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Future Flames get feet wet at development camp


Calgary Flames 2024 first-rounder Matvei Gridin said Thursday he isn’t sure where he’ll be playing next season.

The 28th overall pick is committed to the University of Michigan, but was recently selected first overall in the Canadian Hockey League import draft by Val d’Or of the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League.

“I know as much as you guys know,” he said at the team’s prospect development camp, adding that his agent would help him figure out that decision.

The centre had 83 points last season with Muskegon of the USHL. He said he models his game after fellow Russians.

"Pavel Datsyuk, when he played," he said. "Right now, my favourite players are probably [Evgeni] Kuznetsov and [Nikita] Kucherov."

Gridin, ninth-overall pick Zayne Parekh, and dozens of other Flames prospects are on the ice from July 4-6 in front of general manager Craig Conroy, head coach Ryan Huska, and the team’s development staff.

“It’s been a whirlwind for the past two months,” said Parekh, who won the Memorial Cup with the Saginaw Spirit. “It feels good to finally let things settle down…I’m the glad that the whole draft process is finally over.”

Parekh is the first defenceman drafted by the Flames in the top 10 since Dion Phaneuf back in 2003. He led all Ontario Hockey League blueliners with 96 points last season.

Calgary has favoured forwards with their high picks over the past 15 years, including Matthew Tkachuk (sixth overall, 2016), Sam Bennett (fourth overall, 2014), and Sean Monahan (sixth overall, 2013).

Parekh views himself as an offensive defenceman who can quarterback a power play, deceive opponents with his skating, and jump in the rush. 

“Obviously Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes,” he said, of who he models his game after. “I know you guys probably might not like [former Flames draft pick Adam Fox, who refused to sign with the organization], but he thinks the game at a super high level…with Quinn and Cale, [they are] deception kings. They think the game at a high level.” 

Parekh isn’t the only offensive defenceman in Calgary’s prospect ranks. 

Hunter Brzustewicz was acquired by Calgary from Vancouver for Elias Lindholm on Feb. 1. His 92 points last season with the Kitchener Rangers were second among OHL defencemen, trailing only Parekh.

Brzustewicz,19, views himself as much more than just an offensive blueliner.

“Most of us can play multiple roles,” he said, of offensive defencemen. “Even myself, I can play anywhere you want me to. It’s cool to see a lot of offensive guys in this organization.”

Brzustewicz also pointed to Fox, John Klingberg, and Flames blueliner Rasmus Andersson as players he tries to emulate. 

Flames fans may cringe at hearing Fox’s name from their top two blueline prospects given the way he forced his way out of Calgary after being drafted in the third round in 2016, but Brzustewicz said that Calgary’s pursuit of him in a big trade matters to him.

“I think the want level,” he said, of what makes him want to play in Calgary. “They wanted me. It feels good to be traded for, and they came to me right away and wanted me to sign with them.”
It’s easy to envision a Flames power play down the line with Parekh and Brzustewicz quarterbacking the two units, and they’ve thought about the possibility. 

“I would be lying if I said no,” Brzustewicz said. “It’s exciting to think about some of these guys I could be teammates with in the future.”

Matt Coronato, taken 13th overall in 2021, played 34 games with the Flames last season. He’s trying to take on more of a leadership role now that he’s one of the oldest players at camp.

“It’s good for me to share some knowledge and help out where I can,” he said. “This is my third one…I remember my first one. I think the young guys are probably a little nervous and you don’t know much of the staff, so it’s good to help introduce them to who everyone is…it’s good to help out like that.”

Coronato earned praise from Calgary veterans last season for how much he improved after stints in the AHL. He’s now focused on his skating stride, with the hope of making the rebuilding Flames roster out of training camp.

“It’s definitely one of the areas I can improve in,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to Danielle [Fujita, the Flames skating coach]. I feel like I’ve taken some strides and can continue to do so over the course of the summer.”