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?
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.
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.
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.