The Heat Beat #1 — Feb. 25, 2021

Stockton finally got its first win on Wednesday, fuelled by key contributions from some important young players.

Who knew winning could be so much fun?

After losing its two first games in blowout fashion, the Stockton Heat rebounded Wednesday with an encouraging 4-2 victory over the Toronto Marlies.

What changed? For one, Cail MacLean’s club finally got some saves. Flames 2019 seventh-rounder Dustin Wolf put forth an astonishing performance after surrendering a goal on the Marlies’ first “shot” of the game.

Had it not gone in the net, Joseph Duszak’s opening tally on Wednesday would have barely registered in any sort of expected goals model. It likely would have slid straight through Wolf’s crease had it not deflected off Rob Hamilton’s skate.

Wolf’s .857 save percentage with the Heat looks underwhelming at first glance but it hardly tells the whole story. Of the Marlies’ seven goals against Wolf, only three have come off clean shots. Over half the goals Wolf has allowed have been deflected in some way en route to his cage.

Sunday’s disastrous outing saw Wolf allow five goals on 11 shots before being pulled in favour of backup Garret Sparks. Wolf wasn’t that bad, per se, but he likely wants a re-do on a couple of those Marlies scores. Tyler Gaudet’s goal from Sunday afternoon likely gets stopped by Wolf on Wednesday.

Wolf surrendered a goal on the first shot he faced in the AHL and the same happened on Wednesday. The first game ended 7-1 for Toronto; this one, 4-2 for the home side. The differences, from Wolf’s perspective? A), better luck; B), improved resilience; and C), more touches early in the contest.

“I think I got a couple extra bounces tonight, unlike a couple nights ago,” said Wolf after the 4-2 win. “You know what, I was able to feel some pucks and just get into the game.

“I wouldn’t normally be here in a normal year,” Wolf added, referring to the Western Hockey League’s delayed start due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’ve taken everything and come to work every day, as they say. Just trying to take everything I can from [Artyom Zagidulin] and from [Sparks] here, now, and just take some information to be able to go back to Everett and have a successful shortened season. The reps here have been tremendous.”

Wolf, unfortunately, is not long for the AHL—at least, not this year. The Everett Silvertips will be resuming play in March and, as a 19-year-old, Wolf will be obligated to return to his WHL club for one final go-round.

The 6’-even goaltender was named the first star of Wednesday’s contest after stopping 36 of 38 shots, often in spectacular fashion. His lateral movement is as good as that of any goaltender I’ve ever seen. Wolf has posted .928, .936, and .935 save percentages in his three WHL seasons and was named the Canadian Hockey League’s goaltender of the year for 2019-20.

By 2021-22, when Wolf is eligible to become a full-time AHLer, it’s likely the Heat will have left Calgary and returned to Stockton. (It’s also possible that they’ll have relocated elsewhere by then—just look at their franchise history—but who knows). Wolf could do battle with Zagidulin and a healthy Tyler Parsons for the starting gig on the Flames’ affiliate next year.

Until then, the Heat should enjoy their teeny tender while he’s around. He can already do some incredible things in a league where he’s technically not supposed to be—just wait until he graduates from the ‘Dub.

Ranking Heat players based on their likelihood of being recalled

Poor Glenn Gawdin must feel so alone up in the NHL without any of his Stockton pals playing alongside him! Maybe the Flames should change that

The Calgary Flames are in something of a perilous state. They lost in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, stealing a point in a game where they probably deserved to lose outright. Thank David Rittich for that one.

What will fix this ailing team? Derek Ryan remains on injured reserve and the rest of the bottom-six is largely in shambles. Josh Leivo, Dominik Simon, Joakim Nordstrom, Buddy Robinson, Brett Ritchie, and Glenn Gawdin have all combined to score zero goals this season. Clearly, something has to change.

The Heat might be able to offer some solutions, whether the Flames might be looking for help up front or on the back-end. Let’s take a look at who could be next in line to follow Gawdin from the AHL team to the big club.

Not ranked: C Mark Simpson, LW Alex Gallant, RW Giorgio Estephan, C Rory Kerins, LW Colton Beck, D Greg Moro, D Noah King, D Zac Leslie, D Rob Hamilton, D Koletrane Wilson, G Hayden Lavigne, G Max Paddock, G Adam Evanoff

These players all lack NHL contracts and, as a result, are ineligible to be recalled.

17. D Colton Poolman

The 25-year-old left-shot defenseman is just three games into his professional career and is stuck behind a lot of players on the Flames’ organizational depth chart. Poolman likely needs to build a large sample of good AHL showings before he’s promoted to the big club.

16. LW/C Justin Kirkland

Kirkland is a big guy who can take faceoffs and kill penalties. He’s not the fastest skater and he shoots left, neither of which are exactly rare qualities among forwards in the Flames’ system. Kirkland is 24 and likely projects as a career AHLer unless he can add some scoring to his game.

15. D Carl-Johan Lerby

Like Poolman, Lerby is stuck behind the Flames’ large contingent of left-handed defensemen. But the 23-year-old Swede does have plenty of professional experience, dating back to his SHL debut with Malmö in the 2015-16 season.

14. RW Dmitry Zavgorodniy

“Little Z” is fresh out of junior and probably needs to marinate in the AHL before he’s ready for NHL duty. The production hasn’t come yet for him with Stockton but the same can be said for plenty of his teammates. Zavgorodniy has a ton of talent and is very shifty but he almost certainly won’t be the first Heat RW to be recalled.

13. C/LW Martin Pospisil

As an agitator, Pospisil might give Matthew Tkachuk a run for his money. He has returned to the Heat after his first AHL campaign was shortened by an injury he suffered in a fight against the late Colby Cave. Pospisil is still working on finding a groove in his role as the Heat’s third-line centre; with all the time he missed last season, the Flames’ management will likely want to give him as much AHL game action as possible this year.

12. G Dustin Wolf

Anything could happen, right? With Jacob Markstrom on the shelf, the Flames only have David Rittich and Artyom Zagidulin available to them right now. But Wolf is just about to head back to the WHL and, despite his stellar performance on Wednesday, he’s still just 19 years old. Very few goaltenders play NHL games at that age.

11. LW/C Connor Zary

Zary has gotten better in each of his three AHL games but he, like Wolf, is destined to return to junior hockey next month. Unless the Flames get hit by an unforeseen rash of injuries, Zary probably stays with Stockton until Kamloops comes calling once again.

10. RW Eetu Tuulola

Now it gets interesting. Tuulola is a big and pugnacious right-shot winger with a full AHL season under his belt. Like Lerby, Tuulola made his professional debut way back in 2015-16, playing 10 games with HPK Hameenlinna of the Finnish Liiga before joining Carter Hart’s Silvertips in 2016-17. The Heat sometimes deploy Tuulola on the penalty kill and he can score a bit, too. Now 22, Tuulola tallied 10 goals and 23 points in 50 AHL games last year.

9. LW Emilio Pettersen

The 5’10” Norwegian has been a joy to watch in his AHL rookie season. He’s very gifted offensively and has great vision. Pettersen only has three total shots in his first three professional games—opting more frequently to distribute the puck—and he could improve his shift-to-shift consistency. But the talent is clearly there and Pettersen might be able to fill a short-term vacancy in the Flames’ lineup this year.

8. G Garret Sparks

Sparks technically doesn’t have an NHL contract but he might get one after Wolf returns to the Silvertips. He has 38 games of NHL experience and won the Calder Cup with the Marlies in 2018. Goaltenders are always in demand at the NHL level, particularly when injuries arise. Sparks’ track record is a little spotty—he only posted a .908 save percentage with the Chicago Wolves last year—but he’s 27 and has won in the past.

7. D Alexander Yelesin

The right-handed Russian plays a simple, defense-first style. He’s a fixture on Stockton’s penalty-killing unit and, at 25, is a seasoned professional. Before joining the Heat last year, Yelesin played three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. He earned his first Flames call-up last year, drawing into four games.

6. C Luke Philp

This might be a little low for Philp, who leads all Heat skaters with 20 goals since the beginning of the 2019-20 season. The 25-year-old rightie has a great shot and has a knack for finding the right spots on the ice, much like fellow U of A alumnus Derek Ryan. Philp has spent much of the season on the team’s second line with Zavgorodniy and either Kirkland or Zary. He kills penalties and operates on the power play.

5. D Alex Petrovic

Stockton’s captain has more NHL experience than anybody else on the roster, with 263 games under his belt for the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers. To this point, Petrovic has been a jack-of-all-trades for the Heat, seeing heavy usage on both special teams and at even strength. The Flames already have a Petrovic-type on the taxi squad in Michael Stone but, if the need arises for another experienced rightie on the big club, Petrovic could easily get a call.

4. C Adam Ruzicka

Ruzicka had a good age-20 season with the Heat, recording 27 points in 54 games, and looks to be taking another step this year. With Gawdin in the NHL, Ruzicka has been thrust into a role as Stockton’s de facto number-one centre and is already developing noticeable chemistry with the person occupying the next entry on this list. Ruzicka might have the best shot on the team and he has the physical tools (6’4”, 202 lbs.) to be a dominant presence in an NHL top-nine at some point.

3. RW Matthew Phillips

To be honest, the Phillips-Ruzicka connection has sometimes looked a little bit like that of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Phillips is extremely fast and has incredible vision. He connects on passes that nobody else on the team can make. Phillips recorded 30 points in 28 games last year before a fractured patella derailed his season; the 5’7” winger finally got on the board this year with two assists (both setting up Ruzicka goals) on Wednesday.

2. D Connor Mackey

Mackey already has three NHL games under his belt this year and is undoubtedly first in line to step into the Flames’ defensive top-six in case of an injury. The 24-year-old two-way blueliner was very highly coveted as a college free agent this past off-season and reportedly commanded interest from 28 NHL teams. He’s been deployed on Stockton’s top pairing in each of its first three games this year.

1. G Louis Domingue

Domingue is currently in quarantine after attending a close friend’s funeral in Quebec. With Calgary’s goaltending situation complicated by Jacob Markstrom’s injury, the Flames would probably like to recall Domingue right now. As it stands, Rittich and Zagidulin remain the team’s two NHL goaltenders at the present moment with Domingue out of commission. It’s likely he’ll be back in the NHL—either on the taxi squad or the main roster—as soon as he’s able to return.

Stockton’s finest goal and save of the week

Adam Ruzicka had a 33% chance of winning the “best goal” award… could he pull through????

With only six goals to choose from, this week’s top Heat goal had very little competition for the inaugural award.

Still, it might have eked out the victory even if it was up against two dozen other goals. The Heat Beat’s first-ever “goal of the week” came off the stick of Adam Ruzicka, but it really stood out due to Matthew Phillips’ incredible setup effort.

Remember what I said about Phillips’ vision? That’s what I meant.

Dustin Wolf absolutely made Stockton’s best save this week. The only question remains: which one? Is it this cross-crease denial against Rich Clune?

How about this kick save on a pinball shot by Kenny Agostino?

Or, finally, how about Wolf’s lateral larceny to rob Duszak of his second goal in Wednesday’s game?

Do I have to choose one? No. No, I don’t. It’s my newsletter.

You can pick, though—make your selection here and I’ll announce the winner next week.

Coming up…

The Heat will finish up their four-game series against the Marlies on Friday before heading out on the road for the first time this year.

Just in time for the second edition of this newsletter to come out next Thursday, the Heat will do battle against the Belleville Senators on Mar. 3. They’ll follow that up with another back-to-back against the Marlies, this time in Toronto, on Mar. 5 and 6. (Update: I have made the decision to release this newsletter on a bi-weekly basis instead of every week. The next edition will be released on Mar. 11).

All games will be broadcast on AHL TV and will be live-tweeted at @miketgould. Continue to follow there and at @theheatbeat for all the latest Stockton Heat updates.

If you liked this newsletter, be sure to subscribe and click the button below. Let me know if there’s anything specific you want me to cover in future editions of, er, whatever this is.

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