Well now that there’s a small collection of semi-meaningful games to discuss, we’re going to suss out every lesson possible from the five games last week. Just always keep in mind: it’s the preseason.
Czarnik looks good with 19 & 11. Lindholm looks good with 13 & 23. Could 93 move back to centre on a line with Frolik & Neal?
— Brad (@brad_1729) September 23, 2018
Well Derek Ryan still exists, so I would probably say he would get that spot. He’s not the most flashy offensive guy, but still he’s a strong puck possession and distribution player. And if that fails, they’re likely going to try Mark Jankowski or Dillon Dube there (I would lean towards Dube. Preseason being what it is, but Dube got that 3C spot with Michael Frolik against Vancouver in the best NHL lineup they’ve iced since leaving China). If none of those work, maybe they try Elias Lindholm at 3C.
I think the Sam Bennett as C experiment is dead and buried. The Flames picked up three centres in Lindholm, Ryan, and Austin Czarnik, to compliment the three established centres from last season. If Bennett manages to make his way down the middle of the ice, there has to be a lot of injuries, because it’s just not believable that they would try it again. He hasn’t been a consistently effective guy so far in the NHL, but he’s looked even worse than that at centre. If he breaks out this year, it’s likely going to be on the wing.
Is Czarnik the real deal? Or is he this year's Tanner Glass?
— Khalid Keshavjee (@KMKeshavjee) September 24, 2018
Is Czarnik a better version of Paul Byron, who signed a 3 year contract for 3.4 AVV?
— jake (@jakethesnail) September 23, 2018
I don’t think he’s a preseason sensation like Tanner Glass was (there are many ways he is not Tanner Glass, but he is particularly not Glass in this way). The pugilist won a spot mostly because there was no bottom six winger depth and everyone else who showed up to camp somehow fell below that very low bar (it helped that Glass was essentially playing for his NHL career).
Czarnik is battling tons of depth right now. He certainly could’ve lost his spot to a younger RW, but he’s done his best to make sure that doesn’t happen. Signing Glass out of camp was arguably a worse case scenario come true. Czarnik is more likely to repeat his preseason success, though I don’t think he’ll be a regular hat-trick scorer.
Will he break out like Paul Byron? That’s certainly possible. Both had weird paths to the NHL and were never really appreciated in the early stages of their careers. Czarnik’s NHL results have been limited but promising so far, though 50 games over two years isn’t really much to analyze. I think he’ll hit around 35 points this season provided he can stick around in the middle six. For what the Flames are paying him, that’s good news. Anything else is gravy.
Flames scored 43 PP goals last year, if they score 53 they're knocking on door of top third. Is there hope Flames' PP can improve that much?
— kingcambie (@kingcambie) September 23, 2018
The powerplay looks much improved over last year’s disaster (proof) and with greater depth, they should be able to ice two very competent and lethal-looking units come October. In about 15 and a half preseason powerplay minutes, they’ve scored two goals, which is probably better than the powerplay at any point last season. We haven’t really seen any of their real NHL units so far, so perhaps the best is yet to come.
Again, they’re clearing a very low bar. I could certainly imagine around 55 powerplay goals this year.
How many games do you think we'll win this year if we have to PK 8 times a game?
— Dave's Not Here (@Weirddave0) September 23, 2018
The bad development of the preseason is that the Flames have been going to the box non-stop. They played about seven minutes of PK against Vancouver during the third period, which is not good. Some of the calls have been ticky-tacky or the result of inexperience (Dube’s faceoff violation call, for example), but the Flames have been making their fair share of mistakes.
The good news is that they’ve killed a large number of penalties and looked good doing it. The PK looks more aggressive and seems more active against the opposing powerplay units, and actually has been getting some great early results (two goals allowed in 41 penalty kill minutes, one was a deflection off a skate during a two-minute 5v3). Like the powerplay, better depth (and smarter usage) can only bolster the unit. They have plenty of intriguing combos that can be used and they should also be much improved. But you’re right: they should try and stay out of the box regardless.
Does Dube look like a legit roster contender? Or is it just the lack of true NHLers he’s playing against?
— Jared Thiessen (@thiessenj3) September 23, 2018
Could both Valamaki and Dube make the team?
— Noah Adler (@noahadler1) September 23, 2018
Dube? Yes, there’s no question about it: he is the most likely prospect to get an NHL spot. He’s been getting heavy matchups, heavy ice time, and looks on both sides of special teams in every non-China preseason game so far. The qualifying factor is that he hasn’t looked out of his depth. Of course, there have been some mistakes, but for a 20-year-old with six games of AHL pro experience that’s not entirely surprising. Of the forwards who feasibly could make it (Spencer Foo and Andrew Mangiapane are the other two serious contenders), he just looks a step ahead. If we read too deep and infer that the heavy ice time means he’s won the favour of the coaching staff, then it’s very very likely he’s on the opening day roster.
Juuso Valimaki needs some work. He’s had his “wow” moments, but isn’t quite there yet. There’s heavy competition on the backend, and from preseason performance, it’s likely one of Oliver Kylington or Rasmus Andersson who gets that spot, depending on how they want to deal with handedness. I think Valimaki’s contract situation also plays in, as the Flames can get an extra slide year if they let him grow in the AHL. It’s okay if he’s not an NHLer just yet, he’s still only 19 years old.
Do you find it a little odd or concerning that Neal hasn’t gotten a point yet? You’d think he’d have scored something by now, no?
It’s just preseason but the whole top lines been a bit quiet, I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about but I haven’t noticed him as much as I would like
— JoeytheDog (@FlamesDoggo) September 23, 2018
Is Neals footspeed already a concern? Or should we relax because it's the preseason ?
— Harshita Chhabra (@harshitaDBB) September 23, 2018
Should we at all be concerned about #13 or #18 ? Haven’t seen much from either.
— Devon Thumwood (@DThumwood) September 23, 2018
I would probably relax a bit on James Neal and most of the forwards who went to China in general. They’re all probably pretty tired.
That being said, Neal has been a bit absent from the preseason. He played second fiddle to Lindholm in China and hasn’t really gelled well with Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk. Perhaps he’s just figuring out his new team, perhaps it’s the preseason. I don’t think it’s a major issue. There are preseason heroes who don’t become regular season heroes, and preseason duds who yadda yadda.
What is certainly bad news for Neal is that the other right wings have been playing great hockey. Lindholm looked solid and Czarnik has been flying on the ice. I don’t think Czarnik is going to suddenly turn the corner and become a top six option, but he certainly has a leg up on Neal right now. If you’re Peters, you can’t really give a top six spot to Neal based on how everyone else has been playing.
So Neal is probably going to have to settle in the bottom six for the time being. I don’t think the revamped third line is a bad landing spot, but ideally he could be playing up the roster. For the price he costs, he certainly should be. As with most preseason trends, we’ll reevaluate in October.
What do you do with Lazar? Does he find his way back to the AHL? Does the organization get over the sink cost to acquire him?
— Khalid Keshavjee (@KMKeshavjee) September 24, 2018
Lazar probably goes to the AHL and stays there. It’s hard to imagine him outplaying someone in the NHL right now, and I don’t think AHL time is going to solve his issues. Even if he does become an effective player in the AHL, we’ve all seen plenty of tweeners who just could never make it in the NHL. Lazar is one of those tweeners.
I don’t think the Flames worry about sunk cost. A second round pick would’ve been nice (see why) but I’m sure they realize all of their pricey (relatively speaking) acquisitions aren’t always going to work out. This was one of them.