Calgary Flames Future Outlook; The New and Improved Blue Line

Oliver Kylington, Calgary Flames
Oliver Kylington, Calgary Flames / Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Calgary Flames came into 2023-24 needing to put together a plan of action for the future of the franchise, and with the future lacking in some key elements, it's clear that Craig Conroy was ready to address them.

Before Conroy took over, there were some solid pieces already in play, with the likes of Dustin Wolf, Jakob Pelletier, Connor Zary, Martin Pospisil, Samuel Honzek and Matt Coronato already in the organization, and while they still need a star of the future, those are some solid building blocks. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the future of the blue line, and it's become clear that in his first year as General Manager, Conroy was ready to change that.

The team already had Jeremie Poirier, who had an impressive seven points in his first four AHL games this season before injury, and after a recent return, it's very likely that with Chris Tanev gone and Noah Hanifin likely to follow, he'll be in the lineup at some point. So what has he done to improve their blue line stocks in his first nine months?

The first big move the former Flames forward made was with the second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, when he made the selection of 18-year old Etienne Morin of the Moncton Wildcats. While the team just moved defensive defenseman Chris Tanev, Morin is the exact opposite, putting up totals of 33, 72 and 41 points in seasons of 64, 67 and 48 games played. The Quebec native has shown incredible flashes with great puck handling skills, smart passing and plenty of speed, and with the team looking to move on from Hanifin too and no plans to replace him on the second pairing, Morin could make a push for a roster spot in 2024-25.

The next addition came via the Elias Lindholm trade, with the Flames picking up Kitchener Rangers defenseman Hunter Brzustewicz, who has been one of, if not the best player in the OHL this season, sitting top-five in points despite being a defenseman. The 19-year old has come into his own in 2023-24, tallying an incredible 69 assists and 11 goals in 58 games played, and while he's not renowned for his speed or his shot, many have gushed over the hockey IQ and the passing intellect, signaling that he could be a top-four defenseman of the future in Calgary.

With two players that will rely on their offensive game translating to the NHL alongside Poirier whose strengths come with the puck on his stick too, it made sense for the front office to target a replacement for Chris Tanev, and that player may have come in the trade that sent him to the Dallas Stars. That comes in the form of 20-year old Artem Grushnikov, who may be one of the most underrated names in the AHL, as his point scoring totals don't match up to what some consider future potential. Conroy revealed in his first interview after moving Tanev that Grushnikov is the 'perfect compliment' to the above players, and if he develops with the Wranglers, he could be a dark-horse to make the roster this year or early next season.

It's safe to say that the Flames still have plenty of work to do if they wish to be considered an elite team when the new arena arrives for the 2026-27 season, but with plenty of draft picks to work with and four potential future defenseman, the building blocks are now being laid by Conroy to build for that.