The Calgary Flames added eight new prospects to their system at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, adding skill, size, and potential to the pipeline. For this set of rankings, I decided to set the age cutoff for prospects at 23. Prospects who are 24 and up are getting long in the tooth to be called prospects if they have a legitimate shot to make the NHL. Connor Mackey, who’s 24, is a player who is considered a prospect but this season will be a real make-or-break season for him as to whether or not he can have a career in the league. The same goes for Glenn Gawdin, who at 24 will need to find his game fast if he wants to be a regular in the Flames’ lineup.
Calgary has an interesting crop of prospects from various countries playing in many leagues in North America and Europe. The team has a pipeline of players who have great potential, and some who are preparing to compete for a job on the big club as soon as this season. In total the organization has 32 prospects in the system, the following are a ranking of the Flames’ top 20 following the 2021 Draft.
20. Daniil Chechelev
The Flames went off the board in the fourth round of the 2020 Entry Draft when they selected Chechelev who wasn’t on a ton of draft boards. Most of the Russian leagues played full seasons through the pandemic and Chechelev was able to play 40 games in 2020-21.
He split time between the MHL, Russia’s junior league, and the VHL which is a feeder league to the KHL. He had success in both leagues posting a 0.924 save percentage (SV%) in the MHL and a 0.912 SV% in the VHL. His play garnered a call-up to Vityaz Podolsk of the KHL, but he only practiced with the team and was the backup for a few games. The real test for Chechelev this season will be to play well enough to earn a game or two in the KHL.
19. Rory Kerins
The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) did not operate during the 2020-21 season due to the pandemic, leaving Kerins without a place to play. That was until the American Hockey League (AHL) was able to start its season and Kerins became a part of the Stockton Heat squad. He only played in four games over the course of the AHL season, but that’s better than playing no games at all. He wasn’t able to record any points in the games he played, but the pace of games and practices at the pro level may really help his development. He was a near-point per game player in 2019-20 with the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds and he will be looking to better that performance in 2021-22 with the OHL finally having a season.
18. Dmitry Zavgorodniy
The Flames selected Zavgorodniy in the seventh round of the 2018 Draft from the Rimouski Oceanic of the Wuebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He is a smaller forward, but through his junior career, he was able to be productive by playing on a line with 2020 first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. His first stint of pro hockey was encouraging when he went home to Russia and played for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. He battled through some injuries and only played in six games but collected three assists. He then made his AHL debut with the Heat, but struggled to find the scoresheet for the first half of the season. He went pointless through the team’s first 20 games before registering his first point, then scored four points in five following games.
17. Ilya Solovyov
The Belarussian Solovyov was a late-round, overage pick in 2020 after he played a season in the OHL with the Saginaw Spirit. He made the trek back to Belarus for the 2020-21 season and played with Dinamo Minsk of the KHL. He was able to earn a regular spot in the lineup and played 41 games for Minsk while collecting two goals and seven assists.
He played the fifth-most games of any defenceman on the Minsk team, which means head coach Craig Woodcroft trusted the 20-year-old to play on a nightly basis. His play also earned him an entry-level deal with the Flames back in April. It is unclear where he will play in 2021-22, but with his track record in the KHL, he is more than capable of playing for the Heat next season.
16. Tyler Parsons
I’ll make one exception here for my age-24 rule as goalies can take longer to develop than players. Parsons, who turns 24 in September, once had plenty of promise as a goalie of the future for the Flames, but unfortunate injuries and struggles with mental health have stunted his growth since being drafted in 2016. He’s played just 84 games between the AHL and the ECHL in the past four seasons since capping off a very good junior career with the London Knights. He had a redeeming season playing for the Kansas City Mavericks in 2019-20 where he posted a 0.911 SV% and an 11-9-2 record. There is a bit of a log jam with goalies in Stockton this season with Adam Werner and Dustin Wolf pushing for time; Parsons will have to battle for a regular spot in the AHL.
15. Cole Jordan
One of the Flames’ recent additions to their pipeline during 2021, Jordan is a big body who skates well and has become a strong defenceman for the Moose Jaw Warriors. He’s a hulking 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, but the 18-year-old already skates very well for his size. His defence is his best characteristic, but his offence has been a little slow to start his Western Hockey League (WHL) career. In his rookie season, he scored just one goal and collected six assists in 36 games. Jordan’s sophomore season, although short, was a great performance as he eclipsed his previous point total by scoring three goals and adding seven assists in 23 games. If he can continue to progress on the offensive side of his game, he may become a key prospect for Calgary.
14. Emil Heineman
Heineman was part of the trade coming to Calgary that sent Sam Bennett to the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline. He’s from Leksands, Sweden, and has played hockey for his entire youth and pro career with Leksands. He is now moving into his second full season with Leksands of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). In his rookie season, he scored seven goals and had 13 points in 43 games. He works hard and makes it tough for opponents when he is on the ice, he’s a good energy guy in the lineup. If he can play an expanded role this season, look for him to make progress in his game.
13. Martin Pospisil
The scrappy Slovakian forward split the 2020-21 season between the Slovakian Extra Liga and the AHL. It was his second season playing for the Heat and he greatly improved on his rookie campaign. In 2019-20, Pospisil posted three goals and 10 points in 26 games, and this past season he scored five goals and 11 points in just 14 games.
Before the AHL season started, he played with HC Kosice in Slovakia and had 17 points in 22 games, while collecting 102 penalty minutes. His season with the Heat was becoming an exciting one until he was sidelined after a gruesome knee injury playing against the Laval Rocket. If he can return to his pace of play next season, Pospisil may be a legit prospect the Flames once again found in the later rounds.
12. Yan Kuznetsov
Kuznetsov took the road less travelled by Russian prospects when he came to North America as a 16-year-old and played in the United States Hockey League (USHL) before moving on to the college route with the University of Connecticut Huskies. In 2019-20, he was the youngest player in the entire NCAA as he was just 17 years old for most of the season. Following his sophomore season, he signed an entry-level deal and played six games with the Heat before the end of the 2020-21 season. Unless plans change, he should be a regular in Stockton’s lineup next season.
11. Jeremie Poirier
Poirier has become known as an offensive defenceman in the QMJHL and there has been talk about his need to improve his defensive game. During the 2020-21 season, he was over a point-per-game player scoring nine goals and collecting 27 assists for 37 points in 33 games. He can easily jump into plays in the offensive zone or create rushes by himself. He just turned 19 in June and he still has plenty of time to refine his game and work on his deficiencies. He will have one more season in the QMJHL before he can turn pro, which will be good for his development, especially refining his defensive abilities.
10. William Stromgren
On day two of the 2021 NHL Draft, Calgary went to Sweden’s HockeyAllsvenskan to select Stromgren with the 45th-overall pick. He spent the 2020-21 season in three different leagues in Sweden, but he was fairly productive in his time in each. He was over a point-per-game player in the U20 league as well as the HockeyEttan, which is the third-tier men’s league. He played more than half his season in the second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan and recorded nine points in 27 games as a 17-year-old. He is signed with Rogle BK of the SHL, which will be a new challenge to figure out his game at Sweden’s highest level of hockey.
9. Ryan Francis
After being selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Draft, Francis had a breakout season in the QMJHL for the Cape Breton Eagles and the Saint John Sea Dogs. After scoring just 66 points in 122 games in his first two seasons in the QMJHL, he scored 72 points in 61 games in his draft year and third season in the league.
Following getting drafted by the Flames, he finished the 2020-21 season with 50 points in just 32 games split between Cape Breton and Saint John. Having played four seasons in junior, Francis is eligible to turn pro and the Flames should consider moving him up to play with Stockton this season.
8. Emilio Pettersen
After signing his entry-level deal with Calgary in the spring of 2020, Pettersen finally got to make his professional hockey debut with the Heat this past February. After two years at the University of Denver, he had a promising rookie season with Stockton, scoring six goals and eight assists in 29 games. He was put into the top six right away and was given minutes on the power play right out of the gate. He’s not a big forward but he has good skating ability and skill with the puck both at 5on-5 and on the power play. His skill earned him the call to play with Norway at the 2021 World Championships in Latvia.
7. Adam Ruzicka
Ruzicka is a big man who skates fairly well and possesses a good shot. He took a little time to adjust to pro hockey during his rookie season with the Heat in 2019-20, recording 27 points in 54 games, most of which came in the back half of the season. He began the 2020-21 season at a blistering pace, scoring 12 points in his first six games, which included four 3-point games in a row. He cooled off after that start and finished the AHL season with 21 points in 28 games, a big improvement from his rookie season. His play earned him a call-up for the final three games of the season with the Flames. He should be in competition for a spot on the roster come September, but at 22, another season in the AHL won’t hurt either.
6. Matthew Phillips
The Calgary-native made quite a buzz in the city when he appeared in his first ever NHL game inside the Saddledome, but unfortunately in front of an empty arena. Phillips still looked to be enjoying himself and taking it all in nonetheless. Many Flames fans who follow the team’s prospects have been hoping to see him get his shot in the NHL as he has proven his ability at every level of the game. His chance came against the Vancouver Canucks in the final game of the 2020-21 season, and for the most part, he played well.
He was put on a line with Ruzicka and Milan Lucic who mostly played as the fourth line, but were given a good chunk of minutes during the game. He nearly scored in his first NHL game when he just missed on a cross-crease pass from Mikael Backlund. This preseason, Phillips should be looking to compete for a roster spot on the Flames full time. He looks very comfortable and makes skilled plays in the AHL, and he should get his shot in the NHL in 2021-22. If it doesn’t happen with Calgary this season, he may look to find an opportunity elsewhere; he has the skill and speed, but he just needs a shot to prove himself.
5. Dan Vladar
The Flames’ were in need of a backup goalie going into next season and they made a trade with the Boston Bruins for 23-year-old Czech native Vladar. Since coming over from the Czech Republic, he has played in the USHL, ECHL, AHL, and the NHL this past season. He only has five games of NHL experience under his belt, but he had four strong outings and his AHL numbers have been stellar.
In 78 career games in the AHL, Vladar has a 0.917 SV%, which for a goalie in his early 20’s is pretty good. His 0.936 SV% in 2019-20 is the best ever by a goalie in the AHL in his 22-year-old season; he surpassed Darcy Kuemper who posted a 0.934 in 2012-13. He seems to be the likely candidate to be Jacob Markstrom’s backup this season, but he will have to battle Calgary’s other newly acquired goalie Adam Werner for that position. His small stint in the NHL is a good predictor that Vladar should get the job.
4. Dustin Wolf
Like Tyler Parsons, Wolf has had a very stellar junior career which has most likely come to an end. Wolf is eligible for another season with the Everett Silvertips, but he is also eligible for the AHL, which seems like the logical step forward for him this coming season. Wolf now sits alone in the WHL record book with the best all-time SV% of 0.935 surpassing former-teammate Carter Hart (0.927). He also finished second in goals against average (1.84), third in shutouts (24), and 14th in wins (106). If the WHL had a full season, Wolf would’ve had a shot of the wins record, which stands at 120.
The AHL is the next best move for him as the stats clearly show that he has not much more to accomplish in the WHL. His debut with Stockton was one to forget, but after that, he found his game at the pro-level and started to settle in. His career WHL numbers are all similar to Hart’s, which may provide a similar road map for Wolf to find himself with an NHL job in a few years.
3. Jakob Pelletier
Pelletier may be the Flames’ closest prospect to cracking the roster aside from Phillips and Vladar. He had a season of heartbreak, earning a silver medal in the World Junior Championship and was a runner-up in the President’s Cup Final. Since his first season in the QMJHL, he has been a point-per-game player posting a career of 107 goals and 275 points in 210 games. This past season he scored 13 goals and added 30 assists in just 28 games with the Val-d’Or Foreurs and added five goals and 18 assists in 23 playoffs games.
It’s fairly clear that Pelletier should make the next step in 2021-22 and push for either a spot on the Flames or move on to the AHL. With some recent signings and acquisitions for Calgary, he may have a tougher shot of cracking the lineup come October. A year in the AHL could do a lot of good for his development as he is still only 20 years old. The club may try to transition him more to the center position than the wing once he makes his pro debut to add to his skillset.
2. Matthew Coronato
Coronato recently became the Flames’ newest blue-chip prospect and boasts a ton of potential with his skill and scoring ability. In his rookie season with the Chicago Steel, he scored 18 goals in 45 games as a 17-year-old. His sophomore season in the USHL was a different story as he led the entire league, scoring 48 goals in 51 games. Not only does he score goals, but he also has playmaking abilities as he has recorded 59 assists in 96 games with the Steel.
Coronato is the injection of skill and pure offence that the Flames’ prospect pool desperately needed. Sean Monahan was the team’s designated goal scorer, but in recent seasons that hasn’t been the case. Adding Coronato to the pipeline gives the Flames another goal scorer at the junior level and his next season at Harvard will be a major step forward if he can continue to produce.
1. Connor Zary
Zary tops the list of Flames prospects as he played well in both junior and pro during the 2020-21 season. He started the year with Canada’s U20 team and played a prominent role on the way to capturing a silver medal. Following that performance, he was given a seven-game audition with the Heat while the WHL was still waiting to start. He then went back to Kamloops and played 15 games with the Kamloops Blazers in a shortened season, scoring 24 points.
Zary really impressed me in his time with the Heat with the way he was able to step in and immediately become a factor for the team. His play both with and away from the puck was very encouraging and he looked comfortable from the get-go. In his nine games with the Heat, he collected seven points and looked incredibly comfortable doing it. He may get an extended look at Calgary’s training camp, but it’s most likely we see Zary start with the Heat come October.
Flames Have Plenty of Prospects with Potential
The Flames have 32 prospects in total under the age of 24 in their system with promising players at each position. It is looking increasingly likely that all junior and professional hockey leagues will get a full season in 2021-22. Stockton is slowly becoming a big part of Calgary’s prospect pipeline as more prospects look like they will compete for an AHL job this fall. The Flames have a decent system of intriguing prospects, and with just five picks in the 2022 draft, the Flames need to work on developing what they have into proven talent.
Brett is a freelance writer covering the Calgary Flames here at The Hockey Writers. He is an enthusiast of hockey stats and continues to learn every day about the sports analytics movement. Brett enjoys using both statistical analysis and the old-fashioned eye test in his writing to create the best content for readers. His work at THW has been featured on the Calgary Flames’ news feed for The Score and on Yardbarker. Brett is also part of THW’s Flames Faceoff YouTube/podcast show where he brings his opinions each week on the team’s current state of affairs.