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FlamesNation Mailbag: Assessing the preseason thus far

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.

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.

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.

Certainly.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

  • freethe flames

    Lot’s to consider and much of it depends on what you believe each of the RW are. So here is my wish for the preseason game on Tuesday and my reasoning.
    Line A: Johnny/Monny/Neal lots of ozone starts and quite frankly I don’t see them as the fore checking type of line. They are going to be more of gain possession type of line and hold on to the puck.
    Line B: Tkachuk/Backs/Czar: if it is not broken then don’t change. This line needs to be productive in all three zones.
    Line C: Dube(or Mangiapane)/Ryan/Lindholm no need to hide this line.
    Line D: Bennett/Janko/Frolik no need to hide this line.
    D 1 pairing: Gio/Brodie
    D 2 pairing: Kulak/Andersson
    D 3 pairing: Valimaki/PTO
    Goalie: Smith 2 periods/Gilles 1 period
    I would also be okay with Mangiapane on line C and Dube on RW on line d.
    As I said Line A ozone starts and roll the other 3 lines.

    • wot96

      I’d rather see Mangiapane on your line C than Dube. I would like to see what megapain can do with quality linemates. Plus I think Dube should start the year in Stockton anyway as an asset protection move.

      While I haven’t been overly impressed with Kylington, I would like to see him out there with a guy like Stone or Hamonic because I think that’s where he will be if he starts the year in Calgary, or gets called up. But that’s just me.

      • Cfan in Van

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think their are any asset management advantages to Dube spending time in the A this season (outside of development concerns). I think his contract begins to role, regardless of where he’s playing because of his date of birth. No slide rule for him.

        • wot96

          That was not my understanding. If I am wrong, then it is hard to see why he would go to Stockton this year provided also he isn’t a 13th or 14th forward. Better to get good minutes in the A than eat popcorn with Prout or whomever the 7th D is.

        • freethe flames

          That’s okay. It’s for one preseason game and is likely the last one we will see any of the none NHL guys unless they really shine, which is were I have put them to give them a chance to show their stuff. I was also thinking a Valimaki/Stone or Prout 3rd pairing instead of a PTO.

  • Raffydog

    I know it’s early, but Neal is starting to give me a very Brouwerish vibe. Looks old, slow, disinterested, and doesn’t seem like he’s developing any chemistry with anyone. From what I’ve seen so far looks like the Flames will be buying out that contract in a couple years.

    • JoelOttosJock

      It’s simple I think.

      Gaudreau Monahan Lindholm
      Tkchuck Bennett Neal
      Janko Backlund Czarnik
      ***** Ryan Frolik

      ***** rotate Lazar, Mango, Dube.
      First line lots of skill, finesse. Second line has skill, grit, bang and crash. Third line has skill and shut down written all over it. Fourth line has grit and skill. Balances the lines.

    • Rudy27

      To me, Neal looks like the typical veteran during the pre-season. He’s not pushing for a job like the young guys and PTO’s are, so he’s just methodically getting himself in shape and cleaning up the timing. Smart enough not to push too hard in the pre-season, and leaving the good stuff for when it really counts. It’s a long season, and the veterans know how to pace themselves.

      • Kevin R

        ^^^^^
        This!

        To me it should be:
        Gaudreau-Monahan-Lindholm
        Tkachuk-Backlund-Neal
        Bennett-Ryan-Czarnik
        Dube-Janko-Frolik
        You know Peters is going to blend these lines when needed & I expect no one line gets a ton more minutes than the other. they can literally roll these lines. Players TOI will vary with how much PP & PK duty that get during the course of the game. To me performance should be rewarded with TOI. This is the most depth on forward lines that I have seen in years & years.

      • wot96

        You’re right. But he apparently didn’t do what the team wanted to get into the China time zones. That’s not leadership and it isn’t just a veteran pacing himself. It’s way to early to be developing a Brouwer vibe but I at least kind of hope for a bit more out of a true vet than that.

  • Jessemadnote

    James Neal’s style is based around crashing, banging, getting in people’s faces. He’s also an intelligent veteran who knows that risking injury to try to impress during preseason is not a smart decision.

  • freethe flames

    So in addressing the hockey questions poised to Christian(someone I frequently disagree with here goes).
    1. I agree that the Bennett at center needs to be put to rest at the moment. He is more effective as a LW than a center at this moment; it’s better for him and the team.
    2. Is Czarnik another Byron? I’m not sure he is as defensively responsible as Byron was when he was here. Here’s hoping he can be that good, if he is then this helps the team a great deal. I actually think that Mangiapane is going to be a Byron type guy.
    3. Will the PP be better? I think so but much of that depends on how Neal plays. Speaking of Neal I have been one of his biggest critics so far; those who have defended him have made some valid points but this team cannot wait on him to find his groove. He has about a week to find his spot.
    4. The PK has been good and will only get better when the guys who went to China get their legs back. Backs/Frolik, Bennett/Janko and then others give them very sets of PK. BP will stress the need to stop taking bad penalties; part of the problem has been hooking penalties and the answer is skate harder again as the vets get their legs back we should see less of this. At least we have not seen stupid scrum penalties. I expect we take less bad penalties in part b/c of coaching.
    5. Dube: what to do with him. I would really like to see him in a couple of more preseason games but in the right role; I think a good spot for him would be with Bennett and Janko; high energy and good skill I think they could really gel in BP’s fore checking system.
    6. Lazar and I’m going to group Hathaway here as well. What are they? Both are 4 line RW who can play a little but add little O to the team; they play differently: Lazar brings speed and does a good job on the PK while Hathaway brings a little grit and can also play on the PK; do we need both of them? Would either or both clear waivers? Is Peluso a better fit as the 14th man? Depending on the play of Mangiape and Dube one of these guys needs to be waived and I don’t know which one is most likely to clear waivers.

  • Intercourse the Penguins

    I would like to see Dube’, Mang and Foo get 9 games apiece on the 4th line in the 1st 27 games. With good minutes rolling 4 lines and good linemates they can show what they are with a regular shift.

  • The Fall

    Johnny and Sean don’t need another trigger-man on their wing. They were at their best with Hudler: a calm, smrt, two-way player who can help them move the puck north. That line was one of the most productive in the league, remember…

    Johnny – Sean – Linda : This should be thought of as a top line for the next 4-5 years.

    • everton fc

      I’d still put Lindholm w/Gaudreau and Monahan, and I am okay w/Neal being w/Frolik and Ryan. However, he will most likely be on that 2nd line/RW w/Tkachuk and Backlund. We shall see, though; clearly Tkachuk-Backlund-Czarnik had some “chemistry”. Why pull them apart after a four goal performance, just to appease Neal and his experience/salary?

  • redwhiteblack

    Neil has not looked good so far. Probably suffering from 2 playoff hangovers. I hope he doesn’t get stuck in the post apex category like Brouwer. When he was signed, his age and the wear and tear of the past 2 years was my biggest concern.

    • Derzie

      Neal is post-apex AND he falls into the “vet that doesn’t care until there are points” category. In a month we’ll know which of these explain his preseason crappiness.

  • Smithwick

    Just heard a bit of a BP interview on 960. He was asked about the play of Ras and answered with him needing to get the pick off his stick quicker, lots of competition at D, and what I thought was a notable change for the Flames. He said he doesn’t want people blocking shots, doesn’t need it.