In seemingly meaningless games for the Flames, there was a lot of meaning for four players in particular. Matthew Phillips and Adam Ruzicka got their first shots in the NHL, while Connor Mackey and Glenn Gawdin got chances to return to the lineup after getting some NHL opportunities earlier in the season. All four were full-time Stockton Heat standouts in this shortened season and deserved every minute of playing time they received at the NHL level (if not more).
Despite a final record of 11-17-2 with the Heat, these players still did what they could on an individual level to impact their team play. Ruzicka and Phillips tied for top scoring with 21 points, Gawdin finished sixth in team scoring with 13 points, and Mackey finished fourth in team scoring with 16 points despite being a defenseman.
A Year of Firsts
All four of these NHL rookies got their individual lap in warmups prior to their NHL debuts. But, that was not the only first accomplishment they experienced. Ruzicka, Mackey, and Gawdin now all have a commemorative pucks to honour their first NHL points. Glenn Gawdin had one assist in the seven games he played earning his first point on May 9 against the Ottawa Senators. He picked up the first assist on Michael Stone’s goal in the second period. At this point, the Flames were still contenders in the playoff race.
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) May 10, 2021
Adam Ruzicka played in the last three games of the season, taking home a puck of his own on May 18 in his second NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks. Ever since his debut, Ruzicka’s playing time has gone up. He went from 9:46 to 10:14 to 12:15 on ice time in the last game of the season. Not something worth looking too much into as the Flames were eliminated from playoff contention, but good to see the 22-year-old center earn more shifts.
Connor Mackey, on the other hand, has gotten himself quite familiar with one NHL team in particular: the Vancouver Canucks. In his NHL debut on February 15, he put up an assist, then went on to play the Canucks four more times in his total six games in the NHL this year. He picked up three points in his appearances with the Flames with his first NHL goal coming in the last game of the season.
🎵 Top of the world, return of the Mack 🎵 pic.twitter.com/LzreYdewEO
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) May 19, 2021
The Contract Situation
Now with fans getting a taste of some of the young talent in the organization, there will be some anticipation to see them again. All four of these guys are hoping to attend Flames training camp and show themselves worthy of a place on the opening night roster, but will they still be around to do so? At first glance, it is quite likely they will. However, in the uncertainty of the offseason, anticipated trades may come in the summer months. That idea aside, the overlaying contract situation is as follows.
Matthew Phillips will be a restricted free agent this summer after being with the Heat for three full seasons. He got his professional debut at the end of the 2016-17 season and played in two playoff games with the Heat. As highly anticipated as his NHL debut was this year among the fanbase, odds are people are going to want to keep him around.
He told the media at the end season interviews with the Heat to express his goals and hopeful future with the team. Phillips said,
“It’ll be a little bit different of an offseason now that I don’t have a contract at the moment, but I’ll put that aside and let that kinda sort itself out. But it’s been my goal since I was picked here to make the team and help the Flames win games. So that’s what I’m going to keep working towards.”
He got a taste of that goal in the last game of the season and judging by his expression, that is not a feeling he wants to get rid of anytime soon.
Making his NHL debut in his hometown 🔥
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) May 19, 2021
Glenn Gawdin and Connor Mackey are also unrestricted free agents going into this summer. Mackey will also have arbitration eligibility. Adam Ruzicka, on the other hand, is the only player out of these four that will be immune to the contract negotiation talks that happen in the offseason. Ruzicka is signed for another year and his work in the offseason will help determine whether or not it is time for his NHL jump on a more regular basis.
With the inevitability of the Seattle expansion draft in the near future, some concern can be shown towards losing some of these guys. But, in retrospect, there are going to be some Flames regulars exposed in this draft that would likely be primary targets. Most of these guys do not make the requirements, either, as they are first- or second-year pros.
Wherever the chips fall in this offseason, these players have the potential to be the talent of the future on the Flames roster. They have shown their skills on a professional level and hopefully, they have a full season next year to show how they can further contribute to this organization — whether it be for the Calgary Flames or the Stockton Heat.