Let’s face it, the Calgary Flames are mired in a rough patch that has them sitting fifth in the Pacific Division and ninth in the Western Conference. The team is not exactly playing up to pre-season expectations and has gone remarkably cold after starting the season off by registering five wins and one loss. New players Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar have not gelled as well as many thought they would and the team’s goaltending has struggled, among other things. However, one bright spot for the organization is the outstanding play of their minor league affiliate team in the American Hockey League (AHL), the Calgary Wranglers.
In case Flames fans don’t already know, the Wranglers are rolling with an 8-1-1 record in their last ten games. Currently, they occupy the fourth spot in the AHL’s Western Conference, having piled up 10 wins in 17 total games. They have many bright spots in terms of on-ice personnel, and due to the aforementioned slump that the big team finds themselves in, the Flames could call someone up and perhaps spark something. Let’s take a look at three Wranglers players that are drawing plenty of attention and should arguably be first in line when it comes to getting a taste of some NHL action this season.
Matthew Phillips, Centre/Wing
Matthew Phillips is the real deal, make no mistake. The 24-year-old is tearing up the AHL: he is second league-wide in points with 23 in 17 games, and his 13 goals are tops amongst all skaters. This should really come as no surprise, as he tallied 68 points in 65 games last season when the Wranglers were still the Stockton Heat. A sixth-round pick of the Flames back in 2016, the forward has put up big numbers anywhere he has played; he has amassed 184 points in 216 AHL games and the 281 points in 215 career games he recorded for the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League (WHL) puts him second all-time in franchise history.
Despite his eye-popping numbers, Phillips has always come under criticism for his size as he is listed at 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds. Thankfully he hasn’t listened to it and decided to let his play do the talking for him. His offence is quite diverse; he can score on the breakaway just as easily and he can bang in dirty net-front goals. Therefore, he could be exactly what the big club needs and would slot in nicely within the team’s top nine. The Calgary native made his NHL debut with the Flames last season and is surely excited to be playing in his hometown regardless of which professional level he is playing at. However, he has more than earned a longer look in the NHL with how well he’s played recently.
Jakob Pelletier, Left Wing/Right Wing
Another offensive stud for the Wranglers, Quebec-born forward Jakob Pelletier’s play has been scorching hot as of late. He is currently riding a league-high nine-game point streak during which he has six goals and nine assists for 15 points. In total this season, he has eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points in 17 games. Taken with the 26th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft by the Flames, Pelletier has had decently high expectations placed on him and has shattered most of them thus far. Last season as a rookie he performed at a near point-per-game clip with 62 points in 66 games. This earned him AHL All-Rookie Team honours, and many believed he could make the jump to the big leagues for 2022-23.
Latest News & Highlights
Instead, Pelletier was assigned to another tour of duty with the Wranglers. However, he put his nose to the grindstone and focused on getting even better, which he most definitely has. He and Phillips are dominant when sharing the ice and more often than not seem steps ahead of those playing around them. Like Phillips, Pelletier is a tad smaller at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, but also works with what he has and uses his speed and craftiness to create offence. Perhaps his presence could help ignite the fellow French-Canadian Huberdeau. Regardless, Pelletier could very easily find a home somewhere within the top nine of the Flames’ forward core just like his linemate.
Dustin Wolf, Goaltender
The Flames goalie tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar have underperformed this season. They have combined to author a sub-3.00 goals-against average (GAA) and a below .900 save percentage (SV%). Maybe a shakeup in the crease is necessary to freshen things up. Thankfully, the Flames have arguably the NHL’s best goaltending prospect in American goalie Dustin Wolf. He also dominates any league he steps into; he won 106 games in 149 WHL appearances with the Everett Silvertips and has gone 44-13-4 in 63 career AHL matches. Last season he cleaned house in the AHL with a 33-9-4 record, winning the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award for the league’s best goalie in addition to being named a First-Team All-Star and All-Rookie Team recipient.
This season has been much of the same for Wolf, as he has nine wins in 13 appearances to lead the league. Both his GAA (2.57) and SV% (.914) put him within the top 20 of all goalies and are made all the more impressive when taking into account that he has faced the fifth-most shots in the league with 372 against him. It is quite clear he is a workhorse when you couple that stat with him ranking third in minutes played amongst goalies league-wide. Given the Flames’ evident struggles in this particular department and the fact that Wolf seemingly needs a new test of his playing abilities, it makes sense to place him in the spotlight for a short while. This is made more complicated by Markstrom and Vladar both having expensive one-way contracts, however, and unless an injury or trade occurs we may not be treated to Wolf’s debut for a bit longer.
All in all, even though the Flames aren’t performing as well as they perhaps should be, there is always hope lying somewhere. Right now it seems to be down the hall from their dressing room within the Scotiabank Saddledome. Both the team and the individuals listed could benefit from call-ups, as fresh but familiar blood in the locker room usually helps more than it hurts and all three young players could use the big-league reps for their development.
Derek Olsen has a Bachelor of General Studies with focuses in History and English, and is now working on a Bachelor of Education. He grew up an avid sports fan and participant, but hockey has and always will be the most important to him. Eat, sleep, and hockey. Blood, sweat, tears, and hockey. He has a relative presence in the ever-expanding sports card industry and claims his collection will “be his retirement”. He is pleased to be able to write for The Hockey Writers and to cover the Calgary Flames.