With eight defencemen signed to one-way deals for the upcoming season, there doesn’t appear to be room for Matt Pelech.
But the big blueliner drafted in the first round in 2005 is one of three Calgary Flames prospects most ready to make the jump, according to Abbotsford Heat head coach Jim Playfair.
“From this year: Matt Pelech, Mikael Backlund and Brett Sutter,” lists Playfair. “Those are three young drafted players that have put themselves in a position where they should be able to challenge for a job.”
Pelech must be secretly hoping Flames GM Darryl Sutter moves a couple of his rearguards for extra picks or forwards at this weekend’s draft to lessen the logjam on the back end.
Playing well for half a season before a frightening health issue forced him to the sidelines in January, the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder returned from a blood clot in his arm in time for the AHL playoffs a few months later.
“He came back and played hard for us, and he played well,” said Playfair. “Just prior to him getting hurt, he really found a consistent game. He’s a big strong player that can put the fear of God in people.
“He’s done a good job on working on his quickness and first pass and making sure he’s always a hard player to play against.”
Sutter and Backlund both spent time in Calgary late last season.
Scoring a goal and adding nine assists in 23 games, the Swedish Backlund was inconsistent, but showed glimpses of greatness in his first pro season while still adjusting to life in North America.
“I think from the organization’s standpoint of development and growth, he had an incredible year of hockey,” said Playfair. “He went through so many experiences this year that will make him a better player.”
Sutter played 10 games with the Flames and was a key contributor for the Heat in a lengthy playoff run.
“He came back (from the NHL) with a new mindset,” Playfair said.
“He recognized the speed of the game up there. He was able to really ramp up his game because he has the confidence and experience of playing in the NHL.”