With main camp getting underway for the Calgary Flames, many eyes will be on NHL hopefuls like Matthew Tkachuk, Mark Jankowski, and Oliver Kylington. While those guys deserve the eyeballs they’ll get, they aren’t the only ones with a chance to make an impact at camp. I’ve got three guys who might do just that even though they’ll probably be flying under the radar heading in.
If you watched the Flames take part at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, then you definitely noticed Lomberg. Entering his second year with the organization, Lomberg knows exactly what he is and throughout his brief professional career, he’s stayed true to that. Lomberg is a chippy, agitating, pain in the ass to play against who has decent speed and okay finishing ability. At least at lower levels, that’s what he’s been.
Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska called Lomberg Calgary’s best and most consistent forward in Penticton, which is high praise knowing who else was there. He did that by being in the middle of virtually everything and using his speed to create offence. On a second consecutive AHL contract, Lomberg is very intriguing to me heading into this year’s camp.
I won’t make the case for Lomberg making the team out of camp. I will, however, float the idea of him getting a nice, long look this fall. Lomberg is somewhat versatile as he can play down the middle and on the wing, he is effective in his role as a bleep disturber, and his speed could be a nice fit with how we’re thinking/hoping Calgary wants to play. We know the organization is a little thin on the wings, so that helps his cause, too.
The best case scenario for Lomberg would be to continue to impress at camp, turn himself into a big blip on the radar, and maybe get his AHL deal converted into a two-way NHL deal at some point this season, ala Krys Kolanos. If and when the Flames need to recall a forward later on this season, Lomberg needs to put himself in that conversation.
Just for argument’s sake, what could Lomberg translate to at the highest level? Well, I wouldn’t expect a ton offensively; his numbers below would suggest points at the NHL level are going to be difficult to come by.
Instead, Lomberg seems more likely to get an NHL crack playing a similar role as Garnet Hathaway or Lance Bouma. The latter has done it in the show for a number of years while the former got his shot late last season. Regardless, though, playing that type of fourth line role is probably the best Lomberg is going to do in the NHL. If he keeps pissing people off (in a good way) and skating like he has, maybe it’s not a totally crazy proposition.
During the 2014-15 season, Culkin was going to be the next man recalled from the American Hockey League prior to his season ending with an injury. One season later, Culkin separated his shoulder in Penticton and didn’t even start playing in the AHL until February as he had to play 33 games with ECHL Adirondack first. Suffice to say, it’s been a rough go for the young man. I feel like this season will be a bounce back one for the 2012 fifth round pick, though.
I say that for a couple different reasons. First off, he’s about as motivated as you can possibly get. I had a great conversation with Culkin in Penticton (story on that coming next week) where he was pretty open about his 2015-16 campaign. Going to the ECHL was tough on him and he admittedly let it get to him mentally; he felt he wasn’t good enough and he lost a lot of confidence in his game.
This offseason, though, Culkin has taken a brand new approach. He’s switched up his training routine on the physical side of things but it’s his mindset that seems totally transformed. Culkin has spent plenty of time with Calgary’s sports psychologist and is coming to camp with a pretty focused approach. The goal is the NHL, but if that doesn’t happen to start, everything he does in Stockton will be aimed solely at getting there. I know that seems like a given, but for Culkin it represents an important shift.
Let’s not forget about the on-ice portion of this, though. If Culkin was set to be the next man up a couple seasons ago, the Flames must have thought highly of him at the time. From everyone I’ve talked to, nothing has changed in that regard. The team still rates him high and still believes he can eventually make the jump.
I was impressed with what I saw in the Okanagan. Culkin likely isn’t going to be counted on for big offensive numbers off the blueline, but he skates well and is very sound in his own end. While not a big physical threat, Culkin displayed really good gaps and did a nice job closing distance when it was time to step up. He seems like his defensive awareness is strong and as he continues to add strength to his frame, he’ll become more effective.
Last year Brett Kulak made the team out of camp before getting sent back to the AHL for the balance of the season. I’m not sure if that opportunity will exist this year or not, but if I were to highlight one defenceman who could follow the same path this year, it’s Culkin. Let’s see if his new approach helps get him a nice, long stint at training camp.
Photo courtesy Stockton Heat
Many were intrigued when the Flames signed Morrison out of Western Michigan University in the spring of 2015. That intrigue turned into some hushed excitement when Morrison put up six points in 10 AHL games to finish that season. His first full pro season, though, was a slightly different story.
Morrison got into just 44 games with Stockton last season and found it a struggle to adjust to the pro schedule, specifically in the first half of the season. Coming into the season, though, he no longer has that excuse. He stood out to me at the Young Stars Classic and I’ll have my eye on him once the preseason gets underway.
Year over year, Morrison’s Okanagan showing was drastically different. Whereas last year he seemed tentative, this year he was engaged physically and far more assertive defensively. He’s always been a smooth skater, and that hasn’t gone away, so adding those extra elements should really help to round out his game. I certainly enjoyed watching him play in Penticton as he was steady and did a nice job skating the puck out of his own end to start his team in transition.
Could Morrison be a candidate to make the team out of training camp? Yeah, maybe there’s a chance we could see that happen, but I think a guy like Culkin is more likely to be in that category. Instead, I think Morrison’s best case is to carry on his momentum from Penticton and put himself top of mind when the team needs to go the recall route later this season. His showing last weekend leads me to believe there’s a decent chance of that happening.