Hitmen have high hopes for Flames draft pick Axel Hurtig

‘He’s going to be a huge addition for our team,’ said new Hitmen head coach Paul McFarland

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Calgary Flames defence prospect Axel Hurtig is going to have plenty of opportunity to put on a show for the big-league brass at the Saddledome.

Paul McFarland promised as much on his first day as head coach for the WHL’s Hitmen.

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The hulking Hurtig, selected by the Flames in the seventh round of the 2023 NHL Draft, has committed to skate for the Hitmen this coming season. The Swedish blue-liner hopes to be calling Calgary home for a long time, eventually graduating to the AHL’s Wranglers and ultimately earning a job at the top level.

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“From everything I’ve seen, he’s a great stay-at-home, shutdown defenceman,” said McFarland, introduced Thursday as the new bench boss for the Hitmen. “Him coming into our league at 19, it’s really exciting. Obviously, it’s going to give him a chance to play over here and play right in front of all the people he’s trying to impress on a daily basis, which is a really unique situation. I’m looking forward to getting him over here, and I’m expecting him to come in and play a huge role for us. He’s probably someone that we’ll look to even give an opportunity to play with Carter (Yakemchuk) and hopefully build some chemistry there.

“He’s going to be a huge addition for our team.”

Hitmen general manager Garry Davidson revealed Thursday that Hurtig will arrive in Calgary in the next few weeks, presumably for summer training sessions with the Flames’ strength and conditioning coaches.

While he’s not going to rack up big offensive numbers, not like the highly-touted Yakemchuk, Hurtig has intriguing potential as a guy who takes tremendous pride in doing the dirty work in his own zone.

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The young left-hander is an imposing presence at 6-foot-4 and 202 lb. He spent most of the 2023-24 season with the Rogle J20 program, notching three goals and 11 points in 27 games, and also logged seven appearances in Sweden’s top professional league.

“Five-on-five and penalty-killing, I think he’s going to be very beneficial for us,” Davidson said of Hurtig, who was selected by the Hitmen in the 2023 CHL Import Draft but needed to complete his contractual commitment in Sweden before making the move. “I think he’s going to help shore up our young group. He’s played internationally at a high level, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a shot at playing at the world juniors this year for the Swedes.

“And talking to him, he understands what he is and what he needs to do to be a North American pro. I think everything is lined up nicely for him to have success with us and also to have success as he moves forward.

“Hopefully, it works out for everybody.”

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