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Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel / USA TODAY Sports

A Tkachuk injury could result in some line shuffling

There was a bit of troubling news out of today’s morning skate in the form of Matthew Tkachuk’s absence. The 19-year-old rookie winger didn’t skate with the rest of the team and Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan indicated that Tkachuk is a game-time decision with what was termed a “maintenance issue.”

Tkachuk’s absence from the lineup is doubly troubling in that he’s a big part of one of hockey’s most effective lines between himself, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. The 3M line is usually assigned the tough minutes, facing the other team’s top lines and often starting in the Calgary zone. Presuming that Backlund and Frolik stay together and that the line’s role stays the same, who should slot in on the left side of that trio if Tkachuk can’t dress tonight?

KRIS VERSTEEG

The veteran winger is a right shot that plays the left side and has easily been the most effective part of the current third line (with Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer). He’s shown that he can bring a nice mix of offense and physicality, and he’s a pretty savvy player in every situation. The reason he’s probably the guy I’d prefer for this gig the most is that he’s arguably the most adaptable player on the team, in the sense that he can play with anyone and in any situation, and he’s wily enough to be able to figure things out on the fly without being caught wide-eyed.

If this happens, presumably Curtis Lazar could slot into Versteeg’s place on the third line.

SAM BENNETT

Bennett is a tremendously talented player, but at times that talent hasn’t shone through as a center. He’s fundamentally been Calgary’s number three pivot this season, which means he’s been centering the leftovers of the top six group rather than playing with high-end players who can keep up with him. Placing him with Backlund and Frolik would give him tougher matchups, but he’d get to play with better players and could probably benefit from a change of scenery.

If this happens, either Stajan gets bumped up to the third line and Lazar or Freddie Hamilton plays fourth line center, or they keep the existing fourth line together and drop Lazar or Hamilton between Versteeg and Brouwer.

ALEX CHIASSON

Chiasson was dynamite against Pittsburgh, skating extremely well and generating a lot of offensive opportunities off the rush. The best of a pretty effective fourth line group over the last while, I’d describe Chiasson as a “poor man’s Versteeg.” He’s bigger physically, but is ultimately a slightly less good version of his teammate. Like Versteeg, Chiasson’s really adaptable and hasn’t dragged anyone down when playing on the top six earlier this season. He’ll do in a pinch, though it’s unclear how he’d fare against tougher competition.

If this happens, Lazar or Hamilton drops into his spot on the fourth line.

Beyond these three primary options there’s always the chance that the coaching staff decides to throw Lazar into the deep waters and place him on the Backlund line, but considering the rationale behind practicing Lazar so intensively since the trade deadline was to rebuild his confidence it would seem inadvisable to put him on the shutdown line against Patrice Bergeron right out of the gates.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Bennett or Versteeg. Bennett has been working the PK of late, I dont think he would be a liability defensively. …might be just the thing to get him some confidence as well…? Versteeg can also play shutdown pretty well and while he has less speed than bennett, he has better hockey IQ ..IMO

  • Cfan in Van

    Ouch. I hope he’s back soon. That kid is ridiculously valuable to this team. I agree about Bennett or Steeger in that spot, and I hope it leads to a glimpse of Lazar somewhere in the lineup.

    If we don’t get see Anderson make an appearance, at least we could see what Lazar has (or doesn’t have).

  • The Doctor

    Chaisson has been playing well on the fourth line for sure, but he can’t dangle the way Versteeg can. Versteeg at times demonstrates some really quick hands (like in that shootout goal).

  • The Doctor

    BTW I hate to see MT out, but this could present a nice opportunity to give Bennett some power-play time. There’s no question that lack of powerplay time has also suppressed his offensive numbers this year.

  • Burnward

    Move Benny there, Stajan up and give Lazar a start.

    Might not be the worst thing in the world for him to get a week or two off. Lots of hockey for the kid and with playoffs!!! around the corner, give him a chance to recharge.

    • flames2015

      If Tkachuk is a game time decision, he won’t be off for a “week or two”. We are still fighting for the playoffs and home ice advantage. We need him in the line up.

    • Greg

      It won’t be a week or two but that configuration is ideal. Stan an can handle third line minutes, and we were all clamouring to give Bennett another shot on backlund’s wing for a confidence boost a few weeks ago anyway. Slotting Lazar in to see what’s he got is icing on the cake. Perfect solution.

      Which probably means they’ll do something else. 🙂

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    My question would be if MT is not 100% why risk it. If Calgary makes the playoffs he is going to be a key component. Calgary can afford to rest him for a couple of games against Boston and Dallas. This would be the same strategy that I would use for Elliott.

  • Robhouli

    I say let’s put Lazar in, move Versteeg to Backlund’s line and put Lazar in Versteeg’s spot. Let’s see if this kid can bring some energy and enthusiasm.

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      Problem is, Lazar is a Center/RW (RHS) and Versteeg is playing LW right now. So it makes no sense to put Lazar in on LW.
      Maybe pushing Sam to LW – Lazar C- Brouwer RW… Might work? with Versteeg in Tkachuk’s spot on the 3M-line. I have to say having Lazar, F. Hamilton, Hathaway as depth is a very nice problem to have.

  • HOFer_dirty30

    Move Bennett up, he has been working hard, if we could spark him watch out.
    Put Lazar inbetween the 2 vets on the 3rd.
    4th lines been good, let’s not mess with it

  • TriPPiNvdUb

    Why not move to Frolik to the left and let Lazar ride shotgun with him and Backs? Nothing like a good ole Backlund bump to get your mojo going…

    If not, bump Bowser up and see if Lazar can find some chemistry on the 3rd line

  • cgyokgn

    We’ve been really fortunate with our injury situation until now… with Dougie (thankfully he played through his injury), Stone and now Chucky. This is the worst possible time. Of course there’s no good time, but with our defensive lines out of whack and now with our forward lines out of whack, it’s going to be tough slogging against Boston and for however many games that are left if these guys don’t return.