Aside from a few pieces here and there, the Flames’ roster appears to be set.
Sure, there are still a couple of extra players hanging around, but as training camp has progressed we’ve gotten an increasingly clear picture of just who the Flames will open their season with.
The goalies look to be who we thought they were. Same for the defence.
The forwards, though? There’s still some question there.
Who is on the third line?
Conventional projections give us a first line consisting of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland. The second line looks to be Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik. The third line, then, should be Kris Versteeg, Sam Bennett, and… um… somebody…?
It looks like the only forward prospect who will make this team is Mark Jankowski. Spencer Foo, while coming off of an excellent junior season in the NCAA, wasn’t quite ready to start this season in the NHL; there goes that possibility. The darkhorse candidate that was Emile Poirier – still with plenty of potential, but also someone who hasn’t played a meaningful hockey game since February – won’t start the season in the NHL, either.
So, barring a last minute waiver claim (Beau Bennett, perhaps?) or free agent signing a la Versteeg a year ago – wherefore art thou, Jaromir Jagr? – it looks like the answer will be one of Troy Brouwer, Curtis Lazar, Freddie Hamilton, Garnet Hathaway, one of the tryouts, or even Jankowski himself (with Versteeg likely shifting to the left side to accommodate for the latter options’ left shots).
Each has their own pros and cons.
While Brouwer is easily the most experienced of the group and has the best counting numbers of all available options, he also had a poor season in 2016-17 – much of which was spent with Bennett – and a bounce back season from him is far from certain (not to mention playing him alongside Bennett once again could result in a repeat of the same issues from the previous year).
Lazar was acquired with the long-term in mind, but so far, he hasn’t shown what it was about him that had Flames brass so excited. If he can get it going, then great: that’s a potential pair for years to come. If he can’t, though, then he’s just weakening a line that has two players that could really use a third complementary one to make it truly formidable.
Hamilton and Hathaway are both right shots, which is great; however, they trend more towards being 13th and 14th forward types than third line wingers.
None of the tryouts are exactly known for their offensive skill.
Jankowski may be the most intriguing bet – he certainly has offensive potential and could be a fit on that line – but the plan is already in place to play the more experienced Bennett at centre. This would push Jankowski out of his natural position down the middle, which may not be an issue at all; but if the Flames want to keep a formidable centre depth in place, could pose problems down the line.
So… how would you solve this conundrum? Who, among the most likely options, would you have on a line with Versteeg or Bennett? Or would you rather mix and match the top six to put another player (say, Tkachuk) on that line instead (in which case, who fills in on the top six)? Or would you prefer to pick someone off of waivers or sign a free agent, even if he’s 40 years old or older?
What is the ideal makeup of this team’s top nine?