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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.
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.
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.