In Friday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Calgary Flames saw defenseman Kris Russell leave the game with an upper-body injury. The game’s telecast suggested that Russell hurt his right hand blocking a shot from Blackhawks forward Ryan Garbutt mid-way through the first period.
Anyway, this was the most reliable word we had on the injury last night.
Still no indication from Flames on Kris Russell’s hand. X-rays tomorrow.
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) November 21, 2015
In the event Kris Russell is sidelined for a bit, with the Flames headed to California on Tuesday to begin a three-game trip through Anaheim, Arizona and San Jose, it’s likely they’ll need to recall a player rather than ride with six healthy defenders.
So who would they recall from the AHL’s Stockton Heat?
Presuming Russell misses some time, that leaves the NHL club with six established big-league defenders:
- Left-shooting Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Ladislav Smid (who’s played once since Halloween and only four games all season)
- Right-shooting Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland
Considering how much of a clown show the defensive group was before they reunited Giordano and Brodie, I strongly doubt that they break up that pairing and roll with three left/right defensive pairings. So that leaves the considering as to whether to throw Smid in full-steam or bring up an AHLer for a back-up plan.
If they don’t bring anybody up, you’re looking at Giordano/Brodie, Hamilton/Engelland and Smid/Wideman, most likely. In terms of good, puck-moving capabilities, it gets thin pretty quick with Engelland and Smid acting as possession boat-anchors on the bottom two pairs.
So let’s presume they bring somebody up and that it’s a left-handed shot to avoid having two full pairings of right-handed shots.
Kulak was up at the beginning of the season, played a regular shift with Deryk Engelland on the third pairing, and was actually pretty good in the role. He’s a left shot and can skate well and has a good first pass. If they bring him up, they can put Hamilton with Wideman and have a couple decent puck-moving pairings.
And bringing up Kulak would involve the least uncertainty, as the Flames coaching staff probably feel like they know the most about him as an NHLer compared to the other options. There’s nothing flashy about Kulak’s game, but you get the feeling that they have some trust in him given how he stepped up when T.J. Brodie was out.
On one hand, Kylington is a left-handed shot, a great skater and good with the puck. On the other hand, his defensive game isn’t quite there yet and he’s 18. The danger would be throwing him into the deep end could (a) destroy his confidence or (b) pump him up too much. He’s got NHL talent on the offensive side, but he’s probably got work to do on the other side of the game.
I have no doubts that we’ll probably see Kylington in the NHL at some time this season, if only as a “good job, kid!” reward for rounding out his game. But if they feel like he hasn’t quite earned it yet, they might not want to risk disrupting his progress.
Another left-handed shot, Wotherspoon has already spent a good chunk of time in the NHL over the past few seasons. He’s at the end of his entry-level deal, and a recall could allow the Flames how to gauge his progress versus the other NHLers in the organization. That said, Wotherspoon is more of a stay-at-home option than Kulak or Kylington, and if you’re going to recall a stay-at-home guy, why not just roll with Smid?
With so many flashy defensive prospects now in their system, my thought is the Flames want to be 100% sure of what Wotherspoon is at the NHL level before closing the book on him.
Finally, Nakladal is a rock-solid defender for Stockton, but he’s right-handed. If the Flames feel that he’s earned a chance to play games – he was brought up earlier this season but didn’t get into any NHL contests – they might abandon any notions of balanced pairings and bring in Nakladal. Based on the pre-season, he’s most likely a completely capable NHL defender at this point.
The Stockton Heat play tonight in Stockton against the San Jose Barracuda. Since the Flames play next on Tuesday in Anaheim, unless any potential recall player would be in the line-up on the road there’s really no point in flying somebody to Calgary for practice and then flying them back to California. (The Flames practice in town today, Sunday and Monday and then fly to Anaheim.)
So IF they recall somebody before Monday, they’re probably playing on Tuesday. IF they recall somebody Monday or Tuesday, they’ll be an extra body. And if they don’t recall anybody, it’s because either Russell’s fine or they’re okay with rolling with Ladislav Smid for the time-being.