In drafting and player development, things tend to come in waves. Draft classes tend to cluster in specific leagues due to developmental cycles, which in turn leads to several players from the same league hitting the pros at the same time. The Calgary Flames have rode a few specific developmental and acquisition waves over the past few seasons, but they have a potential invasion of Swedes looming in 2020-21.
The 2018-19 season saw a pretty significant wave of Western Hockey League graduates going pro. Dillon Dube, Juuso Valimaki, Glenn Gawdin, Matthew Phillips and Nick Schneider all jumped into the pro ranks. Dube and Valimaki made it directly to the NHL initially before spending the second half of their seasons with the Stockton Heat. Gawdin and Phillips were in the AHL all season, while Schneider bounced between the AHL and ECHL.
This coming season, a pair of Russians are joining the Flames organization in goalie Artyom Zagidulin and defender Alexander Yelesin. They’ll both likely begin the season in Stockton – alongside Russian defender Rinav Valiev – but Yelesin may have a path to the NHL due to the club’s lack of right shot depth.
The Swedish invasion
The WHL wave was a product of the Flames intensely scouting the circuit. The Russian influx was due to some KHL contracts coming up at the same time and the Flames utilizing Hakan Loob and Derek MacKinnon to get a scouting foothold in the region.
But because of drafting, some signings and some timing, potentially four Swedes could make the jump to North America all at once:
- Carl-Johan Lerby will be in the second season of his entry-level deal – he’s going to spend 2019-20 with Malmo of the SHL. He’s under contract and definitely coming over.
- 2016 pick Linus Lindstrom, whose rights will lapse unless the Flames sign him by June 1, 2020. He’s played three full seasons in the SHL and his contract with Skelleftea AIK will expire after 2019-20.
- 2017 pick Filip Sveningsson, who led the secondary HockeyAllsvenskan league in under-20 scoring in 2018-19 as he helped his team get promoted to the SHL. Like Lindstrom, his SHL deal expires after 2019-20.
- The least likely player to come over due to his age and relative inexperience, 2019 pick Lucas Feuk is entering the last year of his current contract with Sodertalje SK. He’s pushing for a full-time SHL gig this season, so the potential exists that his contract gets extended.
The Flames have a great reputation with Swedish players, likely a product of Loob’s prominence in the organization and the success that Swedes like Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm and Rasmus Andersson have had in recent years.
The WHL and Russia have sent the Flames a slew of players in recent seasons, but expect an influx of fresh-faced Swedes to arrive in 2020-21.