“You need young players on the team. You need that excitement, you need what they bring, day-in and day-out.”
Those were Calgary Flames general manager Craig Conroy’s words, back on the day he was promoted to his current role.
This week, they’ve proven to be prescient.
The Flames called up Connor Zary before Wednesday’s game against the Dallas Stars. He scored in his NHL debut and then added an assist on Saturday night in a 6-3 win against the Seattle Kraken.
The team also called up Martin Pospisil, who had been thriving with the Calgary Wranglers in the AHL. He made his debut against the Kraken and he, too, scored in his debut.
Defenceman Nick DeSimone, who is a bit older and played four games for the Flames last year, was also given his shot and fit in well. He picked up his first point with an assist.
If anyone was looking for proof that getting younger doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as getting worse, well, the past couple days would seem to offer it for the Flames.
And that youthful excitement Conroy talked about in the spring? It’s of contagious, isn’t it?
“I’m living the dream right now,” Pospisil told reporters in Seattle after Saturday’s game. “It’s something I’ll never forget, the first one. … It was great – especially when the team wins.”
It’s not as if the AHL call-ups were the only players who made an impact for the Flames on Saturday night.
Mikael Backlund scored twice. Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin both had goals. So did Yegor Sharangovich.
In net, Dan Vladar had to absolutely stand on his head to keep the Flames ahead before they sealed the deal with two empty-netters in the final minute.
But the young guys made an impact. A real one.
Playing in your first NHL game is a big deal. It’s a dream come true for Zary and Pospisil, and the fact that they don’t look out of their depths and are contributing on the scoresheet is hugely encouraging for a Flames team that has struggled to score in a lot of games this season.
Chances are, there are going to be a few more guys in their early 20s joining them soon enough.
Matthew Coronato was sent down to the Wranglers to get a little more ice time last last week, but all indications are that the Flames are expecting to bring him back soon enough. He scored the game-winner in his first game in the AHL, which should do wonders for his confidence.
And while it isn’t imminent, Jakob Pelletier should be back from the shoulder injury that cut his training camp short in the next couple of months.
Coronato is 20 years old. Pelletier is 22.
Are they necessarily the players who are going to lead the Flames out of their early-season funk and to the promised land of the playoffs? So far, they definitely don’t look like they’re hurting the cause.
Zary seems to be bringing the best out of Nazem Kadri and Sharangovich, while Pospisil provided speed and energy on Saturday night as the Flames tried to cope with the ejection of Andrew Mangiapane, who was kicked out of the game for cross-checking Jared McCann in the back.
The Flames have big decisions to make about their future, especially when it comes to Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. It’s been reported that there isn’t much appetite for a rebuild around the Saddledome.
But if they do decide to trade away a few veterans and acquire younger players in return, maybe that doesn’t need to be as painful as some assume it will be.