In case you’re wondering how Calgary Flames head coach Darryl really feels about prospect Jakob Pelletier, he seemed to sum it up on Wednesday.
By now you might have watched the interview. One of those rare ones with the intense bench boss in which he waxes poetic, without a hint of sarcasm.
He confirmed what most have suggested despite a very small NHL sample size. The kid has a bright future ahead.
A few days removed from a post-game segment that was borderline performance art when talking — or rather not talking — about Pelletier’s NHL debut, Sutter backtracked a little on Monday, but has expanded greatly on Wednesday on what the 21-year-old’s potential might be.
As far as Sutter conversations go, this was practically gushing.
“I know Pelletier’s here as a 21-year-old and it’s a tough thing, but the kid’s got lots of things. He’s got the pace, he’s got the IQ, he’s got good puck play, things like that,” Sutter said during what could almost be considered a state of the union around the franchise’s prospects.
“He’ll go to another level, that kid.”
For many, the tendency might be to interpret another level as the potential for more talented linemates. Certainly an increase ice time as he plays more games. But for now, expect Huey to stick with Duey and Lewy on the fourth line. (And, yes, I’m pitching Huey as Pelletier’s nickname for no other reason than to name the trio with Trevor Lewis and Walker Duehr the Ducky line — or Huey, Lewy and Duey).
Sutter like the kid combo flanking a veteran he trusts implicitly.
But he’s been impressed by the approximately 14 minutes of action from Pelletier so far. He’s got speed, hockey sense and never seems to be out of position. He plays on the right side of the puck and is noticeable for the right reasons on nearly every shift.
Pelletier’s underlying numbers in the tiny sample size are extremely strong.
“Not just scoring chances,” Sutter said of a kid who may have started off showing nerves but rebounded nicely.
As a young player himself back when he first started in the NHL, Sutter only really remembers the energy and excitement.
“First three shifts? I don’t remember my first three shifts … I’m not sure what I was doing,” he said. “You’re just high energy and away you go. But then after that, you settle in and play your game.
“Sometimes, it’s easier for players that have that (intelligence) about the game, sometimes it’s easier to play at this level than the American League level because there’s more structure, and you’re a smart guy and you figure it out. That tells you where he’s at. That’s the next part of it. And that’s a position that we have to get better at — the left side.
With a long break just around the corner, it’s likely Pelletier gets sent back to the Wranglers ahead of their back-to-back home games on Feb. 2 and 3. The Flames are off for nine days after Friday’s game against the Kraken in Seattle — the second half of a back-to-back in different time zones after the Chicago Blackhawks stop in Calgary on Thursday.
After the all-star weekend, the Flames are on the road for four games in the Eastern Conference starting on Feb. 6. With Brett Ritchie getting healthy, there likely isn’t room for both Pelletier and Duehr barring a surprise swap that sees a veteran sent down instead.
But that’s next week’s problem. First, everyone — including Sutter — is eager to see what the kid does next.