Welcome to the Flame for Thought Roundup. Whenever there are multiple tidbits of Calgary Flames info floating around the prairies of Alberta, we’ll round ‘em up for you and wrangle them into quick-hit articles like this one. Today: Zary in his NHL debut, Nikita Zadorov, Adam Ruzicka, Matthew Coronato, Jordan Oesterle, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, contracts, and “retooling.”
Connor Zary shines in debut
The Calgary Flames’ first-round pick from the 2020 NHL Draft made his NHL debut last night. Following two full seasons in the minors with the Stockton Heat and Calgary Wranglers (highlighted by a 2022-23 campaign with 58 points in 72 games), and two great Flames training camps, the former Kamloops Blazer and Saskatoon native donned the Flaming C in a legitimate NHL game for the first time.
Zary did not disappoint. The smooth-skating forward scored his first NHL goal on his first shot and logged over 16 minutes of ice time. What stood out to me were his willingness to shoot the puck, drive the net, back check with tenacity, his confidence, and most notably his deployment both on the power play and in the dying minutes of the game.
Based on lines from this morning’s skate, Zary looks to be staying with the big club for the time being. Hopefully he can continue to impress and become an integral part of the Flames lineup this season.
Nikita Zadorov potentially set to return to lineup
Nikita Zadorov, who’s quickly become a fan-favourite among the C of Red, was out of the lineup last night versus the Dallas Stars for family reasons. While we’re not sure of the exact reason for his absence from the game, we’re wishing Nikita and his family the best and look forward to seeing him in the lineup again soon, which looks like it might be the case, as Zadorov was back at practice this morning.
Adam Ruzicka remains out with injury
Still not skating with the main group at practice, Adam Ruzicka appears to have undergone a minor setback in his recovery. After taking a nasty hit from the Rangers’ Jimmy Vesey, which should have been a penalty, Ruzicka has missed three consecutive games, including last weekend’s Heritage Classic in Edmonton.
Matthew Coronato looks to be a healthy scratch (and this could be a good thing)
Rookie Matthew Coronato may draw out of the lineup for the Flames’ next game, a visit to Seattle this weekend. While fans are clamouring for 27 to remain in the lineup over Dryden Hunt, scratching Coronato could be a good decision for the Flames.
Patience with young players is key and the goal for Coronato should not be to have him burnt out partway through his first NHL season, but to ensure he stays healthy and is able to develop as a complete hockey player. If he’s fatigued, rest is the answer. If head coach Ryan Huska feels he could benefit from observing the game from above, a healthy scratch is the answer.
I see a Coronato scratch as a mindful decision by the Flames rather than a misjudgement of his abilities.
If he’s out for a game or two, it’s not the end of the world — developing prospects properly is something that will be key for the Flames this season and ideally over the next several years.
Jordan Oesterle waived and what this could mean for Ilya Solovyov
Twitter/X was buzzing with speculation about which “veteran” the Flames could elect to waive after this note from Elliotte Friedman in his most recent written version of 32 Thoughts:
"An exec from another team said he heard that the Flames might rattle their room by putting a veteran player on waivers."
While most speculation pointed to Dan Vladar or Dillon Dubé being waiver candidates, my brain jumped to Jordan Oesterle.
Whether or not waiving Jordan Oesterle was the move Friedman was referring to and whether or not you agree that waiving the defenceman was seismic enough to “rattle” the room, Oesterle was waived today. If not claimed by another club, he’ll be assigned to the Wranglers, likely making room for the Flames to recall Ilya Solovyov, who impressed with his two games with the Flames prior to the return of Rasmus Andersson.
With Solovyov IN and Oesterle OUT, the Flames D-corps will consist of Andersson, MacKenzie Weegar (who’s been awesome lately, by the way), Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov, Dennis Gilbert, and Solovyov.
Flames remain committed to “unlocking” Jonathan Huberdeau
Well, I’d hope so. The $10.5 million-dollar man has disappointed so far this season and is on the books for another seven years following 2023-24. After struggling under Darryl Sutter in his inaugural season as a Calgary Flame (in which he set an NHL record for biggest season-over-season point drop-off), Huberdeau is off to an even worse start this year, on pace for fewer points than his 55-point total in 2022-23.
The solution doesn’t appear to be as simple as finding the right linemates — Huska and assistant coach Marc Savard have had the lines in a Vitamix Turbo 9000 all season and nothing has resulted in an offensive outburst for Huberdeau.
However, Vanessa Kezwer of Sportsnet published an amazing piece on why Huberdeau has struggled in Calgary. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re looking for better insight on the topic.
Contract conversations on hold
Losing five in a row (now six) is a great way to kill any and all contract momentum. We know GM Craig Conroy was working on a Lindholm extension, got close on a Hanifin extension, and according to Friedman, also engaged Tanev on an extension. None came to fruition and now it looks like none will – at least in the near future.
As a Flames fan, this should be music to your ears. Management, potentially including owner Murray Edwards who’s currently in town, sees the lacklustre on-ice product and is no longer pushing to extend the players contributing to it.
Paying Hanifin more than Colorado’s Devon Toews would have been a mistake anyway.
Is Nazem Kadri turning the corner?
Skating between Zary and Yegor Sharangovich, Kadri had his best game of the season so far. He logged over 20 minutes of ice time, had a pair of assists, and I genuinely enjoyed watching his game.
One game is just one game, but wouldn’t it be dandy if Kadri found consistency and happened to do so with rookie Zary on his wing? I’m rooting for Kadri big time. Fingers crossed.
Rebuild/retool dialogue gaining steam
With the Ls piling up and contract conversations on pause, the rebuild/retool dialogue is heating up.
In my opinion, the Flames have a deeply rooted culture problem and rebuilding this roster with the goal of prioritizing future perennial Stanley Cup contention over short-term competitiveness could be a way to solve it. I wrote about it recently — check out my recent editorial piece by hitting the big button below.