Camp Notes: Which forwards will make the Calgary Flames’ opening night roster?

Sep 25, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Calgary Flame forward Dryden Hunt (15) celebrates scoring a goal against the Seattle Kraken during the first period at Climate Pledge Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Calgary Flame forward Dryden Hunt (15) celebrates scoring a goal against the Seattle Kraken during the first period at Climate Pledge Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports /

Opening night: nine days out. Calgary Flames roster: nearing temporary completion. Head coach Ryan Huska likely only has a few questions to answer before settling on his opening night roster. On the bubble are a handful of players forwards: Connor Zary, Cole Schwindt, Walker Duehr, Dryden Hunt, Adam Ruzicka, and Adam Klapka.

Next on the Calgary Flames’ pre-season schedule:

  • October 2 versus Winnipeg – 7:00pm MT
  • October 4 at Edmonton – 7:00pm MT
  • October 6 at Vancouver – 8:00pm MT

Tonight’s projected lineup for the Flames might be the closest we’ve seen (and potentially will see) to the opening night roster during the pre-season:

Huska appears to be narrowing down his personnel, but trying out some different line combinations on the front end.

With players like Schwindt and Hunt in the lineup, does this mean they’re in the running for a spot with the bigger of the two pro hockey clubs in Calgary or are they likely headed to the Wranglers before the puck drops on October 11th?

Predicting the Calgary Flames roster: forwards

With Matthew Coronato playing as well as he has in his pre-season appearances (4GP, 3G, 1A, +4), not only is the Flames’ 2021 first-rounder likely a lock for a roster spot, he’s also a player the Flames could deploy on the power play as well as up and down the lineup. With the 20-year-old Coronato in, questions for the forward group surround the following players.

Walker Duehr

I can’t see Duehr not being on the Calgary Flames roster on opening night. Despite only scoring a single point in three pre-season games, the 25-year-old undrafted South Dakota native has looked good in camp. Duehr made such a tangible difference for a 2022/23 Flames team that struggled to score, someone would have to steal his job in these last few pre-season games. Duehr’s one-way ticket and the fact he’s not waivers-exempt support his case for making the team.

Adam Ruzicka

With 75 NHL games under his belt, the verdict is still out for 24-year-old Adam Ruzicka. He’s been great at times and has evaporated during other stretches. Whether he can be an NHL-calibre centre or if he’s more suited to the wing remains to be seen. I always find myself wanting a little more from Ruzicka – he needs to bring consistency to his game and learn to leverage his size (6’4”, 215 lbs.). With that being said, a roster spot is his to lose. Ruzicka has to prove himself in the next nine days, but I’d bet on him earning an opening night spot.

Dryden Hunt

If we count Duehr and Ruzicka in, that leaves one more forward spot that I think belongs to Dryden Hunt. The 27 year-old from Cranbrook, BC has three points (2G, 1A) in his three pre-season appearances. Unlike other Flames’ prospects, Hunt has some NHL experience as well. In 202 games played with the Panthers, Coyotes, Rangers, Avalanche, and Maple Leafs, Hunt has put up 43 points (15G, 28A). His only “full” season in the NHL came in 2021/22 with NYR, during which he skated in 76 contests for 17 points, 52 PIMs, and averaged a career-high of 12:17 TOI. Acquired by the Flames last spring, Hunt stepped into the Wranglers lineup and contributed right away – 15 points in 17 regular season games, six in three playoff games.

Hunt is a versatile and energetic forward with experience, who can play centre or wing, and would need to clear waivers to be sent down. Flames fans should expect to see Dryden Hunt on the squad this season and probably wearing the Flaming C on opening night.

Connor Zary

Alongside Jakob Pelletier and Matthew Phillips (who’s having a great camp and appears to have a legitimate shot to make the Capitals’ top nine, by the way), Connor Zary was a key contributor to the Wranglers’ offence last season, with 58 points in 72 games.

So far, through three pre-season games with the Flames, Zary has two goals in three games.

Zary was the Flames’ first-rounder in 2020 (24th overall). Via Elite Prospects:

"It’s Zary’s shot that leads the way. He’s a deceptive triggerman, one with excellent shot placement, a deceptive release, and the ability to fire two-touch missiles on a moment’s notice. His ability to collect difficult passes is a real difference-maker. He doesn’t often break stride to receive passes either, maintaining the pace of his team’s attack."

A centre with speed, the question for Zary is whether or not he’s ready for the defensive responsibility that would come with fourth line minutes in the NHL or if it makes more sense to continue his development with more ice time and a chance to lead the offence in the minors without Pelletier and Phillips.

If the Flames are able to carry 13 forwards (depends on cap space), perhaps Zary makes the team out of camp and gets a shot in the lineup in the second or third game of the season. However, more likely is that he’s sent down to the Wranglers to cook a little longer – Zary’s waiver exempt, so there’s negated risk with him compared to someone like Hunt.

Adam Klapka

Klapka’s had two great Young Stars Classic tournaments now. He’s massive, has hands, and can skate well considering his size.

While he’s looked pretty good, Adam Klapka is likely in line after Hunt and Zary. Waiver exempt, expect Klapka to begin the 2023/24 campaign with the Wranglers.

Cole Schwindt

So far in camp, I haven’t loved what I’ve seen from Schwindt, but he’s shown flashes. Unfortunately, he hasn’t contributed on the scoresheet either (3GP, 0P).

Schwindt appears to still have some growing to do, but could be an impactful role player at the NHL in the near future. He’s waiver exempt, so I think the safe bet would be to send him back to the Wranglers, elevate his responsibility in the minors, and hope to see him recalled at some point this season in the event the Flames encounter some injury problems.

On the other head, he could change my mind, starting tonight, as he draws into vet-heavy Flames lineup.

When camp is all said and done, my money’s on Duehr, Ruzicka, and Hunt IN, with Zary joining the big club as 13th forward or being sent down, and both Adam Klapka and Cole Schwindt starting the year in the minors. If that’s how it unfolds, here’s your likely lineup:

Overall, it’s a breath of fresh air to be chatting about prospects from within the system making the Calgary Flames roster – Conroy and Huska have held up their the end of the bargain by giving younger players genuine opportunities. Cohesion between the GM and coach with a side of youth are not things we’d have seen a year ago under Darryl Sutter.

Related Story. The Darryl Sutter effect: Assessing the aftermath on the Calgary Flames. light