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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Who could be the Flames’ Brock Boeser?

NHL teams travelling to China for the preseason is a relatively new thing. The Flames (and Bruins) aren’t making the inaugural trip, though – the Canucks and Kings made their way overseas last September.

One player who didn’t go, however, was the Canucks’ Brock Boeser. He responded by scoring 55 points in 62 games as the Canucks’ leading scorer throughout the 2017-18 regular season and finishing second in Calder Trophy voting as one of the NHL’s top rookies. His story is well known; Brad Treliving referenced it as a point for Flames players who won’t be making the trip that they shouldn’t get discouraged about it.

Who, among the Flames players left behind, could make a similar impact after being left at home?

This isn’t to say that a Flames prospect is going to break out the way Boeser did – with Johnny Gaudreau around the team scoring title is probably locked up, and nobody knows how the Calder race will end up playing out this early – but more just an exercise in wondering which prospect, if any, will be able to force his way on the team (and, hopefully, play an impactful role at that).

It might be a tough task, as it looks like pretty much the Flames’ entire starting roster is making the trip – we see you, Rasmus Andersson – but the team should have enough flexibility in its roster that anyone playing at a high enough level could force somebody else out.

Dillon Dube

This time a year ago, Dube looked pretty close to being ready: quite a statement from a then-19-year-old who had played all of one professional game (a playoff outing for Stockton) and still had a year of junior eligibility left (which he crushed, with 84 points in 53 games, along with captaining Team Canada to a gold medal at the World Juniors).

He’s since added six more AHL games to his resume (and four assists in them at that), and this year will be the first professional one of his career – which, it should be kept in mind, is a major adjustment for just about anybody. There shouldn’t be any concern if he doesn’t make the big league right away, since based on everything we’ve seen to date, he’s looking pretty poised to end up on the Flames sooner rather than later, even if it ends up taking a year or so.

On the other hand, he looked really, really good at last year’s training camp. And this time around, at least for the first little while, he’ll be one of the Flames’ top players in Calgary. Being left at home and getting the chance to assert himself as a big fish in a little pond could be exactly the springboard he needs into his pro career.

Spencer Foo

Foo’s first professional season could serve as something of a cautionary tale of what to expect for Dube’s: an outstanding year in college, followed by some weeks of struggling to find his footing, ultimately resulting in an outstanding second half of the season, giving him an extremely respectable 39 points in 62 games as a rookie pro (and the two NHL goals at the end of the year certainly didn’t hurt, either).

The right side of the ice no longer looks as dire as it did when the Flames won the bidding war for Foo, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be improved upon – and the Flames certainly aren’t going to turn away a talented right-shot forward if he can perform above and beyond the options ahead of him.

Expectations should still be kept in check – even though he’s on the older end of things as someone already 24 years old, this will still be just his second professional season – but it’s also pretty easy to see Foo wearing a Flames jersey at some point during the year. Why not at the start?

Andrew Mangiapane

Mangiapane might not have much left to prove at the AHL level. A prolific scorer in junior, he took those numbers and carried them over to the professional ranks, with 46 points in 39 games as a sophomore in the AHL. He led the Heat in scoring (even though he played 20-something fewer games than the other top guys), and was one of the organization’s first choices for a recall once injuries necessitated them.

He wasn’t quite on the scale of Garnet Hathaway or Mark Jankowski, who made their NHL recalls stick (and, in Jankowski’s case, forced someone else down), and his first 10 NHL games weren’t the most inspiring, particularly with no points for a player whose resume boasts he’s a scorer. On the other hand, the improvement from year one in the AHL to year two was undeniable, so who knows what year three has in store?

Mangiapane hasn’t played at a high level since March when shoulder surgery ended his season, but maybe getting the chance to tear it up as one of the Flames’ top dogs at home will help get him back into the game better than scarce minutes on a veteran-laden China group would.

Sep 30, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames defenseman Oliver Kylington (58) controls the puck against Vancouver Canucks during a preseason hockey game at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Oliver Kylington

With Andersson and Valimaki ahead of him, it’s easy to see Kylington as the forgotten man on defence. After all, he’s already spent three years playing for the Flames’ farm team, and what has that gotten him other than noticeable, marked improvement year after year?

As a 21-year-old, Kylington is already well acquainted with the North American professional game (and, for context, let’s remember Brett Kulak didn’t make the NHL full-time until he turned 23 – Kylington may not be Noah Hanifin with over 200 NHL games played at 21, but few are, and he’s still comparatively very young). There’s still tons of time to go for him, still with two years left on his entry-level deal, and maybe this is the year he puts it together.

Kylington has both talent and experience on his side. That could see him elevated to the NHL as early as this season.

Juuso Valimaki

Valimaki’s junior career is over, and rightfully so: he’s been over a point per game as a defenceman the past two seasons in the WHL, and that includes 17 points in 12 playoff games this past season for the Tri-City Americans. He’s a phenomenal talent – he was chosen 16th overall for a reason, even with the Flames already having an impressive stable of defensive prospects – and he seems destined for the big league sooner rather than later.

The Flames’ defence is in something of a state of flux. On paper, it looks solid; however, roles are being shuffled, guys are getting older, and there’s no telling what it might end up looking like at the end of the year. Plans don’t always come to fruition and Valimaki is as likely a candidate as any to force his way into a prominent position sooner rather than later.

That Valimaki isn’t going to China isn’t a knock on him: it’s giving him a chance to be a number one defenceman wearing a Flames jersey for a little while first. And considering his talent level as a soon-to-be-20-year-old already, it’s difficult to count him out.

  • Cheeky

    Will be interesting to see if Kylington takes the opportunity and lights it up in pre season. Still young but time to prove himself as a top offensive defenseman (and former sure bet top 5 prospect) before he falls further behind our other 2 top defensive prospects…

    • Derzie

      Oliver is a forward with some defensive abilities. We have enough forward prospects at the moment. He needs to focus on learning defense. Nerds rail against it but plus/minus over a full season has meaning. Oliver’s is terrible. Finest confirms with the eye test in Stockton.

  • deantheraven

    “With Andersson and Valimaki ahead of him, it’s easy to see Kylington as the forgotten man on defence.”
    Not according to management an coaches in interviews. This is the only place where I hear that. Valimaki would not only have to blow the doors off the Dome, someone would have to have a season- ending injury for this to happen. Management wants to protect him from Seattle, and give him a chance to adjust to the pro game, let alone give the other prospects a chance to prove their worth.
    We all like Valimaki, he projects to be a stud, but Oliver’s coaches in the ‘A’ see him as being ready to take the next step. He’ll be traded before Vali makes the Flames, imho.

    • Crazy Flames

      I don’t see how the Flames have to protect Valimaki from Seattle. If he ends up playing his 10 games (regular season or playoffs) and then is eligible to be picked up in the expansion draft the Flames should protect whoever the best players are. If that means leaving Gio unprotected in 3 years so be it. Valimaki probably should play an entire year in the AHL (because it certainly won’t hurt his development) but if there are injuries there is a good chance he gets some NHL games in and possibly goes over the safety limit.

      • everton fc

        My understanding is, if Valimaki is sent to Stockton for the balance of this season, he is not draft-eligible. Is this correct?

        As for Kylington… Stockton’s Finest is not a huge fan. But I think he has to be ahead of Valimaki, in terms of this season.

      • Puck Head

        If Valimaki is protected from the expansion draft it gives the Flames an opportunity to protect Hanafin, Ras and Kylington (assuming Kylington pans out and Ras is what we think he is). Having the ability to protect 3 additional defencemen is huge and should not be underestimated.

        Also note that the window on making trades is closing with the expansion draft looming – why pick up a high end player if it will leave him or another valuable player on your roster exposed? On that note, be prepared to trade players like Gio, Brodie or Hamonic sooner rather than later if you want a decent return. Otherwise, you may have to expose in them expansion draft.

  • Flamesforever

    I see Valamaki and Andersson sticking around all year, BP has a history of grooming very young defensemen into NHLers rather quickly and I see those two benefitting. Even if that means Stone and Kulak are the odd guys out.

  • cberg

    Calgary’s “BBoeser” for the Flames this year would be Mark Jankowski. Slightly different scenario but same potential impact. Janko has the smarts, the speed, the D and the shot to duplicate what Boeser has done, even better. Unfortunately for the Flames that would require a major injury to a Top6 guy or mega-brass ones on the coach which even ifs true won’t be revealed for a while. With the stories of BPeter’s line-juggling the opportunity may come none-the-less and I’d love Janko to continue his progression by stepping up to another whole level.

  • Redleader

    Say if one of Gaudreau,TKACHUK,Bennett get injured Mangiapane is the likely option on the trickle down effect. I could see Mangy being effective on the Pp and being our boesner. Or more likely I could see Anderson putting up a great rookie season,this guy is dangerous on the point ,another rookie who could put up some numbers on the pp.