Welcome back for another edition of the Calgary Flames prospects report, a reoccurring segment at The Hockey Writers, following the storylines of all the prospects in the Flames’ system throughout the 2021-22 season.
The season has rolled into 2022, as the Stockton Heat continue their impressive season with Connor Zary back on track, Ilya Solovyov hitting the scoresheet in his first season in North America, and Dustin Wolf continuing to amaze in the crease. After heading back east to Saint John, Ryan Francis has been on fire, while Yan Kuznetsov has joined him and has had a quietly nice start in junior.
Zary Heating up in Stockton
Connor Zary blocked a shot in the first rookie game against the Edmonton Oilers in September and broke his ankle. It took nearly two months for him to recover before he played his first game of the season on Nov. 11. He struggled out of the gate with just one assist and four shots on net in his first seven games. In his last 10 games, however, he has three goals and seven points and thrown 27 shots on net.
Zary got off to a hot start in the American Hockey League (AHL) last season, scoring seven points in nine games while playing on the top line with Matthew Phillips and Adam Ruzicka. After his injury, Jakob Pelletier took his place on that line and has been running with it; he leads all rookies in scoring in the AHL. Zary has been playing on the second line with a rotating cast of Heat players but seems to be finding his game again.
Solovyov Finding the Scoresheet
The Flames selected Ilya Solovyov as an overage player from the Saginaw Spirit in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in the seventh round of the 2020 NHL Draft. After his lone season in North America, he went back overseas and played a full season with Dinamo Minsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), where he was relied upon with nine points in 41 games as a 20-year-old. This season, he came back to play with the Heat and recently scored his first AHL goal.
Solovyov was scoreless in his first nine games, but he has five points in his last eight games, including a two-goal performance in a 5-2 win over the Tucson Roadrunners. He also has 15 shots in his last eight games. His eight points in the KHL last season ranked third all-time by a 20-year-old defenceman, and if he can continue to find offence in the AHL at 21, the Flames may have found another diamond in the rough late in the 2020 Draft.
Francis Picking up Where He Left Off
Ryan Francis made an impression at training camp, hanging around for and then earning himself a four-game stint in Stockton before being sent back to junior. Last season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), Francis had a tremendous season putting up 50 points in 32 games with the Cape Breton Eagles and the Saint John Sea Dogs. This season he has 23 points in 18 games with the Sea Dogs.
He’s played fewer games than the rest of his teammates but is already fifth on the team in scoring and showing no signs of slowing down. In December, Francis scored one goal and eight assists in seven games. The back half of the season will be a big one; the Sea Dogs are looking to go on a run as the hosts of the Memorial Cup, and Francis will no doubt be a big part in trying to help capture it.
Wolf Named Goaltender of the Month for December
The Dustin Wolf legend continues to grow in Northern California, and Flames fans have every reason to be excited about their goalie of the future. This week, he was named the AHL’s goaltender of the month with a 7-0-0 record, a 1.40 goals-against average (GAA), and a .951 save percentage (SV%). He also earned a callup to Calgary to sit on the bench against the Seattle Kraken when Dan Vladar was unable to travel. Wolf received some brief but high praise from head coach Darryl Sutter: “He’s 14-0-2. Goalies are just like coaches – they’re measured on their record. He’s a good goalie.”
It took nearly three months and 18 games before Wolf lost his first game in regulation as the Roadrunners held off Stockton for a 2-1 win in Tucson on Tuesday. Wolf made 22 saves, and both Roadrunners’ goals came on the man advantage. His meteoric rise in pro hockey has been exciting, but with Jacob Markstrom and Vladar in Calgary, Wolf will likely spend another season in California. However, if he continues his torrid pace, Flames management will have some tough decisions to make in the near future.
Kuznetsov Fitting Right in Saint John
In the last four seasons, Kuznetsov has played in the United States Hockey League (USHL), the NCAA, the AHL, and now has begun playing in the QMJHL with Saint John. He played in 12 games with Stockton without a point, but his Canadian Hockey League (CHL) rights were owned by Saint John, and he was sent across the continent in early December. He’s off to a nice start with the Sea Dogs, recording a goal and two assists in four games.
Kuznetsov has never been an offensive defenceman; his best season was 11 points in 34 games with the University of Connecticut. But his start with Saint John has been a positive one. He scored his first goal in the QMJHL in his second game and had a two-assist performance in his third. He was also surprisingly left off of Russia’s World Junior team after playing in all seven games for his country a year before. However, no players playing in North America were selected for the team. Like his new teammate, Francis, Kuznetsov has been relied on early, playing on the Sea Dogs’ top pairing, and he’s been solid through four games.
That wraps up another edition of the Flames Prospects Report. Be sure to check back with The Hockey Writers for more storylines on the Flames’ prospects this season.
Brett is a freelance writer covering the Calgary Flames here at The Hockey Writers. He is an enthusiast of hockey stats and continues to learn every day about the sports analytics movement. Brett enjoys using both statistical analysis and the old-fashioned eye test in his writing to create the best content for readers. His work at THW has been featured on the Calgary Flames’ news feed for The Score and on Yardbarker. Brett is also part of THW’s Flames Faceoff YouTube/podcast show where he brings his opinions each week on the team’s current state of affairs.