Ryan Wilson will join the Flames at training camp on a professional tryout

Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

The Calgary Flames have announced that one-time Flames prospect and former oft-injured Colorado Avalanche defender Ryan Wilson will join the club on a professional tryout when training camp opens later this month.

Wilson, 28, is a left-handed shooter with decent size and solid wheels. When he’s been healthy enough to be in the lineup, he’s been a legitimately useful and productive NHL caliber defenseman. He’s rarely been in the lineup in recent years though, which is the primary reason he’s available in the opening weeks of September. Since the NHL lockout he’s appeared in only 47 games including the postseason, the result of a variety of injuries to his knee, ankle, shoulder and back.

As a no-risk gamble with the possibility of upgrading the club’s blue-line depth, this is a potentially savvy invite for the Flames.

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Obviously Wilson’s durability issues are a major concern, but on a professional tryout, there’s no risk to Calgary. If the shoulder injury that cost Wilson much of the past two seasons is truly in the rearview mirror and if Wilson’s form has held up despite a severe lack of playing time over the past few years – big ifs, to be sure – he could be a decent NHL-capable depth piece.

Earlier in the offseason I even described him as having some potential to be this years Carlo Colaiacovo.

Though Wilson doesn’t have a flashy game, isn’t going to quarterback the power play, and isn’t likely to deliver the sort of crushing hit that’ll make paying customers at an NHL arena stand at attention, I tend to think pretty highly of his skill level as a depth option. 

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Even when Wilson was healthy, he wasn’t ever much more than an average fourth blueliner, in my view, but the underlying data certainly suggests that he’s capable of being a helpful contributor on a third pair. The sample is small due to his wide variety of recent injury issues, but Wilson has managed borderline elite results by the shot based metrics when he’s been healthy over the past four years. He’s also produced offense very efficiently at even strength.

With Ladislav Smid expected to return at some point this season, Deryk Engelland still on the roster, and Tyler Wotherspoon surely ready to get an extended look as an everyday defenseman; it seems somewhat unlikely that Wilson will make the club. 

What’s perhaps more important and interesting for evaluating the Flames and this management team, then, is that this is a sharp bet aimed at bolstering the club’s defensive depth. We might add that this has become something of a trend for general manager Brad Treliving. From Corey Potter, to David Schlemko, to Raphael Diaz, it’s clear that Calgary’s general manager understands the importance of bringing in possible third-pair defenders that can perform at a level that’s at least marginally better than completely catastrophic. 

These sorts of depth moves aren’t exciting or sexy necessarily, but they proved crucial for Treliving’s club last spring when injuries along the blue-line mounted. Whatever the club has in Wilson, and it’s probable that he’s just training camp fodder and a warm body to help the team hit the preseason veteran minimum, this is a smart move. Even if it’s a marginal one.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    With all the Flames blue line acquisitions, draft picks, and changes this off season, you have to believe Treliving is looking for line up changes. Good to see that he hasn’t bought into the ‘Calgary’s one of the top D-core’s in the league’ press. It’s better, but far from great.

  • beloch

    It looks like Wilson had a couple of decent seasons on the second pair in Colorado, but his play (and minutes… and games played) fell off a cliff a couple seasons ago. He only played 3 games last season. In this respect, he’s like Smid, only worse. With Smid possibly healthy, it makes no sense to give Wilson a one-way contract.

    As a depth veteran for Stockton he could be an asset though. If he sticks it will be for the purpose of helping teach the Flames’ AHL prospects.

  • beloch

    I agree with the premise that this is a ‘no risk’ signing, but one that could have unintended positive consequences.

    As I recall, Wilson is a third example of the Flames scouts beating the OHL bushes for another undrafted defenceman with size and potential, signing him in 2008. The others were Todd Simpson, a former Flames captain, and the current holder of the “C”, Mr. Giordano.

    Regardless, if his injured shoulder has healed sufficiently that he can play like he demonstrated in spurts in Colorado, he might just give the Flames brain trust more difficult defensive decisions by the end of camp.

    • redhot1

      Agree, see no sense in this. We have depth 6 & 7 blue liners coming out our ting yangs. I read Cory Sarich is ready to get back to the NHL, lets give him a PTO too.

      I don’t want Franson, I don’t want Schlemko, I don’t want Wilson. I just want to give some of these young guys like Morrison, Tspoon & Nakaladal a chance to see what they have. Smid & Engellend are not magically going to go away. There’s depth & there’s just hoarding a bunch of crap.

      • piscera.infada

        Relax. He’s just a camp body. This is eerily similar to when the Flames had Douglas Murray on a professional try out last year, and people were losing their minds that Treliving convinced himself he found Gio’s replacement. How did that turn out?

          • KACaribou

            WW – I think with Setoguchi, the Flames were looking for a lottery win. Could he score 20 or 30 again? Probably didn’t hurt to find out even if it was a complete failure. If DS had recaptured his touch Tree would have looked like a genius.

            Plus the Flames are much, much stronger this year up and down the line-up.

            The 12 games did seem excessive, it was obvious early I agree.

          • KACaribou

            Yeah, too bad that Setoguchi stayed sober long enough to get a contract then celebrate for the rest of his stay with the Flames….Oh well, hope he has eliminated his demons and makes the Leafs…if not I hope the Leafs come calling for Raymond!

      • Parallex

        Young guy like Nakladal?.. he’s 27.

        I like having options and Wilson is an option. If the team decides they want 8 d-men out of camp I’d rather have a reclamation project sitting in the pressbox then a prospect who needs playing time and the team could do a lot worse then Ryan Wilson in that regard.

      • hulkingloooooob

        Sorry buddy, this is akin to saying “we are good enough, so don’t bother”. Great GM’s never stop trying to add, if he replaces someone worse (at any level) then this is a win. We added Josh Jooris at a time when we had bottom six forwards coming out the Ying yang in the organization as well, sometimes people surprise you….

    • The GREAT Walter White

      I just don’t see the purpose to this move though. There are just so many bodies. There aren’t enough roster spots between Calgary and Stockton to fit everybody.

      • hulkingloooooob

        The purpose might be to give the vets a night off while still keeping up the number of vets for exhibition games. Also just to have some of the kids play with a veteran as well.

  • KACaribou

    The young man can’t retire at 28 without giving it his all. He may not make the club but if he has a good camp, maybe someone else will look at him.

    I think Coach Bob and Tree just like to bring in competition. I am sure they don’t think he can make the team, but maybe he will serve the purpose of giving the D we have a jolt and push them even harder.

    No harm in this at all in my opinion.

  • Derbyherb

    I like it. We traded this guy to the Avs and he became a decent player for them. At the time we were just garbage at drafting/development so it was doubly frustrating that this random plug we trade ends up an NHLer on another team.

    His career has been put in jeopardy by repeated injuries but the guy can be as good as Diaz or Schlemko.

  • everton fc

    If he can be as good as Schlemko and Diaz, why not keep one of the aforementioned? They are more durable.

    I would have liked to see Schlemko back here as a 6/7 option. But there’s a log-jam there at present. I think the organization thinks it can go much deeper in the playoffs right now. Which is why I don’t see anything happening with Wideman. So you have Smid/Engelland/Wotherspoon/others vying for those final two spots. And I guess now Wilson.

    It’s a nice challenge to have, though. Isn’t it? Not too long ago, most of us saw our backend as a weakness. Now, it’s an area we can use to bring in a few more assets/prospects/picks.

    The goaltending situation gives us the same.

  • everton fc

    What if this happens?

    1. Giordano – Brodie
    2. Wilson – Hamilton
    3. Russell – Wideman

    That might be the best case scenario from an on-ice perspective. But what do you do with all the extra bodies?

    Smid and Engelland is a lot of cap just sitting on the bench.

  • everton fc

    The other issue we need to remember is that this organization needs to find enough players to fill 3 teams. The last I looked Stockton had 4 signed. The organization can only have 50 NHL contracts and I believe they are at 46. 47 if they can ever get Ferland done.