Who could be this year’s training camp surprise?

Every year, for the most part, we have some idea of just what a team is going to look like going into their season opener. The flurry of trades at the draft and free agency signings are just about done with, and with them typically comes a complete roster.

But not quite complete, and not always. Every now and then, a kid pops up over the course of training camp and forces his way on. Sometimes it’s due to injury, like Brett Kulak last year. Sometimes they have to wait until someone else gets injured to finally get the chance they earned all along, like Josh Jooris in 2014. Sometimes it just happens, like when Roman Horak played his way onto the Flames back in 2011.

The point is: as training camp progress, someone who wasn’t necessarily on the radar before almost inevitably stands out, and ends up with a roster spot. 

Who are we looking at this year?

Goaltending

Nothing to see here; move along, folks. This is, quite frankly, a relief after last season, in which you’ll remember the Flames started the year with three goalies and never really recovered from that. 

Jon Gillies probably won’t be waiver-eligible until the 2018-19 season, so we have plenty of time to wait for him to make his push for the NHL roster. (If he’s waiver-eligible before then, then he’s already established himself as an NHLer.) There’s no “oh god what if I lose my prospect to another team for nothing” panic to be found this year; the netminders are Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, full stop, and if one of them gets hurt then maybe Gillies comes up.

This is much easier. Glad that’s settled.

Defence

There is a spot or two available.

As things stand right now, Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Jyrki Jokipakka, Dennis Wideman, and Deryk Engelland probably make the team. Ladislav Smid can’t play, which leaves the Flames with the bare minimum of six defencemen: something teams typically don’t go with.

Maybe Jakub Nakladal comes back. Maybe Kris Russell does? Or maybe the Flames opt to go with one or two of their defensive prospects still in the system.

The most obvious options here are Tyler Wotherspoon (waiver-eligible) and Brett Kulak (not waiver-eligible, but also he’s scoring already [which is a big part of how Brodie ended up making his NHL debut] and has already done this).

Maybe there’s a wild card here, though? Probably not, but then again, sometimes players just force us to pay more attention to them. Remember how long Rasmus Andersson lasted a year ago? He was the final CHL-certain player to be cut. Does he surprise again this year? Does Oliver Kylington, who has now played a full year of professional hockey in North America? What about a total wild card, like Mikhail Grigoriev, who has played professionally longer than most of the other hopefuls at camp? Or Nicklas Grossmann, as he looks to earn another NHL contract?

Ultimately, I don’t think there are any surprises to be found at this position, but Smid being out for the year does make it interesting.

Forwards

Here we go.

Sean Monahan, Troy Brouwer, Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Lance Bouma, Sam Bennett, Alex Chiasson, and Micheal Ferland are probably all locks. Johnny Gaudreau, too, assuming he signs, which is probably going to actually happen at some point. That’s 10 of a possible 13 or 14 spots claimed.

I’d expect Linden Vey to be in this group, too, but wouldn’t call him a training camp surprise; he’s already played over 100 games in the NHL. Brandon Bollig may or may not be here, or that could just be my own wishful thinking.

Matthew Tkachuk making it wouldn’t really be a training camp surprise, either; he’s a sixth overall pick already at NHL size, he could really go either way. And besides, in his case, he wouldn’t really have “made it” until the 10-game mark.

That leaves maybe a spot or three left, depending on how things play out. This is where I think the surprises come in.

I think Freddie Hamilton is en route to making it, and he isn’t someone I would have predicted even when he was re-signed, so I’d count him as a surprise. (He’s also 24, the same age Jooris was when he surprised.)

I would call Hunter Shinkaruk a surprise. It’s easy to pencil him in now because he finished last season with the Flames, but he’s only played eight NHL games to date. You know who else has? Emile Poirier. Shinkaruk has the benefit of recency bias (and also perhaps just actually being better), but both would surprise if they did make it (albeit Poirier much more so) – as would, say, Mark Jankowski, who could also very well put himself in the running.

There are more spots in the forward portion of the lineup, so there’s more potential for surprise. But with the players the Flames have to start this season, there’s also just plain more room for multiple forward prospects to force their way onto the opening night roster. (And that’s without the benefit of injuries, knock on wood.)

Maybe some of them can even do what Jooris couldn’t, and unseat someone previously thought of as an incumbent. The chances might even go up with a brand new head coach in charge. And that wouldn’t just be surprising – it would be exciting, too.

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    I would like to think that some of the vets would have to make the team out of camp. Another year of decline of Engelland, relatively quiet showing of Bouma so far, Vey has not really shown great skills yet, and Bollig who’s greatest performance in recent memory is his fitness. Chiasson has not proven anything yet either.

    I know, it’s only game 4 of pre-season and I haven’t been to practices. The Flames identity is supposed to be up-tempo and aggressive in the D-zone Does Engelland fit that? Can he or Wideman keep up? Bouma was always a shot-blocking specialist; what does the change do to him?

    Tkachuk will possibly make the opening day lineup if he reins it in a little bit. Keep him as the 14th forward and give him 9 games. Freddie is a more-skilled version of Bollig; don’t need him to only be there to hit or punch. Stajan has done nothing to distinguish himself at center; move him to the wing. Poirier and Ferland have shown great attack instincts; they should be stong candidates so far as they were two of the best against WPG.

    I’m not going to predict lines or pairings, but the number of locks to make the team shouldn’t be as high as Ari suggested.

    • everton fc

      “Freddie is a more-skilled version of Bollig; don’t need him to only be there to hit or punch.”

      Freddie whom? Hamilton?? He’s never masse dmore than 31 PLMs in any one, full season. He won’t be fighting anyone. Not sure what this means – he’s nothing like Bollig, and I think he can score as many goals/points as Chiasson has in his best season’s, given the chance.

      I see Vey, Shinkaruk and Hamilton as the three forwards out of camp. I see Tkachuk back in the “O” – and he should go back. Needs a year to mature, to pull in the reigns a bit, and so on. Poirier has not shown he can score in the AHL. Shinkaruk and Hamiltron both have. Until Poirier can show the same consistent offence and grit in the “A” he showed in the “Q”, he’ll be playing in Stockton, come October (or sooner). The only other guy I see getting out of camp for opening day is Hathaway – he, Bouma and Hamilton are not a bad 4th line. Not sure what than would mean for Stajan, though.

      Sanintarious is right about the excess salary. Bollig should be in Stockton. Stajan’s salary makes him unmovable – he’ll w/o a doubt be our 4th line centre, and maybe our temporary 3rd line centre, if Backlund is out for the opener. Bouma’s a head scratcher, but I think he’ll bounce back a bit. How could he not bounce back, after last season, particularly if he stays healthy.

      As for the d-men, Engelland will be her opening night. Kulak should be. Wotherspoon hasn’t shown he should be. Wideman is a millstone. Kylington is the only outsider, but another full season in the “A” won’t hurt him.

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        Freddie is a 4th liner with skill, unlike Bollig who is a 4th liner that hits or punches. He’s not a fighter, but at least is gritty like Hathaway.

        The only vet that couldn’t be moved to the AHL is Wideman. Stajan, Engelland, Bouma, Bollig can go there. You have dead cap space in Stockton, but you at least gain $925k for each of those players. Replace them with a kid making less and you have the net difference (between 925k and kid salary) as cap savings.

  • Sanintarious

    Here is the the thing….

    Stajan- 3.125m cap hit/ with a NTC

    Engelland- 2.92m cap hit

    Wideman- 5.25m cap hit/ NMC

    Bollig- 1.25m cap hit

    These guys take a ton of the cap space, and you can’t burry them all in the AHL. While they may “make” the team out of camp and be on the opening night rosters, its a very good chance 2/4 or even 3/4 are scratches to start the season.

    Stajan’s hit is bad, but he is fairly reliable in small minutes and down the line up. I do believe Hamilton or Jankowski will eventually take his spot on that 3rd or 4th line Centre, but can they force management hand this year? Who knows, still early.

    I fully believe Eggs will be that 7th d-man sitting in the box most of the time, while either Spoon or Kulak or perhaps a surprise player plays that spot (switching in and out with Eggs at time)

    Wideman due to his cap hit and NMC will be in the line up most nights. Gulitzen will try to limit his hard minutes as best as possible and utilize him where he can show some success.

    Bollig is the guy I think we see cut late for a kid to take his spot.

    Time will tell. A lot will also depend if management smartens up and gets Gaudreau signed before the season starts as well.

  • MWflames

    biggest surprise/upset/whatever will be the opening night roster w/out Gaudreau…

    Looks like a couple of stubborn people play hardball in that negotiation.

    For anybody under contract at the moment, I’d wotherspoon is probably best to fill that 6th/7th position. I think Kulak still benefits most from play. Wotherspoon doesn’t need to be buttered up much more than he is – let him sink or swim against our bottom 3 defensemen.

  • OKG

    How about Kenney Morrison? Everything is going against him (He was simply not very good last year – worse than Kulak ever was in the AHL, he’s still on his ELC but this is his last year with no guarantee he even gets qualified, he plays the same side of the ice as Wideman/Engelland, and like Jooris is not a drafted prospect nor a big name UFA signing, and he’s 24 yet everyone is focused in on the 19 year olds)

    On paper he has no chance.

    Yet he has been solid in back to back preseason tilts. He also had an offensively productive Young Stars.

    If anything I think he can force his way to a final cut/first callup which would have been a surprise for me even a day before Young Stars. Kulak making the team did not surprise me – he was always one of our better prospects but never got the recognition. But Jooris and Morrisson?

  • Backburner

    I don’t know about Alex Chiasson as a lock.. is he on a one way contract?

    He seemed pretty useless the other night against Edmonton, he will have to really pick it up if he wants to make the team.

  • Dan the flames fan

    I can see Morrison making it to the final cuts, but kulak so far has earned the right to make the team. Wotherspoon has played consistent hockey-no surprises. For the forwards, Hamilton is definitely making noise for making the team, and Jankowski’s play has been solid.
    Please send Bollig down! We need to get rid of anchors. I would rather see Stajan play wing, and mentor the 4th line center. I think mentoring will be the next big role for him. His TOI should be reduced to let the younger guys gain the experience.

  • Dan the flames fan

    I can see Morrison making it to the final cuts, but kulak so far has earned the right to make the team. Wotherspoon has played consistent hockey-no surprises. For the forwards, Hamilton is definitely making noise for making the team, and Jankowski’s play has been solid.
    Please send Bollig down! We need to get rid of anchors. I would rather see Stajan play wing, and mentor the 4th line center. I think mentoring will be the next big role for him. His TOI should be reduced to let the younger guys gain the experience.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I know Janko only has 1 pt in 2 games, but I went to the game against the Oilers and he really stood out along with Gillies. He is a very Smooth and efficient skater and reminds me of Joe Thorton that way.

      He did an effective job running the powerplay but did not play with any NHL caliber wingers. I don’t feel that he shoots enough yet when he does, he has a decent shot.

      I think he will need to find some offense in order to crack the team but I now feel it is not a matter of if he makes the NHL….rather when it happens. Right now I see him as the first call up, but I hope he gets some games to start the season.

  • OKG

    Interesting pairings in practice today:

    Giordano-Hamilton
    Brodie-Wideman
    Jokipakka-Engelland
    Kulak-Kylington
    Wotherspoon-Andersson
    Culkin-Robak / Dyukov-Morrisson
    Grossman-Grigoriev

  • jakethesnail

    There really only has been one pre-season game. The split squad games were even more watered down than the Winnipeg game. Vancouver should be a better test and the second game versus Winnipeg.

    If Johnny does not start the regular season – who will Monny’s wingers? Hard to believe Tre is playing hardball with Johnny – the face of the franchise! Way to p off fans and Johnny….

    If Johnny is out our number one line will be Tkachuk-Bennett-Brouwer! Could be Johnny-Bennett-Brouwer in the near future, if Johnny signs. Not a bad future!

    • everton fc

      I agree – playing hardball w/Gaudreau may not be wise…

      Though Johnny and his agent may be the ones playing hard ball here. Hard to tell. Pun intended!