Barring a miracle on par with the Second Coming, the Calgary Flames won’t be lacing up for postseason action this year. Now is the time for them to evaluate prospects they think may be able to crack the lineup in the 2021-22 season. Let’s look at four who deserve a chance to strut their stuff in the five meaningless games that remain in the Flames’ miserable season.
Hockey gurus all over Flames World have been clamoring to see the compact skilled right-winger called up from the Stockton Heat to the big club. Some question whether the 5-foot-6, 140-pound Phillips is too small to play the physical brand of hockey preferred by Flames head coach Darryl Sutter. Still, others point out that he brings a grit and tenacity to his game that is the equal of Andrew Mangiapane.
At 23 years old, the born and bred Calgarian is moving into his prime and it’s time for the Flames to decide whether he has what it takes to play in the NHL. His stats over the last few years say he does, with 21 points in 30 games this season to tie Adam Ruzicka atop the Heat’s scoring chart.
Phillips is an exciting player who combines speed, skill and hockey smarts to pose an offensive threat any time he is on the ice. He is a two-way player capable of creating turnovers who produces most of his points at five-on-five. He is constantly moving his feet and that makes him hard to hit.
With his entry level contract (ELC) expiring at the end of this season, it’s time to see whether Phillips can play in the NHL.
The 21-year-old native of Slovakia racked up 11 goals and 21 points in 28 games this year. Most of the time the big centreman had Phillips on his wing and the two combined to become one of the most potent scoring threats in the American Hockey League.
Ruzicka joined the Flames for practices in the Edmonton bubble as part of the return-to-play camp in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. That is a good indication of the value the team attaches to him on their prospect list.
Despite his 6-foot-4 frame, he is not noted for the physical play of a Sam Bennett, but does know how to use his size to control the puck and get into high danger scoring positions. He has a thundering shot that comes with a quick release.
“Rozy,” as he has been nicknamed, is a finesse player who, while no speedster, has been used in every situation in Stockton including the power play, penalty kill, and at four-on-four. He thrives surrounded by linemates who play an offensive style. That may raise questions as to whether he can play Sutter’s style of fast-moving, defensively oriented hockey where games are decided often by one-goal margins.
While his points fell off later in the season this year, Ruzicka got off to a good start finding himself at one point sixth in AHL scoring. That must make Flames management wonder whether he can translate that success at the NHL level. Now that there is just another year left on his ELC, better they get a start on answering that question now.
Dubbed at 10 years old the “Norwegian Gretzky”, the 21-year-old has just completed his first year of pro hockey with the Heat. A highly skilled youngster with a very high hockey IQ, he is a pure goalscorer who has the potential down the road to provide the Flames with offense – something they desperately need.
Peterssen was fast-tracked by the Flames who brought him up to the Heat at the start of the season from the University of Denver. Flames general manager Brad Treliving said, “He’s an ultra-serious kid who has high-end skill. He’s relentless in terms of his work ethic and determination”.
Often playing on the same line with Phillips and Ruzicka, Peterssen racked up 14 points on six goals and eight assists in 29 games. By any standard that’s a good start in a rookie year.
Pettersen has drawn comparisons to Mangiapane in terms of tenacity and work ethic. His speed, willingness to go into tough areas in the slot and soft hands are all highlights on his resume.
His age and short tenure in Stockton probably make him a long shot to crack the Flames roster next year. Still, he deserves a look at least in the meaningless games that remain on the Flames schedule. The invitation would also reward the youngster for his hard work.
Despite being on the Flames’ taxi squad, Mackey has seen action in three games wearing the Flaming C. Since Sutter has pronounced himself unhappy with the progress certain young defensemen have made this year (Juuso Valimaki, Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson), now is a good time to put Mackey in the mix and see whether he is an option on the blue line next year.
In the three games he played this year with the big club he looked steady registering an assist and a plus-minus of plus-1. He had a good year in Stockton logging major minutes and notching 16 points in 27 games. Much of his extra ice time in the AHL came because Michael Stone earned a regular spot on the Flames’ blue line.
With holes to fill in the defense corps next year and some doubts surfacing about current regulars, throwing Mackey into the lineup would give management some valuable insights into their options at rearguard next year.
Other Options for a Call Up
Stockton’s Martin Pospisil would have been on the call-up list were it not for his knee injury. So too would Connor Zary were he not assigned by the Flames to play out the remainder of the Western Hockey League’s season with the Kamloops Blazers.
Arguably the Flames could have another look at Byron Froese, Oliver Kylington and Glenn Gawdin in their remaining games, but as members of the taxi squad and each with six games under their belt, they are known commodities.
Important decisions are coming soon for the Flames. It’s time to throw in the towel on the playoffs and use the remaining games to evaluate what could be key pieces in their roster next year.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney