Way back in the halcyon days of early March 2020, the Flames’ defensive depth chart looked to be in a tough spot. General manager Brad Treliving had just acquired Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson, the two of whom joined three other Flames defenders as pending unrestricted free agents (none of whom ended up re-signing with the team, as of Nov. 9). Top prospect Juuso Valimaki was still rehabbing his ACL injury from the summer of 2019 but, even if he were to be eventually cleared for game action, playing would result in the loss of his exempt status for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

Most troublingly, the team had opted against selecting a defenseman in 20 consecutive NHL Entry Draft rounds, dating back to when they picked Valimaki 16th overall in 2017, resulting in a severely depleted and shallow crop of reinforcements. Alexander Yelesin is a solid AHL defenseman at this point, but he probably shouldn’t be an NHL team’s second-best defense prospect.

Fittingly, Brad Treliving made shoring up the defense a big priority of his 2020 off-season. The Flames have added seven quality blue-line prospects since March, each one providing different and tangible reasons for optimism. Right-handed Johannes Kinnvall is one of the most exciting players out of this crop of seven but, for many reasons, he might have flown the furthest under the radar. Still, he’s 14th on our list this year — and he could be a lot higher very, very soon.

How did we get here? 

The 6′, 185-pound Kinnvall emerged as one of the top defensemen in the top-tier Swedish Hockey League in 2019–20, leading HV71 with 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points in 51 games. He finished second in the entire league for defensive scoring and eighth overall. At just 22 years of age, Kinnvall was the youngest top 10 scorer in the SHL.

Kinnvall has been a bit of a late bloomer. He went undrafted as a teenager and went scoreless in his first 18 games in the SHL with Brynäs in the 2016–17 season. He spent the entire 2017–18 season in Sweden’s second-tier league, HockeyAllsvenskan, with Timrå, recording just three goals and 12 points in 49 games. The next season, the switch flipped for Kinnvall, as he made his way back to the SHL with Timrå and managed to nearly double his production against top-level competition. His 12 goals and 22 points in 52 games were good for twice what the next-highest scoring defenseman on Timrå, Hampus Larsson, could muster.

After nearly doubling his production again in 2019–20, Kinnvall attracted serious interest from multiple NHL teams. In the end, Kinnvall chose Calgary, the team that had previously invited him to their development camp in the summer of 2019. Kinnvall, Elias Lindholm, and Jacob Markstrom all hail from Gävle, Sweden.

Stats, numbers, and everything therein 

As mentioned, Kinnvall tore up the SHL offensively in 2019–20, and he now appears to be picking up right where he left off. Through his first eight games, Kinnvall has four goals and seven assists for 11 points, good enough to lead all SHL defenders.

Even more impressive: Kinnvall sits atop the leaderboard despite having missed HV71’s first five games of the season with an injury. Kinnvall’s 1.38 points-per-game rate ranks fifth in the entire SHL, just three spots behind former Flame Marek Hrivik. No other defenseman rates above 1.00 P/GP, and the two defenders ranked immediately below Kinnvall (both at exactly 1.00 P/GP) are 28-year-old Nolan Zajac and 29-year-old Eric Gelinas. Kinnvall just turned 23 on July 28.

Kinnvall wears Robyn Regehr’s old #28 for HV71, but he’ll probably have to switch if and when he makes his Flames debut: Elias Lindholm currently owns that number. Kinnvall wore the unwieldy #95 when he attended the Flames’ 2019 development camp.

Those in the know 

Dobber Prospects European scout Alexa Potack spoke very highly about Kinnvall’s offensive upside but also cautioned that his defensive game is still a work in progress.

He’s an offensive force. Since he came back from an injury that sidelined him for the first few matches of the season, he’s averaged more than a point per game. He adds a lot of pressure in the offensive zone and is especially valuable on the powerplay. He’s a leader on the ice and definitely makes his presence known.

His weakness is his defensive game. It concerns me for his NHL upside as he has a lot to work on with rounding out his game. He has the tools to get powerplay minutes but I’m not sure what his potential as an NHLer is with the defensive ceiling it seems like he has. The Flames are definitely going to need to work with Kinnvall to grow his defensive game and build a player that will fare well against NHL-level forwards.

On the horizon

Many of the Flames’ prospects have been loaned overseas in the midst of the pandemic. With Juuso Valimaki (Tampereen Ilves), Eetu Tuulola (Västeriks IK, until recently), Glenn Gawdin (EHC Visp), Artyom Zagiudlin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk), and the Flames’ other kids loaned out to get playing time, the expectation is that, once NHL training camps are ready to go, they’ll be back in Calgary ready for the chance to prove they belong on the Flames’ roster.

That’s not the case with Kinnvall. When he signed his two-year, entry-level deal with the Flames in April, the plan was always for him to return to HV71 in 2020–21 to develop for one final season in Sweden before making his way over to North America. The Flames embarked on a similar path with Carl-Johan Lerby when they signed him to a two year ELC in May 2019, controlling only his rights for the first year of his deal while he refined his chops in Malmö before committing to bringing him over for 2020–21. For Kinnvall, that means we won’t see him in Calgary or Stockton until whenever the 2021–22 season begins.

When Kinnvall arrives, it’s very possible he’ll push for an NHL job immediately. His right-handedness and offensive acumen could make him an attractive option to quarterback a power play unit straight away. Remember, Kinnvall isn’t 18 or 19 — he’ll be 24 when he makes the jump overseas. By that time, he could very well be ready — and the Flames will be eagerly waiting with hope that he can make an immediate impact.

FlamesNation Top 20 Prospects 2020

The no-votes Missed the cut
#20: Tyler Parsons #19: Alexander Yelesin
#18: Ryan Francis #17: Martin Pospisil
#16: Luke Philp #15: Eetu Tuulola