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Top 10 prospects in Calgary Flames’ pipeline to get excited about


The 2020 NHL Draft will be different.

The hockey world won’t be able to gather due to the global health crisis. General managers and scouts will instead be bunkered at home or the office with their wish lists. Prospects will be waiting for their cellphones to buzz. There will be no celebratory stroll to the stage to shake hands with your potential employer.

One thing, however, won’t change.

The 2020 NHL Draft, going virtual next Tuesday-Wednesday, is still an important opportunity for the Calgary Flames — and every other club — to shape their future.

What are the most pressing needs? What attributes and qualities do they value most? And which of these talented teens could eventually play a key role at the Saddledome?

As the Flames prepare for the annual pick ’em, we analyze the top 10 prospects already in the organizational pipeline …

JUUSO VALIMAKI

AGE : 21

POSITION : Defence

HEIGHT/WEIGHT : 6-foot-2, 212 lb.

DRAFT/SIGNING DETAILS : First-round selection, No. 16 overall, in 2017

THE SKINNY : If not for an unfortunate injury, Valimaki would have already graduated from the prospect ranks. The poised and polished defenceman has 26 NHL outings on his resume — including two playoff appearances — but didn’t log any action in 2019-20 after tearing his ACL during a summer training session. He has been loaned to Tampereen Ilves in Finland, where he’ll soon suit up for his first game in 17-plus months. Valimaki is still only 21 and has shown top-pairing potential, but it’s fair to wonder how much his development was stalled by the lengthy layoff. He did use that time to bulk up in the gym and study film of some of the NHL’s best blue-liners, so perhaps it will be positive in the long run.

JAKOB PELLETIER

AGE : 19

POSITION : Left wing

HEIGHT/WEIGHT : 5-foot-10, 170 lb.

DRAFT/SIGNING DETAILS : First-round selection, No. 26 overall, in 2019

THE SKINNY : There’s always a temptation to rush a first-round pick to the highest level, but be patient with this kid as he adds some weight and muscle to his frame. Pelletier piled up 32 goals, 50 assists and an eye-popping plus-57 rating in 57 spins for the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats this past season. He brings an intriguing blend of skill, smarts and competitive fire, and the Flames especially like his attention to detail, which isn’t always something you hear about a teenager. Pelletier captained the Wildcats in 2019-20 and shortly after being traded in June, the Val-d’Or Foreurs announced they’d stitch the ‘C’ on his jersey for the upcoming campaign. That certainly speaks to his character. He should be skating for Team Canada at the world juniors this winter.

EMILIO PETTERSEN

AGE : 20

POSITION : Left wing

HEIGHT/WEIGHT : 5-foot-10, 175 lb.

DRAFT/SIGNING DETAILS : Sixth-round selection, No. 167 overall, in 2018

THE SKINNY : Pettersen loves to have the puck on his stick. You love to have dudes like that on your team. The left-winger is, for our money, the most fascinating up-and-comer in the Flames’ pipeline. Pettersen was a point-per-game guy as a sophomore with the University of Denver Pioneers — leading his team in scoring, an impressive feat for an underclassman in a prestigious program — before opting to turn professional sooner than most were expecting. He is undersized, which seems to be a theme with Calgary’s top forward prospects, but has oodles of skill and hockey sense to go with it. And there’s no doubting his drive. This kid left his home in Norway at 14 to chase a dream that is looking more realistic every day.

CONNOR MACKEY

AGE : 24

POSITION : Defence

HEIGHT/WEIGHT : 6-foot-2, 205 lb.

DRAFT/SIGNING DETAILS : Signed as a free agent in March 2020

THE SKINNY : The clock is ticking fast on Mackey, not because he just turned 24 but because he signed only a one-year contract with the Flames as a highly sought college free agent. That puts pressure on both sides — the team to provide ample opportunity (although they will continue to control his rights as a restricted free agent), and the player to prove he’s ready for primetime. Mackey, who posted a conference-leading plus-23 rating in what was his final season with the NCAA’s Minnesota State Mavericks, made a strong impression during summer camp at the Saddledome. The left-hander defends well with his stick and can be counted on for a solid first pass. The Flames have several established rearguards hitting unrestricted free agency and if they leave a spot open, it’s a hint they believe Mackey could immediately step into the lineup.

DUSTIN WOLF

AGE : 19

POSITION : Goalie

HEIGHT/WEIGHT : 6-foot, 165 lb.

DRAFT/SIGNING DETAILS : Seventh-round selection, No. 214 overall, in 2019

THE SKINNY : This guy is determined to prove everybody wrong, and he just might have the moxie to pull it off. Wolf squirmed in his seat through seven rounds at the 2019 NHL Draft, finally called to the stage when the Flames announced his name with the fourth-last pick of the proceedings. And then? Wolf posted a superb 34-10-2 record and a sparkling 1.88 goals-against average and .935 save percentage on behalf of the Everett Silvertips this winter en route to being named the CHL’s top goalie. He also recorded nine shutouts. Whoa. The doubters will continue to point to his measurements — and it’s true there are not many 6-foot-nothings tending twine in today’s NHL — but Wolf may have the technical ability, competitiveness and confidence necessary to be one of the exceptions.

GLENN GAWDIN

AGE : 23

POSITION : Centre

HEIGHT/WEIGHT : 6-foot-1, 191 lb.

DRAFT/SIGNING DETAILS :  Signed as free agent in November 2017

THE SKINNY : Gawdin is next-man-up among the Flames’ forward prospects. In fact, if Mark Jankowski is non-qualified as a restricted free agent, this young buck could immediately be slotted in as Calgary’s fourth-line centre to open the 2020-21 slate. (That would depend on whether Sam Bennett is deployed as a winger or middle-man, but let’s get back to the prospect.) The 23-year-old Gawdin was the leading scorer for the Stockton Heat this past season, totalling 16 goals and 31 assists in 53 games and scoring an invite to the AHL All-Star Classic. He was also a key piece of the power-play and penalty-kill for the farm club, with the Heat leading the loop in both categories. Gawdin is a right-handed centre — something that’s been in short supply at the Saddledome — and has the makings of a reliable big-leaguer.

ADAM RUZICKA

AGE : 21

POSITION : Centre

HEIGHT/WEIGHT : 6-foot-4, 220 lb.

DRAFT/SIGNING DETAILS : Fourth-round selection, No. 109 overall, in 2017

THE SKINNY : Everything about this guy screams should-be NHLer. Ruzicka is big and strong. He’s a solid skater for his size. He’s skilled, owns a wicked shot and can be a force at the faceoff dot. The biggest knock on Ruzicka during his junior days was his inconsistency, a habit of being an impact-sort on some nights and invisible on others. That didn’t seem to be an issue during his first professional campaign. In fact, some in Stockton will tell you that the 21-year-old pivot had been their best player for a month or more before the pandemic pause. Ruzicka was invited to the summer restart camp in Calgary, which should bolster his confidence and reinforce that the team really likes the way his game is trending.

MATTHEW PHILLIPS

AGE : 22

POSITION : Right wing

HEIGHT/WEIGHT : 5-foot-7, 155 lb.

DRAFT/SIGNING DETAILS : Sixth-round selection, No. 166 overall, in 2016

THE SKINNY : If Phillips was just small, he would be a few notches higher on this list. Trouble is, he’s really small. Like, if Johnny Gaudreau offered a pair of hand-me-down jeans, he may need a tailor to lop off a couple of inches. It’s worth noting, though, the wee right-winger has managed to produce at every level, including an impressive 0.87 points per game during his sophomore season at Stockton. A shifty skater with good vision and offensive instincts, he simply finds a way. Phillips has been durable, too. Before fracturing a kneecap in December, he hadn’t missed a game due to injury since bantam. Nicknamed ‘Bubba,’ there are a lot of folks around Calgary who will be rooting for this local lad to complete his climb.

DMITRY ZAVGORODNIY

AGE : 20

POSITION : Right wing

HEIGHT/WEIGHT : 5-foot-9, 173 lb.

DRAFT/SIGNING DETAILS : Seventh-round selection, No. 198 overall, in 2018

THE SKINNY : It would be easy to argue that Zavgorodniy’s superb stat-line from this past QMJHL season — he racked up 29 goals and 67 points in just 40 games with the Rimouski Oceanic — was a byproduct of skating on the same line as superstar-in-the-making and sure-fire first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. That likely didn’t hurt, but the Flames scouts are confident that this guy wasn’t just riding the coattails of his teammate. Zavgorodniy is, like several others on this list, an undersized forward with the sort offensive sizzle that will bring you to the edge of your seat. The Russian right-hander is also tenacious on the puck, something that will be key to his hopes of eventually reaching the highest level. He has been assigned to SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL until the Flames’ farm team returns to action.

JOHANNES KINNVALL

AGE : 23

POSITION : Defence

HEIGHT/WEIGHT : 5-foot-11, 185 lb.

DRAFT/SIGNING DETAILS : Signed as a free agent in April 2020

THE SKINNY : This gent put up big numbers in the Swedish Hockey League last season, finishing second among blue-liners — and eighth on the overall charts — with 40 points in 51 appearances. He also scored a two-year contract offer from the Flames, although both sides agreed he would spend another winter with HV71 Jonkoping before making the move to North America for the 2021-22 campaign. Kinnvall isn’t going to be a shutdown sort at the NHL level, but if the mobile right-hander can hold his own in the defensive zone, he has intriguing upside as a potential power-play quarterback. After all, he did more than half of his damage last season while on the man-advantage.

wgilbertson@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/WesGilbertson

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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