Main training camp is now officially underway for the 60+ players that the Calgary Flames have brought in to vie for roster spots. Let’s be brutally honest, though: all 60+ players don’t have the same chance at said spots. Some jobs are spoken for, and only a precious few are up for grabs.
In the interest of sweet, sweet clarity we present to you our guide to 2016-17’s Training Camp Battles (in order of importance).
Three or Four Wing Spots For Nine Guys
The Flames are set up the middle with Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett and Matt Stajan, and given the coaching staff’s (and management’s) preference for pairings, you can expect centers and wingers to pair off. You’ve gotta figure that the general locks for pairings are Monahan & Gaudreau, Backlund & Frolik and Bennett & Brouwer, and beyond that they’ll try to figure out who matches up well. That likely means that Lance Bouma, Micheal Ferland and Alex Chiasson slot in somewhere in the vicinity of the pairings (or with Stajan).
So that equates to something like this:
Gaudreau – Monahan – ???
??? – Bennett – Brouwer
??? – Backlund – Frolik
??? – Stajan – ???
(with one or two extra forwards to rotate in)
The locks for some of those open spots are Bouma, Ferland and Chiasson. That leaves three or four jobs up for grabs for the likes of Matthew Tkachuk, Brandon Bollig, Hunter Shinkaruk, Garnet Hathaway, Emile Poirier, Linden Vey, Freddie Hamilton, Chris Higgins and Daniel Pribyl.
Now, Pribyl is probably gonna head to the AHL for a while since he’s not quite medically cleared yet after ACL surgery. But everybody else is probably a contender for the jobs. Tkachuk, Shinkaruk and maybe Poirier could try for scoring line spots. Bollig, Hathaway, Vey, Hamilton and Higgins are more bottom six guys (and considering the Flames have a lot of non-scoring types, perhaps the 13th and 14th forwards will come from this mix).
My gut says: Higgins, Vey, Bollig and (for a nine-game tryout) Tkachuk make the team. But a lot of that likely depends on both individual performance and what chemistry emerges between the various pairings and the potential third guys on each line.
Seventh NHL Defenseman
With Ladislav Smid done for the year, somebody will inherit his seventh defender role. Who will it be? Brett Kulak, Tyler Wotherspoon, Oliver Kylington and Nicklas Grossmann are in this mix. You’ll note that all of these guys are left shots, which makes sense because the Flames have three locks that are right shots (Deryk Engelland, Dougie Hamilton and Dennis Wideman) and Brodie can play both sides, and an extra body that can play the left side would give them some flexibility.
My gut says: it’s probably between Wotherspoon and Grossmann. Both would require waivers to go to the AHL, and the Flames would likely rather have Kulak and Kylington playing regularly than sitting in the press box.
AHL Depth Forwards
The Flames have two forwards on amateur tryouts (Mikkel Aagaard and Dennis Kravchenko) and one on a pro tryout (Luke Adam) that are almost definitely not destined for the NHL this season, but due to their ages and skill sets could be nice fits at the AHL level.
Aagaard is 20 and could go back to junior, but probably won’t since he’s both an overager and an import (a “two-spotter” in CHL parlance), while Kravchenko is 22 and done with college. Both could be useful depth for the Heat, in a similar way to Ryan Lomberg’s role last season where he bounced between the AHL and ECHL. Adam, 26, probably projects as more of an AHL regular and offensive weapon to help push the Flames’ higher-end farmhands.
AHL Depth Defenseman
This is quite similar to the forward situation.
Stepan Falkovsky is eligible to go back to junior, but he’s also a two-spotter and probably is destined for pro. Colby Robak is an established pro, while Mikhail Grigoriev is attempting to make the jump from the KHL.
AHL Back-Up/ECHL Starter (or QMJHL Overager?)
If Mason McDonald has a good camp, he could end up in the AHL as Jon Gillies’ backup. If he has a decent camp but the braintrust wants him to play a ton, he’ll head to ECHL. If they feel he needs a year of playing against junior-aged players to boost his confidence, he’ll be sent back to the QMJHL for an overage year (which will burn the first year of his entry-level deal since he’s 20).
David Rittich will probably be the Heat’s back-up goalie. If McDonald has an insane camp, Rittich will start in the ECHL.
What About Contracts?
Every tryout player wants an NHL contract. How many do the Flames have to give? They current have 44 players under contract for 2016-17, but Tkachuk, Kylington and Nick Schneider can potentially slide.
The way slide contracts are handled is this: until a player is in a situation where their contract won’t count (e.g., they’re in junior), it’s counted as part of the 50.
In other words? The Flames will have 43 contracts on the books (42 if they send Tkachuk back to the OHL), which probably gives them some wiggle room of two or three NHL contracts that they can hand out to deserving individuals at camp without hamstringing themselves down the line.