With the Calgary Flames’ training camp well underway, many of us are sitting on our hands waiting to see the roster take shape.
It’s likely that the defensive pairings will be Giordano – Hamilton, Brodie – Hamonic, and Kulak – Stone. Only the seventh spot is really up for grabs, with either Matt Bartkowski or Tyler Wotherspoon the likely candidates. As much as we want to see either Rasmus Andersson or Juuso Valimaki crack the lineup, it would not be optimal if they spent most of their time in the NHL as scratches. By the season opener, the defensive pairings should be intact.
However, when it comes to the forwards, things get a little bit trickier. If you’ve tried your hand at penciling in the Calgary Flames’ forward lines, you’ve probably found yourself stumped by the time you made it past Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland, and Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik. There has not been anything concrete regarding the line combinations outside the top six.
Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg are all but certain to be fixtures on the third line, with their winger to be determined. Troy Brouwer and Matt Stajan will likely see time on the fourth line, though it would be their spots to lose if they underperform in the coming weeks. It’s abundantly clear that there’s very little room for the remaining players to earn their spots.
Thankfully, the bottom six has the flexibility for players to interchange their positions, with all four players already mentioned able to take draws or play on the wing, meaning any of the Flames’ prospects could potentially make the jump and become an NHLer.
From what we’ve seen at training camp so far, the most likely candidates to round out the roster are Curtis Lazar, Mark Jankowski, Emile Poirier, Spencer Foo, Marek Hrivik, Hunter Shinkaruk, Andrew Mangiapane, Morgan Klimchuk, Freddie Hamilton, and Garnet Hathaway (Daniel Pribyl would be here too if not for his untimely injury). These players will often find themselves playing musical chairs for the last spots on the bench, with the losers heading to the press box or down south to Stockton. It wouldn’t be surprising if Brouwer and Stajan end up rotating amongst these players, too.
While it’s up to management where they want these players to spend time over the course of the year, it’s entirely possible that any of them could force their way into the lineup.
To kick things off, let’s look at Lazar.
The bizarre case of Curtis Lazar
When Curtis Lazar was drafted in 2013, he was pegged as one of the top prospects for the Ottawa Senators. Fresh off a Memorial Cup championship after posting 76 points in 58 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings, he was poised to become a difference maker in the NHL. After a lacklustre start to the 2014-15 season, he was loaned to Team Canada and captained the U20 World Junior team to a gold medal. Coming back to Ottawa, he was never able to produce at the level he was expected to, and was ultimately shipped to Calgary after two years of disappointment.
The Flames believed that he just needed a fresh start to reignite his offensive talent and make his mark in the NHL. We know that the Flames brass thinks highly of him, even opting to protect him during the Vegas expansion draft. Surely they have great hopes for him moving forward.
He didn’t get much of a chance last season in Calgary, however, partly due to the Flames being on their historic 10-game winning streak when he was traded and couldn’t crack the red-hot lineup. Coming to training camp in “the best shape of his life”, Flames management has vowed to give him ample opportunity to prove himself at the NHL level. Even Lazar sees this season as one of opportunity:
“I’m motivated. I’ve got a fresh start and a lot of opportunity and I’ve got to do something with it.” – Curtis Lazar
Despite all this affirmation, his slot in the roster is a question mark. Although preseason lines don’t traditionally hold as much value as regular season practice lines, we’ve seen an interesting deployment by Glen Gulutzan. Lazar’s line throughout training camp has been beside Stajan and Shinkaruk, one that doesn’t appear to feature players who have an inside track to an opening night roster spot, other than Stajan.
Even so, skating with fourth line players at best doesn’t seem to be a spot that gives Lazar ample opportunity to redeem himself this season. Perhaps the additions and emergence of fringe NHL prospects has pushed Lazar down the depth chart through no fault of his own. Maybe his supposed demotion is due to unfortunate slotting and he’ll eventually earn a full time roster spot.
Only time will tell where he ends up, but this story is one that will be interesting to follow all the way up until the season opener on Oct. 4.
Why Lazar should make the lineup:
- The Flames have high expectations of Lazar.
- They traded assets to get him and used a protection slot to keep him.
- Treliving has said that he will get more opportunity this season.
Why Lazar shouldn’t make the lineup:
- Other prospects appear to have passed him in the pecking order.
- He’s largely unproven at the NHL level.
- His roster spot could be better used on a more intriguing player with a higher apparent ceiling.
Coming up: Mark Jankowski