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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.)