Losing Michael Frolik has hurt the Flames.
Well, yeah; injuries to top six forwards tend to hurt most teams. And though Frolik wasn’t quite playing on Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk’s level – certainly not points-wise, though that had been starting to turn around – his absence has resulted in a depleted lineup.
Troy Brouwer has been moved up in Frolik’s stead, from fourth line to top six forward. There is a certain logic to it: with the first and third lines rolling, there’s no need to want to disrupt those. And amongst fourth liners, Brouwer has both the most experience and most potential to score.
He’s no Frolik, though. Via Corsica, stats at 5v5:
|RWer||TOI w/ 19+11||CF%||GF%|
That’s what the numbers say; the eyes show a disconnect, as well. Brouwer missed what should have been a tap-in goals via Backlund passes, and he just isn’t keeping up with the line, particularly in terms of both foot speed anticipation of the play.
Credit where credit is due, Brouwer has a goal and two assists since being moved up, but that’s about it.
So that begs this Wednesday’s question: would you keep Brouwer on the second line until Frolik returns, or try someone else? Brouwer’s case has already been made: he’s a veteran, well accustomed to the NHL, and with multiple 40-point seasons under his belt, no stranger to scoring.
Going with the assumption that the first line in untouchable – nobody is breaking up Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland – then I see four other candidates to move up to the second line.
Sam Bennett went pointless for the first 15 games of the season. It was real bad. Since then, he’s scored 17 points over 30 games: not quite what one would have thought of a fourth overall pick, but a significant improvement.
Still, though, Bennett is on pace for a 31-point season, which beats last year’s tally of 26 points, but is still five points shy of his career high rookie season.
A rookie season during which he mostly played with Frolik and Backlund.
Bennett’s best year to date came alongside Backlund. Last season, he was initially tapped to be Tkachuk’s linemate. Though the Flames’ third line of Bennett, Mark Jankowski, and Garnet Hathaway was one of the best things about the team in December, they’ve dried up a bit since then – and maybe a small shakeup would be warranted, especially if it helps improve the second line.
Besides that, Bennett helps fill some of those Brouwer checkboxes, as well: in his third NHL season he knows what he’s doing, and he has scoring potential. When Monahan went down, Bennett was called on to fill in on the top line. Maybe he should get some extended time in the top six.
Andrew Mangiapane has all of seven games of NHL experience. He technically isn’t even in the NHL right now, sent down to Stockton so he could get a game in during the Flames’ five-day break, but in all likelihood, he should be recalled come Friday. The Flames don’t have much in the way of extra forwards, and he’s the Heat’s highest scorer.
Speaking of high scorers: Mangiapane has mostly been toiling away in a fourth line role. It’s fine, but it’s clearly not his game, and probably part of the reason he’s still searching for his first NHL point. Maybe if he was given a chance and some linemates who could score, he’d be able to show us more of what he’s capable of. Considering how Mangiapane was brought up because of Frolik’s injury, it could be viewed as an extended audition.
Besides, Backlund has a pretty good record of helping out players who need it, including rookies (Bennett, Tkachuk). The defensive zone starts could be a problem, but if anyone can help Mangiapane adjust to the NHL, it’s probably Backlund.
Garnet Hathaway is a bit of an odd case. He’s older than the typical prospect-turned-NHLer – he turned 26 in November – but once he was recalled and settled onto a line with Bennett and Jankowski, he started contributing – not just with his physical, constantly hustling play, but with points, as well.
That was then. This is now. The effort is still there, but he has just two assists in his past 10 games. He has eight points in 22 games overall: one more than Jaromir Jagr got, and Jagr had the injury and age excuses going for him. Hathaway does not.
Still, he plays a very enthusiastic game, and maybe Tkachuk and Backlund could help him kickstart things. On the other hand, Hathaway may be better suited for the fourth line rather than the second.
Curtis Lazar has not lived up to the second round pick it took to acquire him. He has five assists in 31 games. It’s probably fair to say that Ottawa ruined his development, but since Freddie Hamilton was recently claimed on waivers, sending Lazar down may not be an option at all.
Basically, that’s left Lazar stuck in limbo: either a healthy scratch or, now that there are no longer any healthy bodies, on the fourth line. He’s averaged 9:32 a game. Things have been incredibly disappointing all around.
So maybe it’s time for a second chance, an opportunity born of someone else’s misfortune? Playing on Backlund’s line would give Lazar both regular minutes and talented linemates. He’s certainly got the speed to keep up. And if there was ever a line for him to prove he can contribute offensively, it’s likely this one: the first line is unavailable, and the third has gone a bit dry, itself. There’s also the fact that playing with Backlund tends to help players; Lance Bouma and Joe Colborne can attest to this.
At the very least, it would give Lazar something to actually do.
What would you do?
It’s been about three weeks since Frolik last played. In all likelihood, he’ll be out another couple of weeks. There are a number of options to fill in for him: there’s Brouwer himself, who’s been playing on that line all 2018 so far, and a number of younger options who may – or may not – be able to contribute in a top six role.
Who would you have play alongside Tkachuk and Backlund for the remainder of Frolik’s absence?