Deep Dive: Flames’ Jakob Pelletier trending to be an NHLer sooner than later
There’s still a ways to go for Jakob Pelletier, but the Calgary Flames look to be getting great value out of the No. 26 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
At the time, the high-scoring Quebec forward was coming off an impressive season with the Moncton Wildcats in which the freshly-turned 18-year-old turned in 89 points (39 goals, 50 assist).
Fast forward to today, and Pelletier is having a wonderful start to his professional hockey career playing with the Stockton Heat, Calgary’s American Hockey League affiliate.
“I think it’s been good so far,” Pelletier said. “I had a small slump when I came back from Christmas where I didn’t like the way I played. Now I think it’s getting back together, so far, so good.”
He’s not wrong. Pelletier has become one of the Flames’ top forward prospects, and the organization has seen him raise his potential on a yearly basis since his draft.
There have been some adjustments for him, and jumping from the QMJHL to the AHL is never going to be a perfect transition for any player, but Pelletier bas been able to lean on his teammates for support.
““I think guys are bigger and stronger, so for me who is a small player, that’s the big step that I had to make,” Pelletier said. “So far I think my teammates have kind of helped me a lot, we’re playing smarter and even though I’m not the biggest guy, if you work smarter than your opponent you’re going to be good.”
Getting to know the player
Pelletier is a highly skilled offensive forward. His QMJHL career numbers are impressive, amassing 275 points (107 goals, 168 assists) in 210 games and scoring at over a point-per-game pace in all four of his major junior seasons. Pelletier’s ability to put up points was evident even before he began playing in the QMJHL. He has scored at least a point-per-game at every level of hockey he’s played at so far in his life, and despite only being 5-foot-9, Pelletier doesn’t play the game of an undersized forward.
When you watch him play, there are a number of things that immediately catch your attention. Pelletier is an elite skater, with great puck instincts who can play the game off the rush or through the cycle. But most of all, the tenacity and effort he plays with despite being a smaller player all come together to make him of the best rookies in the AHL this season.
When talking about Pelletier’s skating ability, there are a variety of different aspects that go into it. He’s not a one-dimensional skater who only has elite straight-line speed. He’s able to combine solid top-end speed with great footwork and an agile stride that allows him to change his direction at the drop of a hat while maintaining his speed.
It is this skating ability that lays the foundation for the rest of Pelletier’s game. Due to his skating ability, he can drive play in a variety of ways. He can attack with the puck, taking it to the prime scoring areas. He can close in on his opponents allowing him to rush their decision-making process and cause turnovers in the offensive zone. And it allows him to create space for himself so he can patiently survey the ice and choose the best method of attack for his team.
Tenacity on the Forecheck
Despite his size, Pelletier is one of the most aggressive players when it comes to forechecking ability on the Stockton Heat.
“I think it’s part of who I am,” he said of his tenacious mindset. “I think it’s part of Jakob Pelletier the hockey player, but also the person.”
With his skating ability and aggressive mindset, Pelletier can close in quickly allowing him to use his stick or his physicality to wreak havoc in the offensive zone. He has a knack for forcing errant passes and causing turnovers, allowing his team to recover puck possession even after the other team gains control.
On the above play, Pelletier (No. 49 White) attacks the Henderson defender by driving him into the boards, causing the blueliner to play the puck back behind the goalie. Pelletier, not satisfied that Henderson can begin their breakout process, follows the play back up the ice and uses his stick to cause a turnover at the blue line before regaining control and creating a successful zone entry for the Heat.
This play epitomizes Pelletier’s forechecking ability and aggressive mindset. A lot of times young players forget about the importance of an aggressive mindset when the other team has puck possession, but not Pelletier. He hounds the puck carriers until he can force a turnover and regain the advantage for his team.
The above is another strong example of Pelletier’s tenacity on the forecheck. He gets a shot attempt off from the top of the face-off circle and immediately heads to the high slot to open himself up for another potential shot. After he sees that his team is going to lose puck possession, Pelletier immediately heads for the corner to engage in a puck battle. Once in the corner he quickly uses his stick to regain the puck and while under pressure he sends the puck back below the goal line to set up his team’s offensive zone attack.
Out of all the traits in Pelletier’s game, his aggressiveness and forechecking ability to me are the most translatable to the NHL level. A lot of highly-skilled players can rely on their skill alone to make the NHL but struggle to adjust once they make it.
Pelletier is already showing that his game isn’t based solely on skill and that he has a fire inside him that makes him engage in all facets of the game. While some young players tend to struggle to make an impact on the game away from the puck, Pelletier has already shown that he doesn’t have that problem.
“I’m not the guy with the best hands, I’m not the guy who is the fastest, so for me always to work hard was the No. 1 aspect of my game,” Pelletier said. “Since I’ve been young, I’ve taken pride in being the hardest-working guy, I’ve never been shy to be aggressive and go into the dirty areas, and it won’t change for me for the rest of my career.”
Even if Pelletier’s production doesn’t translate to the NHL level right away, Flames fans should be confident that he will go out there every shift and do everything in his power to make sure that his team will regain control of the puck whenever he’s on the ice.
Poise with the puck
Typically, when you speak of a player with Pelletier’s ability and aggressiveness on the forecheck, you don’t immediately think of a high skill guy who excels with the puck on his stick. That’s where Pelletier is able to separate himself from a lot of other prospects because he combines the elite forechecking ability with high level of skill that will make him a dangerous offensive threat for a long time.
He has great puckhandling ability, and with his skating he can find soft spots in the defensive coverage and quickly attack that with a burst of speed that is extremely difficult to defend. It is this skill, his poise with the puck on his stick, that allows him to be a multi-dimensional offensive weapon and makes him one of the top scorers on Stockton this season.
Here we see the poise with the puck lead to a great goal for Pelletier. He gathers himself by circling back towards the blue line, looks up and sees the Colorado defender overcommitting a bit. Once he spots the lane and looks at the goalie, he knows how he wants to attack, he quickly accelerates towards to goal and protects the puck before making a move and sliding the puck five-hole for the win.
That is a beautiful display of his poise with the puck.
It’s in overtime so there is a little extra space out there, but you can see Pelletier calmly survey the ice multiple times with the puck on his stick before ultimately deciding to attack the net and try for the game-winning play.
On this goal, Pelletier shows off his patience and poise off the rush. He enters the Tucson zone with control of the puck but doesn’t immediately have an advantageous play. Rather than rushing a decision like many young players do, he holds the puck and changes his path by taking the puck to the slot, where he can use his shot and beat the goalie for a goal.
There is no panic with the puck on his stick, even when he cuts towards the middle and has a Roadrunners player bearing down on him. Instead, he just calmly picks his head up finds a shooting lane and releases the puck off his stick. It’s a sign of a great offensive mind when a player can change his lane off attack off the rush and calmly take the puck to a prime area for a great scoring opportunity.
Pelletier’s poise doesn’t just allow for him to be a scoring threat. He is able to use this ability to make him an effective playmaker as well, making it extremely difficult for his opponents to defend him. They have to worry about his scoring capabilities, and then his ability to find an open teammate in the slot on top of that.
Here, Pelletier displays great patience with the puck and excellent vision to spot his teammate in the slot for the goal. While possessing the puck and with a Tucson player bearing down on him, Pelletier calmly skates to the close corner — while looking for a passing lane — and is able to deliver a high-danger pass that his teammate easily converts for the goal.
On this assist, Pelletier combines his skating, aggressive forechecking and playmaking ability into one play. He sees the loose puck in the corner and immediately uses his quick acceleration to recover the puck before an opposing player can react, he then picks his head up and spots his teammate heading towards the net and Pelletier is able to deliver a pass over a sprawled-out defender for the assist.
With an undersized player like Pelletier, some opposing players still think they can bully these players to negate their effectiveness. What makes Pelletier a bit different is that, despite being undersized, he craves physicality. Whether it be him delivering a big hit or taking a big hit, it doesn’t matter to him.
With his aggressive, physical mindset nobody can try and bully him into submission. If the opposition does get physical with him, he will gladly give it right back.
On this play he carries the puck through the neutral zone, dumps the puck in deep and braces for a hit from the Henderson player. The Silver Knights player likely believes that the hit he delivered would take Pelletier out of the play and allow for a quick Henderson recovery/transition.
Obviously, that’s not the case. Pelletier takes the hit and bounces right back up to steal the puck from another player and put the puck in deep for his team to try and recover. It’s such a small play that seems unimportant, but for any player to battle through physicality and remain a threat in the play is a big deal.
And it’s a big part of Pelletier’s game. The flip side is Pelletier’s desire to deliver physical punishment on his opponents. He loves to be aggressive on the forecheck and if the puck is dumped into his corner, he’s going to inflict some physical damage.
Pelletier realizes that he won’t be able to steal the puck from the Barracuda player and keep possession in the offensive zone. Rather than peeling out and allowing for a smooth breakout, Pelletier delivers a big hit and negates No. 59 from skating up the ice with his teammates for the transition attack.
These are small factors, but they help make up the whole of Pelletier’s game and without this physicality and regular engagement he likely wouldn’t be as effective as he is.
Putting it all together
Each of the tools discussed above help define the player that Pelletier is, and as he’s matured from his draft season you’ve been able to see him put everything together and become a gifted all-around hockey player.
He’s progressed every year since he was drafted in 2019, improving his points/game output in each of his QMJHL seasons and producing at nearly a point-per-game pace in the AHL as a first-year pro. He is one of the top scorers from the 2019 NHL Draft class, and has already become one of the most important players in the Stockton lineup.
While Pelletier doesn’t like to compare himself to any current NHLers, there are aspects from current players game’s that he likes to pay direct attention to.
“Brayden Point,” Pelletier said. “I think he’s pretty good in all three zones, he’s pretty offensive. I think his attention to detail makes him one of the best players now in the league, I can see him and learn a lot from him, for sure.”
As he continues to mature, his development should only improve, and he has the potential to be a key cog in the Flames’ future.
This season is Pelletier’s D+3 season, and he’s adjusting to the professional game rather nicely. His production and comfort level with the AHL is at a level that should excite the Flames fans and the upper management in the organization.
When he was first drafted, he was likely a top-nine player who could carve out a role in special teams. A few years later down his development path and Pelletier has risen his ceiling to a potential top-six player who can produce regularly in a loaded Calgary lineup. His skillset should allow him to be an all-situations type player in the NHL, he has the skill the play at 5-on-5 and on the power play, and also the aggressiveness and IQ to be an effective penalty killer. The Flames have a Swiss Army Knife in their cupboard, and it won’t be long before they can use it at the NHL level.
With his AHL production, I imagine Pelletier gets a quick cup of coffee with the Flames this year if there are any injury or unforeseen issues with their roster. Until then, I would expect Pelletier to keep chugging along in the AHL and continue to get top line minutes with the Heat.
He should push for his first full-time NHL spot next training camp, especially if he continues to improve in all facets of his game. If he continues to work on his game, and stays on his current trajectory, I think he should be able to battle for a top-nine spot on Calgary’s roster next season.
“I think I can still improve my skating, my shot, my physical play and my play on the breakout,” Pelletier said. “I know one thing for sure is I’m going to still work on these things.”
This kid has the tools, and the IQ to match, so I strongly feel that once he gets his first real chance at the NHL level he’s going to take it and never look back. Pelletier is absolutely a player that Flames fans should be excited about, and a player they’ll love once he’s in their lineup.