It took nearly all season before fans and writers finally saw Jakub Nakladal finally play in the NHL. This of course was after Dennis Wideman’s heinous crimes happened, numerous injuries, and Kris Russell being dealt before he really became a mainstay on the Flames’ blueline.
Within that time frame Nakladal has made an honest case for being re-signed in the off-season. And it’s hard to be unhappy with his results so far of this smooth skating Czech in his first North American year of pro hockey.
NAK CITY: HOPEFULLY HERE TO STAY
Nakladal has been a fantastic story and exactly what the Flames’ blueline so sorely lacked for the better part of two seasons: competency that provides a meaningful impact in the third pairing. This isn’t a real slight at veterans Ladislav Smid or Deryk Engelland, two grossly overpaid individuals for what they bring.
It’s simply an acknowledgement that the on-ice impact Nakladal has brought in just 22 NHL games is a welcome sight for sore eyes.
One of the biggest things that immediately stands out within this quarter-season sample is just how positive his impact has been. Really, virtually in every stat above you get an idea that maybe Nakladal is underused, which to some degree he has been. Be it shot attempts/shots or a positive impact in scoring chance generation, in a third pairing role it shows that he’s cut out for it.
At even strength, Nakaldal is averaging just under 12 minutes a night with 1:22 on average of power play time. To some honest credit, Hartley has attempted to use him in the second PP unit to bump his TOI up a bit. Which is an added perk given he has quite an exceptional shot that should be utilized a lot more.
For argument’s sake, there is a reasonable case to see a bit more even strength ice time. If anything, it’s worth taking the chance with the few remaining games of playing him with Mark Giordano: an obvious upgrade over Engelland as a partner. If the opportunity permits, this is a suitable option to consider exploring this fall.
Using Corsica Hockey‘s WOWY tool, we get a brief look at the top 10 players Nakladal has played with at 5v5. The names are alphabetized from left to right by first name. The size of each circle indicates TOI together/apart.
We see a mix of results, predominately pushing up the likes of Joe Colborne, Jyrki Jokipakka, and Sam Bennett, while there is clear evidence that Backlund and Frolik are huge driving forces that meet in a rather perfect storm when with Nakladal. The volatility of the limited sample is very present with many others shown, though seeing relatively modest boost when with the Czech defenseman.
Regardless, there is still rational consideration that given an even larger sample we could have a clearer picture of what Nakladal brings in terms of positive or negative impacts on particular teammates.
WHO ELSE IS TO CONSIDER?
When we start looking at comparables that have been predominately used on the third pairing it gets a little bit difficult given Engelland’s usage as of late. Instead we have a variety of players who’ve played a similar number of games this season. A brief look at their outputs paints a two-sided portrait of who we could see along side Nakladal hypothetically in 2016-17:
In a limited showing Brett Kulak made quite the impression early on, carrying Engelland well above 50%, too. Wotherspoon, who was up and down all of last season rarely seeing the light of day outside of the press box, has had a relatively decent showing as well.
For Smid, who when healthy and playing was predominately on the third pairing and penalty kill, his results at 5v5 are atrocious to say the least (outside of the anomaly that is his HSCF%). They’re quite literally the inverse of what Nakladal, Kulak, and Wotherspoon have brought forth this season. In Jokipakka, this is where everything gets more interesting. There is no denying he’s a work in progress, but he’s definitely struggled as of late, and it shows quite clearly.
This is a pocket of optimism for Flames fans. There is reasonable promise in Kulak and hopefully Wotherspoon or Jokipakka. Smid is what he is now: held together with scotch-tape and a massive hindrance on the team’s on-ice performance.
THE BIGGEST ROAD BLOCK: CAP SPACE
The topic has come up at great length over the last month: buyouts and the value they can provide to this franchise. Dennis Wideman still remains the most crucial player to be bought out this summer. With reason there is to assume Smid is all but finished because there is little sense in playing the poor soul any further.
The Flames get a do-over here as they had to let David Schlemko venture onward where he’s found success in New Jersey. In some respects, Schlemko last season is what Nakladal is this season: the parity this team has needed for so long. Not only has he proven quickly in 22 games at the very least NHL capable, but he’s done it on a struggling team.
The Calgary Flames of this season could very well be a different one than what fans may see come October. There should be reasonable optimism that Jakub Nakladal remains a Flame for, at the very least, the short term future. He’s proven by the antiquated creed of always earned, never given that he isn’t Roman Cervenka 2.0 or any miscast narrative.
Not only does finding a way to jettison the salary cap drudgery help Nakladal stick around, but it presumably opens the door further to the likes of Brett Kulak, Tyler Wotherspoon, or pending talent heading to Stockton or there already.