Aside from re-signing a couple of key guys, the Calgary Flames’ off-season does, for all intents and purposes, appear to be over. New pieces have been brought in, and the hope is that they’ll improve the team from a rather disappointing 2015-16 season.
New pieces – and some young pieces, too. In an interview on SiriusXM, Brad Treliving namedropped 10 players who he expects to, in some capacity, push for a job in the NHL this season (roughly the 14:45 mark).
Hunter Shinkaruk, Emile Poirier, Daniel Pribyl, Mark Jankowski, Garnet Hathaway, Freddie Hamilton, Brett Kulak, Tyler Wotherspoon, Oliver Kylington, and Rasmus Andersson should be names to watch this upcoming season.
Where does everyone fit in?
Most of Treliving’s list involves guys anticipated to be more of the impact player variety, as opposed to depth. Hathaway, Hamilton, Wotherspoon, and maybe Kulak probably fall more into the depth category, while the other six could one day be top six or top four players in the lineup.
That doesn’t mean they’ll all fall in such a realm. Kulak could surprise. Pribyl and Poirier could be middle six tweeners. But for the most part, that’s a pretty decent group of prospects on the verge of stepping in the NHL, with potential ranging throughout an entire lineup.
Looking at the Flames’ current lineup, each player has a role they appear to cleanly fit in.
Top nine forwards: Backlund, Bennett, Brouwer, Frolik, Gaudreau, Monahan.
I’m going with “top nine” instead of “top six” here because the Flames’ current centre depth, featuring Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, and Mikael Backlund, should allow them to have a more evenly spread out forward lineup. Backlund is capable of performing at a top six level – so if he’s your third line centre, you’re in excellent position, and your wingers are going to get a quality centre to play with pretty much no matter what.
This still leaves three unclaimed spots open, however. Shinkaruk is a prime candidate to fill one, and the hope is Poirier can regain that level of potential he exhibited a year ago, too. It would be great to see Pribyl join this group as well.
Jankowski is the major question mark here, in part because he’s the newest of the group to professional hockey, but especially because he’s a centre. If he makes it, someone’s going to have to move to the wing (perhaps Bennett, who’s a C/LW).
(Matthew Tkachuk should fit into this group, too; he was discussed earlier in the interview, but wasn’t named amidst the group of prospects who have been in the organization for at least a year.)
Depth forwards: Bollig, Bouma, Chiasson, Ferland, Stajan, Vey.
Some of these guys should be used in order to fill out the top nine (and among these players, Chiasson, Ferland, and Vey have the most potential), but otherwise, the Flames have a healthy contingent to play on the fourth line and/or be healthy scratches.
If Jankowski does make it to the NHL and the Flames aren’t willing to switch any of their other centres to the wing, then it’s possible he could bump Stajan out of the middle. The fourth line is also likely the spots Hathaway and Hamilton are competing for – which speaks to just how important it is to not overpay fourth liners, because these guys are everywhere and always available for cheap.
Top four defencemen: Brodie, Giordano, Hamilton.
A spot for the top four is still ready for the taking. It likely won’t be filled by a kid this year – not with the number of contracts the Flames currently have – but this is where Kylington and Andersson should be aiming for.
Bottom pairing defencemen: Engelland, Jokipakka, (Smid?), Wideman.
Of this group, Jokpakka is probably the most exciting bet to fill in the top four nowadays, and it’s entirely possible it’s a role he takes over totally on merit (at least until Las Vegas’ expansion draft, probably).
It’s also a good spot for Kulak and Wotherspoon to break into. They’re both cheap, effective depth, and we can still hope for some bigger things to come wth Kulak. Wotherspoon feels like a perfect fit for this role, but that’s fine – he’s more effective than most of the current NHL options, anyway.
When will they be ready?
Just because they were named doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be ready to go immediately. The hope is Pribyl will be ready in time for the start of training camp, but as someone new to the North American game, a recovery stint in the Stockton could be where he gets his feet wet. Andersson is brand new to the professional game, so while he’s an interesting defenceman to watch, he’ll probably spend more time in the AHL than anywhere else.
A number of these players have a fair amount of time, though. Shinkaruk and Poirier, for example, still have two years left on their deals, as do Pribyl and Jankowski. Kylington and Andersson have three apiece, and depending on how many NHL games he plays, Kylington could remain on his first contract for another four years (including this upcoming one).
The clock is ticking a little louder for some other guys. Hathaway and Kulak will both become restricted free agents after this season. Meanwhile, Hamilton and Wotherspoon still actually need to be re-signed – but I wouldn’t expect them to get more than a year, two at most, on their next deals.
But there’s always time. Treliving listed a group of prospects who range from 19-24 years old, with the oldest guys being closer to depth options.
Training camp is going to be awesome, though. The past couple of years, a new face has made the opening night roster; considering the options, that should continue going into 2016-17.