Flames’ Sutter on promoting Phillips: ‘Big difference’ between AHL and NHL production

Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter stands behind the bench during the third period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. The Penguins won 2-1 in a shootout. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Despite dominating the AHL, with fans clamouring to add his scoring punch, Matthew Phillips appears no closer to making his Calgary Flames season debut.

Speaking with the media on Friday, Flames head coach Daryll Sutter poured cold water after he was asked for his thoughts on the diminutive scoring threat.

“Yeah, you (guys) were curious three years ago about it so you can keep your curiosity,” Sutter chirped back. 

“I’ve watched the farm team live more than I have at any point since I’ve been here,” Sutter continued after a brief pause. “The team’s doing really well but there’s a big difference between the American League and the NHL in terms of production.”

Those questions surrounding the team’s scoring depth, or lack thereof, have grown measurably over the past several weeks. Those outside murmurs hit a crescendo on Thursday, after a loss to the Canadiens that saw Calgary solve Montreal netminder Jake Allen — whose save percentage sits below the .900 mark — just a single time en route to a 2-1 loss.

For Sutter, a continued pattern of shying away from graduating smaller, skilled players from the American Hockey League makes Phillips just one name in a growing line of contributors on Calgary’s farmhand. That list includes a pair of first-round picks in Jakob Pelletier (2019) and Connor Zary (2020), neither of whom is greater than six-feet tall.

“Don’t look at his stature — he’s fearless, and he’s been like that watching him for five years now,” Wranglers assistant coach Joe Cirella told Sportsnet’s Eric Francis. “He consistently is one of our better players. He plays with details and he’s not afraid to go to those (tough) areas. That’s what goal scorers do.”

Phillips, for his part, also says that he continues to work on his game, as the 24-year-old continues to hone in on his elusiveness and pro-level habits.

“In Calgary, a Canadian market, it’s not something you can totally ignore, but that’s not something I focus on too much. I can’t let that get into my head. I just have to play as well as I can here.”

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