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WWYDW: How many rookies should be playing on defence?

Against the Predators, the Flames did something I can’t recall seeing in a long time, if maybe ever: they dressed two rookie defencemen together, and kept them together throughout the night.

Granted, they were just third pairing defenders, and not entrusted to the major responsibilities that would fall on guys like Mark Giordano or TJ Brodie. But Juuso Valimaki only just turned 20, and Rasmus Andersson will be 22 later in October, and they were still trusted to play 10:52 together in Nashville, against a team known for its defensive depth.

And they didn’t look out of place at all.

As it was Andersson’s first NHL game this season – and first game under Bill Peters ever – his ice time was limited to just 11:52, with no special teams time. But with Travis Hamonic projected to be out for at least another three weeks, and perhaps another five, in all likelihood, he’ll see his role grow.

Valimaki made his NHL debut with just 10:19 of ice time, and his role has already become more prominent.

Against the Predators, he played 17:46, including 2:17 of penalty kill time, during which he helped kill off a lengthy five-on-three. At just 5v5, he played 15:22. Compare these numbers to Michael Stone’s in the same game: 1:24 less in total ice time, 2:03 less in terms of just 5v5, and more penalty kill time than a veteran. This was only one game, and Stone himself was in the penalty box, but it’s certainly worthy of attention that someone who was only playing his third NHL game was apparently trusted with about as much responsibility as someone playing his 428th.

Granted, it’s early, and for all we know, neither Valimaki nor Andersson will have a place on this team for much longer. Valimaki has nine games to play before his entry-level contract officially kicks in and we’re already a third of the way there; Andersson is only in the NHL today by virtue of somebody else’s injury.

But if they both continue to get ice time – and with Hamonic injured, Brett Kulak traded, and Dalton Prout being Dalton Prout, that seems fairly likely – and they continue to perform, well, then when Hamonic returns to action, things could get rather interesting.

Granted, this is rather far off into the future, and it’s making the assumption that Valimaki and Andersson at least prove to be better than replacement level (or better than Stone) over the next several weeks. But it does raise some questions for the Flames.

With Hamonic still sidelined, do you continue to play Valimaki and Andersson together, and have Stone pair up with Noah Hanifin? Do you break the rookies up, giving Andersson to Hanifin, and perhaps creating a 2A and 2B defence pairing situation?

And when Hamonic returns, if both Valimaki and Andersson are still looking like NHL players, who do you send down? Either of them? Prout? Do you sit Stone, and dress Hanifin with Hamonic – or Hanifin with Andersson, and Valimaki with Hamonic?

Because if – and it’s still a strong if – Valimaki and Andersson are both ready to play in the NHL right now, then the Flames might have a formidable defence on their hands. There will be bumps and struggles along the way, but the first auditions have been good ones.

What would you do for the short term – and what, without the benefit of foresight, do you think will be the right move when Hamonic returns in the longer term?

  • FlamesFanFromMI

    @Puckhead
    PK crave attention to a point where the number on the back of his Jersey means more then what’s in front of him. His give a crap meter is even lower the Dougie. No wonder Montreal traded him and now made injured Webber a captain ( discussion for some other time) . I still remember when P.K. made a donation to kids charity and then went on the podium to say that this is the largest donation ever made in the history of that organization, seriously? I will pass thank you.
    Stone was an upgrade of Wideman and flames were going to trade him till he pulled a bone headed move and hit the official.
    BT signed stone as he didn’t know how the drafted kid will develop. Is Stone a good defense man? Not really but he is here let’s see how far we go in the playoffs and if we need extra bodies . He is a insurance policy. Let him be.

  • Tape2Tape

    Poor Backlund WW doesn’t like him because of bad penalties and what did Neal do. oh ya not much so far i guess. I bet Neal’s leg’s aren’t back yet from his playoff run with the Knight’s.

  • Stockton's Finest

    The only way Valamaki is back in Stockton after 9 games is Taromina lights it up for the Heat. That won’t happen. I will get my chance to see Juuso (and Andersson) in February when I come to Calgary. I think when Hamonic returns, Prout heads south and 6/7 rotates between Stone, Andersson, and maybe Valamaki (being a rookie and all).

    • Hockeysense9393

      I hear a little “regret” in your statement SF, but in a good way. Come see Valli and Ras in Calgary and enjoy. I can see a good confidence boost from both of them by February and both playing good hockey. I’m hoping that once both Taromina and Hogstrom get acclimated to the Heat system that this will help Kylington’s game. Poor kids in over his head.

  • Panama

    TSN is promoting the idea of the Leafs offer sheeting Trouba. After I stopped laughing about the fact that they are already in salary cap hell, I laughed some more. Oh, regarding what to do with Hamonic, trade him if he ever approaches the value of half of what we paid for him. Maybe to Toronto. Or Winnipeg.