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?