There’s absolutely no question the Calgary Flames’ top prospect not playing in the NHL is Juuso Valimaki.
However, the 21-year-old first-rounder is only absent from the lineup due to off-season knee surgery that will likely cost him at least half this season.
Given his performance with the club last season, it’s clear the Finnish defenceman is not just an NHLer, he’s a future leader with the Flames.
Because of his injury status, Valimaki will be excluded from the list of the organization’s top-5 prospects:
Dillon Dube, Stockton Heat
GP 7 G 1 A 6 PTS 7
After a breakthrough training camp a year earlier, Dube’s showing this fall wasn’t nearly as overwhelming.
That said, management is fully convinced the 21-year-old second-rounder will be a long-time NHLer who can benefit from increased playing time and experience in the AHL where he shone last year with more than a point per game.
His start in Stockton this year hasn’t been overwhelming offensively as he scored his first goal Friday.
However, Canada’s former world junior captain has marching orders on the farm to be better defensively and along the wall. With that in mind, he played the last couple games up the middle before suffering an upper-body injury that kept him out Saturday. He’s expected to be back in the lineup this week, and back up with the big club sometime in the not too distant future.
Jakob Pelletier, Moncton Wildcats
GP 13 G 9 A 13 PTS 22
The Flames first-round draft pick last summer has had a strong start, sitting top-15 in the QMJHL’s scoring race.
He acquitted himself well at the Flames training camp, but the plan all along was to send the 18-year-old left winger down to continue improving on his game.
The 5-foot-9, 167-pound prospect, who is known for his skill, speed and competitive fire, sits tied for 14thin QMJHL scoring early on.
Glenn Gawdin, Stockton Heat
GP 8 G 2 A 6 PTS 8
The former Swift Current Broncos captain was signed as a free agent in 2017 by the Flames due to his character, leadership and hockey sense.
Those qualities helped the 21-year-old in his first year as a pro last year in the AHL and have given him go-to status with the Stockton Heat this year.
“We rely on him a lot in a game,” said Heat coach Cail MacLean, who raves about the hockey sense he saw from Gawdin as an AHL rookie last year and early this season.
“It was evident pretty quickly you could put him in different situations and he could gain trust in defensive roles and penalty-killing roles and big faceoffs. On top of that, some of the plays he makes he shows really good vision offensively. A little like Derek Ryan, he’s not flashy, but smart.”
Emilio Pettersen, University of Denver
GP 6 G 1 A 5 PTS 6
The Norwegian skyrocketed up the Flames prospect depth charts last year with an outstanding freshman campaign at the University of Denver where the versatile forward finished second in scoring despite being the team’s youngest player.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound centre has followed it up with points in five of his six games early this season to sit tied for third in team scoring.
Artem Zagidulin, Stockton Heat
GP 6 W 5 L 1 GAA 3.24 SAVE % .884
It’s probably way too early to put the 24-year-old Russian goaltender ahead of Tyler Parsons on the depth chart. After all, Parsons has been hurt and Zagidulin has just a half-dozen games of pro hockey experience in North America.
However, with how solid his camp was with the Flames and how quickly he seems to be adapting to everything, there’s a growing belief in the organization that just like David Rittich before him, the former KHLer may not be such a long shot after all.
“He’s been very good,” said MacLean of the team’s most intriguing free agent signing last season.
“When we first saw him in the summer we weren’t sure because he has a different style than North American goalies. He has a real high IQ and he reads plays and shots off of the stick well. He plays aggressive when he needs to, and he’s feisty.”