Eagles, who finished 16th in the league, and the Sea Dogs, who finished 10th. In Saint John’s six playoff games before they were eliminated, Francis scored four goals and six assists, which led the team. Having just turned 19, he is eligible for another season in the league to continue his dominance.
Francis and winger Mangiapane share a lot of similarities. As mentioned, Francis is 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, while the Flames forward is 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds. As 17-year-olds, Francis and Mangiapane scored at a 0.50 and 0.75 PPG pace, respectively, and at 18, they hit 1.18 and 1.53 PPG. Finally, as 19-year-olds, they hit a pace of 1.56 and 1.80 PPG. After the trade to Saint John, Francis became an offensive force at 1.71 PPG.
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Like Mangiapane, Francis has speed and skill and scores goals from all areas of the ice. General manager Brad Treliving had to say about Mangiapane after he was drafted in 2015: “Speed and skill. He’s a competitive guy. He does all the skill things; four-on-four, three-on-three, he’s a dangerous player with his speed, real good IQ, can make plays.” Francis plays a similar style. He can score at five-on-five, on the power play, and short-handed.
Francis plays all over the ice. Whether he’s in front of the net or below the goal line, he is always competing for the puck. That is what makes Mangiapane such a standout player for the Flames; his instinct to go to the hard areas and get the puck to the net. Francis scored all kinds of goals this season, from the skilled to the downright gritty, which helped him become a force in the QMJHL.
Another Late-Round Gem
Trevliving was happy to move down and grab Connor Zary in the first round of the 2020 Draft, but he should also be happy that he got Francis in the fifth round. He was a good choice at the time, but after this season, he looks more like a steal. Over the past three seasons, Francis’ PPG increased 0.68 and 0.38 compared to Mangiapane, who increased 0.78 and 0.27 PPG between his 17 and 19-year-old seasons.
The Flames have become much better at finding talent in the later rounds of the draft, like Mangiapane and prospects Matthew Phillips and Emilio Pettersen. If Francis continues to develop his game in junior next season and increases his PPG pace, then he will move his way up the organization’s depth chart. If the comparison’s to Mangiapane continue, we might also see him competing for a spot in the NHL by the 2023-24 season.