NHL Draft: Flames' biggest needs, top prospects
The Calgary Flames had what looked to be their best roster and best shot at a Stanley Cup in years this season. That idea came crashing down at the hands of Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. This summer, if Johnny Gaudreau walks via free agency, the Flames will have a significant hole to fill up front. If he stays, the Flames will have significant cap questions to answer as they also need to re-sign Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane who will both demand major raises. Finding a home for Sean Monahan, and the burdensome contract of Milan Lucic would alleviate this issue, but it will also come at the cost of a prospect or draft picks to offload the final seasons of these contracts.
Dustin Wolf, G - There is no rush for Wolf to ascend to the NHL with Jacob Markstrom signed long-term. Dan Vladar was a reliable backup this season, so leaving Wolf in the AHL for another year is the likely scenario. He’s not overly big, but he’s incredibly mobile and was one of the best goaltenders from start to finish this season in the American Hockey League as a rookie. The 20-year-old posted a 33-9-5 record highlighted by a .924 save percentage. Wolf’s puck-tracking is superb and he continues to dispel concerns about his six-foot size.
Matthew Coronato, F - The 13th overall selection in the 2021 draft scored at more than a point-per-game pace this season as an NCAA rookie with Harvard. He is relentless, wins puck battles, and will out-compete almost anyone. As a natural winger, the Flames will be eager to see Coronato make the jump to the NHL after this season as the team has looming holes on both sides. Due to his skating and tenacious approach to the game, Coronato will be able to seamlessly slide into a middle-six role with the Flames.
Connor Zary, F - There were high hopes for Connor Zary as Calgary’s first-round pick from 2020 transitioned to the AHL this year. Skating was a concern at the draft, and after suffering a broken ankle to open his season, his stride was noticeable in Stockton. Look for Zary to rebound with a much stronger year two at the pro level showcasing the stickhandling and physical play that saw his star rise in junior. Zary is unlikely to be a first-line fix for the Flames, but his ability to provide secondary scoring will be valued. Still a season or two away from full-time NHL duty.
One To Watch
Calgary will see two notable prospects make the step from junior to the professional ranks next season - Rory Kerins and Jeremie Poirier. Poirier has excelled in his four-year QMJHL career collecting 57 points in 67 games this season. While he’s destined for the AHL, there’s some belief he could be another coming of TJ Brodie in the Flames’ organization. While Poirier’s path seems clear, the prospect who may face the most observation this coming year is Rory Kerins. Kerins spent last season practicing with the Stockton Heat during the OHL’s cancelled season and followed it up with 118 points for the Soo Greyhounds. He has a lightning-quick release and likes to get to the middle of the ice. At the OHL level, he consistently alluded top defenders to find space, replicating this in the AHL will be a challenge. Will Kerins be a sixth-round steal?
Ready To Step In
The Stockton Heat were loaded this season with players who put up strong numbers. Matthew Phillips scored 31 goals and over a point-per-game and may get a longer look from Calgary, but the most NHL ready player in Stockton? Jakob Pelletier. Calgary’s 2019 first-round pick should step directly into the Flames' roster and benefit the team’s secondary scoring ranks. Good vision and creative with the puck, Pelletier is an excellent playmaker but his 27 goals as a professional rookie prove he can drive offense in a number of ways. Adam Ruzicka is likely the first in for the Flames up front after a strong audition this season, but Pelletier is ready for the chance as well.
Needs At The Draft
There are two specific needs within Calgary’s organization. First, the Flames have no right-shot defenders in the system. Second, there is a lack of organizational depth at center. It’s not an immediate need, but adding to this position will provide a safety net for when Elias Lindholm’s contract expires contract expires in 2023-2024, and with Sean Monahan’s tenure in Calgary ending. At the moment, the Flames have only three picks in the 2022 NHL draft in the second, fifth, and seventh rounds. They need to hit on their second-round pick to ensure a gap is not formed in their prospect pool.
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