With big trades already taking place and others sure to come, the present is a work in progress. The long-term future of the Calgary Flames is, too, but it’s a lot less stressful. Development camp is one of the most enjoyable opportunities to watch the next generation of Flames hit the ice.
For some, it’s their first time in Flames silks. For others, it’s a chance to show Flames management some growth.
The prospects will be split, with on-ice sessions starting at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on Thursday and Friday. Saturday features a skills session for the full group at 10 a.m., followed by a three-on-three scrimmage.
A total of 38 players are joining the annual summer spin at WinSport, with Calgary Flames fans welcome to take in the skill sessions and scrimmages. They may not recognize every name, but there are enough of those who should be impact players in the AHL and/or knocking on the door for some NHL time in this group.
One of them is Matt Coronato, the 20-year-old first-rounder from 2021 who made his NHL debut in the last game of the Flames’ regular season after wrapping up his college career and signing and entry-level deal with Calgary. He’s already being penciled in with the NHL squad for this season thanks to new GM Craig Conroy’s pledge to allow more opportunity for young players. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, but as of right now, the Flames don’t have salary cap space to bring in much outside competition.
Top defensive prospect, Jeremie Poirier, will be there, too, but he won’t participate in the on-ice sessions.
Notables missing out this summer are third-round pick Aydar Suniev (immigration) – who was selected using the pick acquired from the Tyler Toffoli trade with the New Jersey Devils – as well as fellow 2023 picks Yedor Yedorov and Axel Hurtig.
Who else might you want to pay attention to? Here are a few to watch as things get going on Thursday.
Samuel Honzek, LW (Trencin, Slovakia)
Age: 18; Acquired: 2023 NHL Draft, 16th overall
At 6-foot-4, Honzek shouldn’t be hard to spot. The first-round pick in last month’s draft will be closely watched both internally and externally. He has lots to learn after spending just one season in North America so far, but it was a hugely successful one as he led the WHL’s Vancouver Giants in scoring. There’s talk he could be their next captain, too, which indicates the kind of character the Calgary Flames got in their top pick of a deep draft.
Honzek scored 23 times and put up 56 points in 43 games with the Giants. His season was interrupted by a serious cut to the leg from a skate blade during the world juniors, and the team believes he has great potential.
So does Honzek, who offered up a young Leon Draisaitl comparison to his game when asked at the draft.
Adam Klapka, RW (Prague, Czech Republic)
Age: 22; Acquired: Signed as a free agent on May 16, 2022
If Honzek is a big guy, Klapka is a monster. At 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, the right-shot winger was one of the most impressive prospects at the rookie tournament in Penticton last year, overshadowing the much-hyped Jakob Pelletier, and translated that into a decent first year in the AHL with the Calgary Wranglers.
Klapka scored 13 times and had 25 points in 60 regular-season games this season. More impressively, he sniped four goals in just nine games in the playoffs – including the series-winner against the Abbotsford Canucks that moved the Wranglers into the Pacific Division final.
He skates very well and has a great touch with the puck. Those are things you don’t always find with players of such stature. With a good showing at this camp and more progress in the fall, Klapka could earn himself some looks at the NHL level this year.
Lucas Ciona, LW (Edmonton)
Age: 20; Acquired: 2021 NHL Draft, sixth round, 173rd overall
Ciona is one of those diamond-in-the-rough prospects who should at least carve out a very good AHL career if not fight for some time in the NHL. He has size, skill and leadership character, and helped captain the WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds into the Memorial Cup final against the Quebec Remparts. The Remparts ultimately won, but the 6-foot-3, 200-plus-pound Ciona gained valuable experience as he sets his sights on turning pro.
He’s still eligible to return to the junior ranks, but there are expected to be some holes with the Wranglers thanks to some others graduating to the Calgary Flames this year. Ciona took a giant leap forward with his first point-per-game season, netting 28 goals and 75 points in 63 regular-season games with the Thunderbirds. His upward trajectory is extremely promising.