Keegan Kanzig and the Roster Domino Effect

So, in yesterday’s roster and injury update, I touched upon something and didn’t really explain it, so I figured I’d spend some time doing so today.

Now that the AHL season has begun and the WHL’s overage cut-down deadline is past, let’s talk about what’s happening with Keegan Kanzig. He didn’t dress last night for the Stockton Heat’s second game, and with eight defensemen in Stockton right now, he already seems to be falling through the cracks a bit.

So let’s talk about the upcoming moves in Calgary that will have an impact on his chances to get AHL ice-time, and what his options are.

SMID’S RETURN

The Flames presently have 22 roster players and six healthy defensemen. Per Brad Treliving’s media availability today, Ladislav Smid is “knocking on the door” for a return to action – potentially for his first game action since January 19. When Smid does return, he’ll have not played a game for NINE MONTHS, which makes him a prime candidate for a two-week conditioning stint in the American Hockey League.

In either scenario involving Smid – a conditioning stint in the AHL or being thrown right back into the NHL line-up – it doesn’t necessarily mean that Brett Kulak goes back to the AHL, but it means that there’s a strong chance that somebody goes down for a few weeks at least. That would swell the defensive group in Stockton from eight to nine. Again, that doesn’t mean anybody definitely gets crowded out of ice-time there, but it’s a possibility.

BRODIE’S RETURN

Now, when T.J. Brodie returns in a couple of weeks – after Smid returns – that will definitely trigger a domino effect. Brodie comes back and the Flames will need to send a defenseman to Stockton, which will probably be Brett Kulak given his waiver status.

The timing of Brodie’s return – a couple of weeks from now – roughly coincides with the projected return time for Ryan Culkin. And that suddenly makes for a stacked group on the AHL squad, with ten players.

Here’s who they’ll have, barring other moves/injuries/whatnots:

  • Brett Kulak
  • Ryan Culkin
  • Tyler Wotherspoon
  • Oliver Kylington
  • Jakub Nakladal
  • Kenney Morrison
  • Aaron Johnson
  • Dustin Stevenson
  • Keegan Kanzig
  • Patrick Sieloff

Among left-shooting defenders, Kanzig is most likely behind Kulak, Culkin, Wotherspoon and Kylington in terms of organizational development priorities go. The Flames have also devoted two years of development into Patrick Sieloff, so I expect him to get a lot of games in as an effort to catch him up. Oh, and Jakub Nakladal, who looks ready for the NHL, and Kenney Morrison, a highly-touted college prospect, are expected to get a lot of playing time, too. And don’t forget about Dustin Stevenson and Aaron Johnson, who are on AHL deals but are relied upon as depth guys.

All of a sudden, we’re out of line-up spots for Kanzig in Stockton.

WHERE DOES HE GO?

There are three choices for the Flames and Kanzig.

Door #1: He stays in the AHL and doesn’t play much, but gets tons of practice time. When he does play, he’ll be playing against grown-ass men in a very good pro league. But as I’ve mentioned, he’s probably the odd-man-out in terms of ice time and so he’d need to get the most out of his practice time to progress.

Door #2: He goes to the ECHL and plays with Adirondack. Now, I like this option because it gives the Flames flexibility and it’s a better use of development resources than the other two doors. The Flames own the ECHL club and helped hire the new coach, Cail MacLean, who they know from his time as an assistant coach in Abbotsford years back. The ECHL team is primarily fringe AHL players, and giving MacLean and his staff Kanzig as a development project would be a good use of resources and it would probably motivate all parties. Kanzig gets a ton of ice-time, albeit against lesser pro lights, and the Flames keep him in the professional ranks. If he tears it up, he can be recalled to the AHL. If he doesn’t, he’s in a place where he can learn.

Door #3: Back to the WHL. But the Calgary Hitmen seem pretty happy with the three 20-year-old players that they do have, so there’s a chance that Kanzig would be moved to a different team if he was sent back to the WHL. Plus, he’s physically moved past the WHL. I don’t know what he would gain from another year in junior, and it could have the potential to demotivate him. A professional season would be progression for him, while a junior year would be stagnation or even regression. The Flames would also basically give up control of his development for the year by releasing him to the junior ranks while at the same time burning a year of his entry-level deal.

SUM IT UP

I think the best move is to send him to Adirondack. I think the move they make, eventually, is to send him to Adirondack. It’ll probably just take a few weeks for the Flames to get healthy, Kulak and Culkin to return to AHL action, and the numbers game on the farm to bump Kanzig down to the ECHL.

Kanzig needs to learn and he desperately needs to play professional hockey for him to learn. The ECHL is the best spot for him to do that this season.