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Juuso Valimaki adds to Flames’ already impressive collection of young defencemen

When you look at the Flames’ prospect pool, it was understandable to think Calgary would take a forward with the 16th overall pick.

After all, they have Brett Kulak, Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Adam Fox already – guys ranging from possibly NHL-ready right now to looking like they have a hell of a lot of upside. Compare that to their forward pool, and sure, there’s Mark Jankowski, and you hope for Morgan Klimchuk or Andrew Mangiapane, but no forward names truly stick out the way they do on defence.

The Flames didn’t add that bluechip forward in the first round. But they did add Juuso Valimaki’s name to that prospective defence group. And that’s, um, that’s pretty special.

Let’s recap the Flames’ defensive situation for this season. They have three NHLers guaranteed in an already impressive top three: Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and T.J. Brodie. Matt Bartkowski is there, too, possibly; where exactly he’ll play next season isn’t established yet. That leaves three or four NHL spots open, and Kulak and Andersson’s names are being thrown about as two possibilities to fill them in already.

Kylington will probably need another year. Valimaki has stated he thinks he can make the NHL within two seasons, so who knows; there’s no need to rush him, but at the same time, it’s not unheard of for some picks to simply step in right away (and at 6’2 and 204 lbs it’s not like he’s hurting for size, that’s for sure). Fox is the only one you can rule out right away, but if he puts together a sophomore season anything like his historic freshman year, you can bet the Flames will be pulling to get him out of the NCAA sooner rather than later.

Let’s put things this way. If absolutely everything falls into place – which is not likely to happen, but let’s play best case scenario for a moment here – within two years you could see Valimaki, Kulak, Andersson, and Kylington all in the NHL, and Fox playing top minutes in the AHL. That’s a defence that is almost entirely home grown, Hamilton being the lone exception. That’s a defence that’s prepared to shift Giordano, the old man of the group, into a lesser role whenever it becomes necessary.

Let’s go in a different direction. Say only one of Andersson, Kylington, Fox, or Valimaki reaches his potential. All it’s going to take is one of them to to fill out the Flames’ top four – and it’ll probably happen before Brodie is 30 years old. If more than one of them pans out, then we’re talking about top four-level defencemen on the bottom pairing. A big part of Nashville’s Cup run was their defence; the Flames seem set up to follow suit.

Calgary probably needs help to fill out its top four for this season – it’s hard to see them relying on any of these prospects to make the jump to that level immediately, and reportedly, they’re still in on Travis Hamonic – but the future of their defence is extremely bright.

The quality of their defensive prospects compared to everything else also opens the avenue for more deals. You trade from a position of strength to add to a position of weakness. I think it’s probably safe to say Valimaki won’t be traded – not when he was just picked in the first round, not when the Flames had a jersey with his name on it ready for him – and considering how close Andersson is, probably not him, either. Kylington’s stock is likely lower in perception now as he hasn’t been incredible in the AHL, but the Flames have gotten two years of professional play from a teenager without the clock on his ELC even starting, so he may be more valuable in house.

Kulak is perhaps the most NHL-ready of the group, and selling on Fox now would be selling high, with the potential for that coming back to bite. But fact of the matter is, with all of this defensive talent starting to really take form, it’s tough to see everyone sticking around.

At the same time, it’s a strength the Flames can use: whether it comes from having a ridiculously overstacked defence or using some of those players to fill out other holes in the roster, all of these high caliber defensive prospects give Calgary a ton of flexibility.

Two years ago, Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell were relied on as top four defencemen, and an injury to Giordano put Deryk Engelland in the same position. Now, it seems very unlikely the Flames will experience those same defensive woes again.

    • Ari Yanover

      It’s the WHL or NHL for him. It’s not where a player is from, it’s the team he’s from. Valimaki was committed to Tri-City, so he’s CHL property. This is different from Alex Nylander, who was loaned to Mississauga from his Swedish club, which is why he was able to enter the AHL right away.

    • Ari Yanover

      Teams will have jerseys ready with the names of players they’re expecting to pick up, so it means the Flames were specifically targeting Valimaki (they probably had a few other jerseys on hand, too, in case someone else they wanted was there at 16).

      If you look back at, say, Jesse Puljujarvi’s pictures from last year, you’ll see he doesn’t have a namebar on his jersey – because the Oilers didn’t in their wildest dreams think he would be available when they picked. Most top picks will have the namebar on theirs when they’re drafted because teams can generally guarantee who they’ll get when they’re picking that high. It’s the later rounds that tends to stop.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    “Two years ago, Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell were relied on as top four defencemen, and an injury to Giordano put Deryk Engelland in the same position. Now, it seems very unlikely the Flames will experience those same defensive woes again.”

    We had those same defensive woes all of last season as Brodie was like little boy lost being paired with all those bums. While Stone was an improvement on Wideman and Engelland, he showed painfully that he was not a suitable partner for Brodie.

    The club still doesn’t have a suitable partner for Brodie, hence the desperate need to acquire a 4th defenceman. (Lordy, Lordy, please don’t let Tre attempt to sign one as a FA as you know he will badly overpay the dude!)

    Yes, Kulak could be a 4th but it’s a role he can hope to aspire to. At this point, his main goal is to just get a full-time gig in the NHL as a regular defenceman. Ditto for Wortherspoon.

    I agree that the club has some pretty exciting prospects in the system, but the cupboard in Calgary is not well stocked. Now add a lengthy injury to one of the top 3 and the likes of Kulak, Wortherspoon or Andersson are now playing top 4 minutes. Mercy!

    I maintain that the biggest player acquisition the Flames need to make this offseason is a true top 4 blueliner. Not having one hurt Brodie and the team as a whole last year, and you know the very outspoken Smitty isn’t going to put up for very long with all the defensive miscues Elliott and Johnson had to deal with last season before he starts tossing teammates under the bus and ruffling fathers in the dressing room. Tre had a heap on his plate last offseason. He has much less this offseason, so if he fails to get a suitable partner for TJ at a price that doesn’t threaten extending Backs, don’t blame it on the Moon.

  • The GREAT WW

    Sounds like we got Hamonic.

    Who did we give up?
    I would hate to give up next year’s first. Could be a lottery pick…..
    Maybe Kylington part of the deal? Just guessing….

    WW

      • Skylardog

        Putting stuff together from 2 sources. Spectator Hockey says a deal is close for Duschene that involves Hamonic, and I saw a post earlier (can’t find it now, saying that Duschene is leaving Colorado but only if a 3rd team was involved. I think that was from last night.

  • Baalzamon

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Kylington was part of the deal. Sucks but… well… Valimaki. And Hamonic can play now (hopefully last season was a blip because if it wasn’t… woof).

    I saw someone on twitter say two picks and a prospect.

  • Skylardog

    Anyone know this? With the Smith deal that is a 2nd if we make the playoffs, was there two 2nds in the next few years we have that we could give up for Hamonic?

    • Baalzamon

      Someone clarified for me on the other thread. The 2nd rounders in the Hamonic trade are 2018 and 2019–unless we make the playoffs this year, in which case the 2019 2nd rounder defers to 2020 (as the 2019 pick goes to Arizona).
      The important part being that the 2018 3rd rounder in the Smith trade becomes a 2019 2nd rounder if we make the playoffs.

        • Baalzamon

          Yeah. But bear in mind: The Flames have had three consecutive drafts with two picks in the second round. Granted, they wasted two of those (McDonald and Smith) but the rest (Andersson, Kylington, Parsons, Dube) are looking rather good.

          • Lucky 13

            Thanks for the updates Baalzamon!
            I’m at work and my phone keeps losing signal … appreciate it!

            I read that he wants to be closer to his mother, who has health issues? The man as a person is to notch…. gotta love a player that loves his mother!

            I hope he is happy here. Welcome Hamonic!