Losing Kris Versteeg isn’t the worst blow that could be dealt to the Flames, but it’s still pretty bad.
With Versteeg officially deemed out month-to-month – a pretty daunting sentence – the Flames have not only lost one of their top powerplay contributors, but one of their top players on the bottom six, as well.
Let’s start with the powerplay. Versteeg has clocked in 71:43 minutes, fourth most on the team, behind Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and T.J. Brodie. Without him, the first unit has a very big hole it has to fill, and a handful of options with which to do it.
I think the Flames would prefer to have a four-forward first unit, so Michael Stone (and his shot) probably won’t be the long-term solution. Jaromir Jagr could see himself bumped back up there, though – he was playing on the first unit before his extended late October, early November absence – or perhaps Matthew Tkachuk could get the call.
Inevitably, this leaves a hole on the second unit, but another forward could slide in and take the spot. Maybe Sam Bennett (23:43, 12th on the Flames) gets another chance. Or Mark Jankowski gets the opportunity to further show he can contribute offensively. The Flames do have options.
Versteeg, with eight points over 22 games, is ninth in Flames scoring. He’s the highest scoring forward outside of the usual top six group. Admittedly, five of his eight points have come on the powerplay, but he’s still one of the better depth weapons the Flames have at their disposal.
Which brings me to my main point: it should be Andrew Mangiapane’s time to make his NHL debut.
Mangiapane is probably the closest thing the Flames have to a Versteeg in the system. True, he’s a left-shot, left winger, but Versteeg was playing the left side, anyway. They’re roughly the same size. And if you need to try to replicate Versteeg’s offence – and let’s face it, the Flames need to get more out of their bottom six – then Mangiapane is the best bet.
With 22 points in 20 games Mangiapane isn’t just the leading scorer on the Stockton Heat, he’s one of the top scorers in the AHL, period. He does that as a sophomore in the league; of the five players above him in scoring, two are younger than him by about a year. The rest are all older.
And age is key, here. Mangiapane is 21 years old. That’s the big difference between him and Garnet Hathaway, who is tied with Marek Hrivik for second in Heat scoring. Hathaway is 26, and he wasn’t capable of performing at the level Mangiapane is until he got much older. That Mangiapane is putting up the numbers he is now, despite being just 21, is a testament to the potential he has – and that’s a potential the Flames need now, more so than an energy player, which is more what Hathaway is.
If Mangiapane doesn’t work out, then he’s easy enough to send back to the AHL; he doesn’t require waivers. But the Flames will need some kind of long-term replacement for Versteeg. And barring a trade, Mangiapane is the closest thing they have.