The kids have gone back to school and the NFL started last weekend which means one thing for hockey fans…the NHL is almost back!
We are officially 23 days away from puck-drop on the 2017-18 NHL season and it’s time to look at what you should expect from the Flames’ top players.
If you are not familiar with me, I am the Editor-in-Chief of DailyFaceoff.com, where I do yearly projections for all players expected to make NHL rosters this fall. My projections hit the web last Tuesday and today we’ll look at who (I think) the Flames’ top-10 scorers will be during the upcoming season.
1. Johnny Gaudreau (LW)
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Gaudreau dazzled the NHL in his second season, registering 78 points (30G / 48A) in 2015-16, but failed to come close to those totals in his third season. Despite being undersized, durability has not been a concern for the 24-year-old, who has missed just 15 games in his first there seasons.
Gaudreau shot at an impressive 14.1 percent in his first 159 NHL games, but saw that fall to 9.9 percent last year—which explains his large dip in goal production. The American-born winger has some of the best hands in the NHL and is an excellent finisher, so expect that shooting percentage to rise back towards 14.1%, which would see him score goals in the mid-20’s again.
2. Sean Monahan (C)
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Monahan exploded onto the map in 2014-15 and since then he has become one of the most consistent young producers in the NHL. The 22-year-old has missed just two games in a three-year span, while averaging 28 goals and 33 assists (61 points)—ranking 17th in the NHL in goals (85) and 27th in points (183) during that stretch.
Monhan has great size for the centre position and him and Gaudreau have become one of the more dynamic duos in the NHL. Expect shot totals right around 200 again, which would put Monahan on-pace for near 30 goals with 30-plus assists for the fourth consecutive season.
3. Matthew Tkachuk (LW)
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Tkachuk has moved through the hockey ranks quickly. After two years with the U.S. National Development team, Tkachuk only spent one year in the OHL before making the Flames last season. The in-your-face, tenacious winger had a very strong rookie campaign, finishing sixth among first-year players in points (48).
His numbers at lower-levels says all you need to know about the second generation NHLer, who like his father Keith, is not afraid to go to the dirty areas to score goals. Sophomore slumps are always a concern, but Tkachuk looks talented enough to score goals in the mid-teens with 30-plus assists for the second straight year.
4. Dougie Hamilton (D)
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The Bruins trading Hamilton to the Flames raised some eyebrows, but Flames fans are not complaining because now they have one of the best young defenseman in the NHL. Hamilton has been one of the most consistent rearguards in the NHL in recent years, ranking 11th in goals (35) and 17th in points (135) over the last three seasons.
Hamilton set career-highs in goals (13) and assists (37) last season and should finish with similar numbers this year. Hamilton was third among Flames’ blueliners in power-play minutes last year, but still played over two minutes a night. He will see huge minutes on the top pairing with Mark Giordano and ample PP usage. The 24-year-old and Giordano became one of the best pairs last year and should continue until Gio reaches his upper-30’s.
5. Sam Bennett (C)
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Bennett was drafted No.4 overall after he recorded 91 points (36G / 55A) in 57 games with Kingston (OHL) and drew a lot of comparisons to Dougie Gilmour thanks to his combination of in-your-face play and offensive flair. Unlike Gilmour, Bennett has struggled offensively in his first two NHL seasons. Bennett has posted a 48.9 CorsiFor% in his 159 career NHL games, a number that needs improvement before we start seeing elevated offensive numbers. He is stuck behind Monahan and Mikael Backlund on the depth chart, which limits his minutes, but he is still averaging 15:04 TOI/GM to this point.
Limited PP exposure has restricted his production, but it’s his 1.63 shots per game that really hurts. At just 21-years-old and entering his third year, Bennett should see an uptick in minutes and production in 2017-18, making him one of my favourites for a breakout campaign.
6. Mark Giordano (D)
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After ranking seventh among defensemen in goals (44) and 10th in points-per-game (0.64) from 2014-to-2016, Giordano saw his production slip a bit in 2016-17. Giordano’s drop-off can be attributed in a dip in power-play usage and shot volume, but he is plenty capable of returning to form in 2017-18.
Gio and Hamilton are an exceptional pair and the 33-year-old should have no problem reaching double-digit goals for the fifth straight season and 30-plus assists.
7. Mikael Backlund (C)
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Backlund is lauded for his two-way ability, but he has taken his offensive game to another level over the last two seasons. Backlund, combined with Tkachuk and Michael Frolik became one of the best possession lines in the NHL last season and Backlund set career-highs in goals (22) and assists (31).
He saw a drastic uptick in shot production last year and even if that comes back down a touch, the 28-year-old Swede should still record 20-plus goals and an assist total approaching 30.
8. T.J. Brodie (D)
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Brodie led Flames’ defensemen in power-play time last year, but went from playing regularly with Giordano to the second-pairing at even-strength. While the slight hit in EVS usage can explain the nine-point dip (from 2016 to 2017), his on-ice shooting percentage went from 10.2 to 7.6%. The 27-year-old should continue to see a lot of PP time and that on-ice SH% should climb back above 10%, which means his point total should be over 40 for the third time in four years.
9. Michael Frolik (LW)
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While projecting players can be difficult, Frolik makes it easy. The veteran winger struggled with injury in his first year with the Flames (2015-16), but still posted similar point-per-game totals from the two years previous. To show how consistent (albeit unspectacular) Frolik has been, here are his point-per-game totals over the last four seasons: 0.52, 0.51, 0.5 and 0.54. Entering 2017-18, if you’re expected 50-60 points, you’re silly. He should skate in close to 82 games, which would leave him between 41 and 44 points come season’s end.
10. Troy Brouwer (RW)
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Like Frolik, Brouwer was a consistent offensive producer in the years leading up to his signing with the Flames. Unlike Frolik, Brouwer really struggled in Calgary, posting just 25 points (13G / 12A) in 74 games last year. Typically he approaches goal totals near 20 (three time 20-goal scorer) with a similar number of assists.
His struggles can be attributed to his CF% falling to 44.4 (50.4 career CF%) and a massive dip in shot production—1.16 shots per game. Despite a rough season, things should be much better in 2017-18. The 32-year-old should see his shot totals rise back towards 140 and if Bennett takes the expected step forward, Brouwer would likely benefit greatly.