Darryl Sutter isn’t the Calgary Flames GM, but if he was, he wouldn’t be calling up the kids to help the team find their footing right now, either.
He’s a big believer in the farm system. And you can save your farmer jokes. The Flames head coach skated the same path as the majority of NHLers not named Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. Sutter’s game got some seasoning in the American Hockey League before making an impact with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“From my own experience, I was best served playing in the American Hockey League and becoming a really good player there before going to the NHL,” Sutter said via Zoom on Tuesday. “There’s very few players that step in. Those are elite payers that step in. With defencemen it’s even longer.”
The topic came up because of conversations Calgary Flames fans have been having about the less-than-optimal line combinations the team displayed at practice. Tyler Pitlick on the supposed second line and Brett Ritchie on the third. Barring a big trade or maybe a certain unpopular signing idea, surely a kid (Jakob Pelletier or Matthew Phillips) could come in and make more of an impact, right?
Not so fast, says Sutter. Let them dominate at the lower levels first.
Big difference between minor league and top level
“Because that’s where they develop. I think it’s really important as an organization that we do a thorough job of that,” Sutter said. “You don’t just call guys up and then not let them have success. You want them to have one or two years of success for sure. It’s a big jump.
“There’s a big difference between the American Hockey League and the NHL. Especially if you’re a first-year pro and you’re undersized. Jacob Pelletier is an awesome, awesome kid. He’s got a great mindset for the game and energy for the game. But it’s quite a bit different.”
Sutter mentioned elite players like Johnny Gaudreau might be able to overcome the 50-pound weight difference, but it’s rare for a young, undersized player to get through it.
“You’ve just got to mature and develop. That’s, for sure, what Pelletier will do,” Sutter said.
He also pointed to the Juuso Valimaki development as a case where he was given too much too soon at the NHL level. There’s a real risk of losing confidence and not having that feeling of success at the pro level before making the jump. Sutter mentioned Dillon Dube as another who was maybe given full-time status too quickly.
Mangiapane’s success for Flames perfect example of winning formula
Andrew Mangiapane, meanwhile, is another example of getting the right amount of AHL experience before translating that impact into the top league.
“The success he’s had and the success he’s having, it was because of maturity and experience,” Sutter said of Mangiapane.
Mangiapane agreed the AHL experience was a huge reason he’s having success now as one of the Calgary Flames’ top scorers.
“It was good. I think when you’re down there, you’re just itching to get back up and play in the NHL. That’s probably every person’s goal down in the AHL right now, to play good there and get the opportunity to be recalled and play in the NHL.
“But just from my experience, it was good for me down there. It was good for me just growing as a person, learning how to play pro hockey. That’s learning how to live on your own – I was coming from billet parents, they were cooking my meals and everything.
“You’ve just got to put your work in there and keep working hard. When the opportunity comes, you’ve got to make the most of it.”