3 Flames Prospects Who Are Excelling in the AHL

3 flames prospects who are excelling in the ahl

3 Flames Prospects Who Are Excelling in the AHL

The Calgary Flames’ season is reaching its most exciting stretch, the march towards the playoffs. The team is six points out of the second wild-card spot in the NHL’s Western Conference, with 15 games remaining. Regardless of if the Flames end up making it to the “dance” or not, their farm team down in the American Hockey League (AHL) is on fire, pun intended. The AHL’s Calgary Wranglers are lighting it up in their inaugural season, becoming the first team to clinch a playoff spot. The team spent the previous seven seasons as the Stockton Heat before announcing a relocation and a new moniker on May 23, 2022.

The Wranglers sit at a very impressive 42-15-3 record through 60 games. They have scored the most goals as a team with 216, and have the second-lowest goals allowed marker with just 152. Contributions come from all over, but there are a few standouts on the squad that cannot be ignored. We are going to analyze three players that should have Flames fans itching for their big league debuts. While he is not on this list, it should be noted that forward Matthew Phillips is having another stellar season with 59 points in 54 games. In addition, players like Jakob Pelletier and Walker Duehr won’t be covered as they are both currently playing with the Flames.

Dustin Wolf, G

All hail Dustin Wolf. Luckily for Flames fans, the undisputed best professional goaltender outside of the NHL plays for the Wranglers. The 21-year-old netminder from Gilroy, California, currently leads all AHL goalies in games played (47), wins (35), shutouts (5), goals-against average (GAA) (2.22), save percentage (SV%) (.928), shots against (1,426) and total saves (1,324). He has somehow one-upped himself from his outstanding 2021-22 season in which he went 33-9-4 and won the league’s goalie of the year award as well as All-Rookie Team honours. Wolf also went 8-5 with an impressive three shutouts in 13 playoff appearances, as the team made it all the way to the Western Conference Final. The Heat bowed out to the eventual Calder Cup-winning Chicago Wolves.

With the Flames’ documented struggles in the crease (a combined 2.90 GAA and a .895 SV%), having a seemingly NHL-ready goaltender dominating the minor leagues is a shot of reassurance for fans. Wolf has been provided with a lot of goal support as previously mentioned, but has still faced almost 200 more shots than the next qualified netminder, yet produced his exceptional statistics. Goalie prospects are always best given more time to develop, so despite his dominance and superior numbers, Flames management may not bring Wolf up to the NHL for some time. Past goaltenders such as Joni Ortio and Leland Irving come to mind as goaltenders that played very well for the Flames’ AHL syndicate but couldn’t quite translate it to NHL success. Fingers could be pointed at being rushed, and thus Wolf should be given all the time required as he has the highest potential of any Flames associated goalie since Miika Kiprusoff.

Connor Zary, F

Another player that should not be too far away from permanently wearing a flaming “C” is Canadian forward Connor Zary. The Flames’ first-round pick in 2020, 24th overall, had a relatively rough first professional season by his standards with just 25 points in 53 games throughout 2021-22. He also had a disappointing playoff debut with just two points in 13 appearances. However, 2022-23 has been a different story by far: in 60 games, he has totalled 18 goals and 53 total points, more than doubling his previous career highs in assists and points. His 35 assists and 53 points rank him 18th and 14th in the AHL, respectively.

Zary provides decent speed up front as he is listed at 6-foot and 178 pounds. He is tremendously valuable as he can play centre or either wing, and with the recent trade of centreman Radim Zohorna he will likely be tasked with more duties down the middle of the ice. In addition, with NHL forwards like Milan Lucic, Nick Ritchie, and Trevor Lewis all free agents at this season’s end, Zary’s path to the Flames could become much clearer. Zary is only 21 years old at the time of this writing, however, and much like with Wolf, Flames management may want to have him spend another season in the minors to ensure positive progression.

Jeremie Poirier, D

Last but certainly not least is offensive defenseman Jeremie Poirier. The French-Canadian rearguard somehow slipped to the Flames in the third round, 72nd overall in the 2020 NHL Draft after a commanding junior career with the Saint John Seadogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Poirier led all QMJHL defensemen in goals with 20 in his draft year, and ranked second with 53 points in 64 games. This led many to believe he’d be a first-round pick come draft day, but of course that wasn’t the case. In total, he put up 168 points in 225 games in the “Q.” Further proving any doubters wrong, he has amassed a very impressive first professional season with the Wranglers. He currently leads all rookie defensemen in scoring with 39 points through 57 games as well as total shots on goal. His 18 points on the power play are second among rookie blueliners.

Poirier is more than likely to spend at least another season with the Wranglers despite such solid play. But interestingly enough, he was one of the last cuts at last year’s development camp and the Flames’ blue line has its fair share of uncertainty. Oliver Kylington is likely done for this season and there has been no word on his availability for the next, Troy Stecher is a free agent, and one of the top-four defensemen may have to be moved to make room for MacKenzie Weegar and Jonathan Huberdeau’s new contracts. Perhaps Poirier can be given an audition at the end of this year or the beginning of the next to help the Flames’ brass better understand how they can structure their back end.

The Flames may not have the best prospect pool in the NHL but these three young men, among others, offer glimmers of hope for the team’s future. The Wranglers’ success speaks to the skill levels of the players just as much as it does the coaching and scouting. For these players, thriving at the second-best level of North American professional hockey as they are doing is best thing possible for their young careers.

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