Handicapping The Race for Blueline Jobs

It’s an interesting time to be a blueliner in the Calgary Flames organization.

As expected, it doesn’t sound like veteran Ladislav Smid will be cleared for the beginning of the season – as he’s reportedly to miss all of the pre-season games. And as of a couple of days ago, T.J. Brodie had a broken bone in his right hand. So the Flames, who looked to be beginning the season with seven veteran defenders, might have as many as two jobs open for applications during training camp.

Let’s take a look at the contenders for the open spots.

THE LOCKS

The five gentlemen who are definitely on the NHL roster to begin the season, so let’s not waste time chatting about them: Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Wideman, Kris Russell and Deryk Engelland.

For those keeping track, that’s two left shots and three right shots.

JAKUB NAKLADAL

Nakadal’s a Czech veteran, already 27 years old. He’s a right shot, and if you want a stay-at-home body who won’t embarrass you out there, Nakladal is your man. In the game in Calgary against the Oilers, once he got used to the pace, he was routinely “glass and out.” The downside with him is that he’s yet another right-handed shot, but he doesn’t look out of place compared to the NHL regulars, and he doesn’t require waivers this year – so he can be tried out early in the season at the NHL and then returned to the AHL without any risk.

RYAN WILSON

Wilson is 28, and more of an offensive presence than Nakladal. He’s not quite Brodie-esque in terms of his skills, but he’s closer to Brodie than Nakladal is. Wilson would require an NHL contract – which would take away a bit of Calgary’s contractual wiggle room later on – but he’s also a free asset and a guy that you can use for a couple weeks and then not feel too bad about (a) burying in the AHL or (b) losing on waivers. If the coaching staff isn’t sure about their third pairing, Wilson is also a player that you don’t mind parking in the press box. He’s 28. He is what he’s going to be at this point.

TYLER WOTHERSPOON

The pros for Wotherspoon: he’s young, he’s a left shot, and he’s a pretty solid stay-at-home defender. His offensive game is limited, but a bit underrated – he’s got a decent shot and a good first pass, but he’s not as established as an offensive player as Wilson is, for instance. The cons? He needs to play a bunch to develop, and he may be better served staying in the AHL for a bit. He got a lot of press box time last season – they played Corey Potter over him. If they’re sending him to the NHL “to learn,” it has to be on the ice or else there’s no point.

OLIVER KYLINGTON

On one hand, Kylington’s draft stock reportedly took a bit of a kicking because he freelanced too much and had trouble playing within a system. On the other hand: this kid is really, really good. He’s a lefty. He’s probably gonna play pro this season. And he has to play 10 games before his entry-level deal starts to run. So, perhaps the Flames test him out in the NHL for a bit, and then either send him down to Stockton (or even to Brandon). He’s arguably the most Brodie-like player the team has – in terms of his impressive skating prowess – so why not give him a sniff of the NHL for a couple weeks to see what they have in him?

RASMUS ANDERSSON

Remember everything I just said about Kylington? Repeat it, but take out the part about freelancing. Andersson is a really smart, really good hockey player. He’s definitely heading back to the OHL. Is there any harm, if they think he’s close, to giving him a few games in the NHL before sending him back to Barrie? The negatives on Andersson are he’s not quite as good a skater as Brodie and he’s right-handed.

BRETT KULAK

Kulak’s another left-handed, puck-moving defender. He’s a poor-man’s Brodie, which isn’t meant as an insult. If you want a young guy to get a shot, but you’re worried that trying Kylington out in the NHL off the hop might spoil him – you’re rewarding an 18-year-old kid for development work he hasn’t put in yet, basically – why not Kulak? Kulak was one of the organization’s developmental success stories last year, and worked his way from the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles all the way to the NHL (albeit for a single game).

THE OTHERS

I don’t see Patrick Sieloff, Kenney Morrison or Keegan Kanzig standing much of a chance of getting either spot right now. For all three, it’s a sample size issue: I haven’t seen enough success out of them at the lower levels to have confidence in throwing them into the NHL right now. (And I don’t see Aaron Johnson or Douglas Murray progressing past their try-out deals.)

  • Derbyherb

    Hey Ryan just wondering if this article was written before the Avs game? Because Nakladal’s head got piledrived into the ice and he left the game early.

    Kenney Morrison also played the most minutes on our blue line. I really think he has a better shot at the job than the 18 year olds (Kylington, Andersson) and at this point Wotherspoon as well.

  • Brent G.

    If Nakladal regularily does glass and out, that’s probably not a good thing in a possession style or quick strike system where tape to tape passes are a necessity. He is quite mobile and strong defensively though. Rasmus and Kylington are probably the best at playing the possession game but are so young. It’s not unheard of that an 18 year old can make the jump though and Rasmus has looked very good so far.

    • RedMan

      I think Anderson has us all happily licking our chops; wow, who expected him to come in and be one of the best defensive prospects? that being said, I would have no problems sending him back the the CHL for one more year. he is too young

  • everton fc

    Of the group above, until we know how long Nakladal’s sidelined, tough call. Nakladal gets the initial nod, along with Wilson, if healthy. Wilson is a proven NHL player.

    Of the young guys, you’ve put Kulak in my mind more than he has been prior. Kulak’s played well and may get a look. Wotherspoon is like Granlund – where does he fit? – except Granlund’s proven himself at the NHL level somewhat. Wotherspoon has not. And I agree with Derbyherd’s comments on Morrison, though I see him earning some stripes in Stockton before he gets a full look here.

    Looking forward to more minutes from Wotherspoon and Kulak. A nice challenge to have.

  • RedMan

    Assuming Nakladal is injured for any period of time:

    I’d put my money on Wilson getting a contract, with Kulak or Wotherspoon taking the other spot.

    I’d not be surprised to see Engelland rotate in and out of the 7th spot.

    if Wilson is up to NHL speed, it is a no-brainer; no risk, all reward. if he is injured, what do you lose? Assuming he can ply better than any of the younger guys that is. Hartley wants to win, and will favor a proven vet over a developing prospect in this case.

  • JumpJet

    It’s a shame Ryan Culkin is injured, he would certainly be in this conversation as well.

    It seems like yesterday when the talk was the Flames had no defence prospects outside of Wotherspoon. What a job Treleving and Co have done.

  • redhot1

    Just putting this out there for fun. Seeing Seidenberg & now Chara went down to injury in Boston, is their a chance we could be cap proactive & swing a deal with Wideman to Boston & get a decent return? I know the Brodie injury flys in the face of doing a move like this. But, with a guy like Wilson looking pretty good & Wotherspoon & Kylington making cases for NHL games, opportunity is there to capitalize on opportunity & demand. Just saying.

  • hulkingloooooob

    I think this whole “everything earned” mantra is a good one, but i also wonder if you’ll see the flames making a few choices as the season goes on to give some guys some good opportunities, possibly with the idea of showing their worth and thus making them more of a trade asset.

    this could potentially be an approach to the spoon. i mean he’s been developing for a while, and if people don’t see him play some NHL games soon, his stock may lower quickly, especially with the new young D men we’ve added. i think the ceiling is potentially higher on a lot of our D prospects and thus putting spoon in a bit of an awkward position. the odd man out so to speak. so maybe we let him play, and hopefully play well, so as to package him with some vet we are hoping to get rid of? or at least raise or maintain his “good young D with potential” trade asset rating. a lot of teams are looking for those coveted young D men with potential.

    This might also be the only reason Raymond gets played. at least to my eyes he looked (in the edmonton preseason game that is) just as lackluster and lost as ever, if not more. if he gets sent down, then what? we’re stuck with him for good?

    I hate to suggest the flames mantra will be ignored in certain situations, but this could be the best strategic approach. anyone else think is could happen? i’m just spit balling here….