The Flames did something a little different to start the 2018-19 season: they left spots open for rookies to make the team. Two (Dillon Dube and Juuso Valimaki) did, while Rasmus Andersson joined them a couple of games later due to injury.
We’re nine games into the season now, which only really means anything for Valimaki, but it’s as good a time as any to check in on their progress and re-evaluate as the shine of preseason excellence has worn its course.
Through eight games (he was scratched for one) so far, Dube has just one assist. Starting on the third line, his spot appears to have been usurped by Sam Bennett (all of two years older than him). Dube now is dressing alongside Mark Jankowski (also bumped down to the fourth line) and Garnet Hathaway. He’s been hovering around 10 minutes a game, with a 10:41 average. Dube hasn’t played much more than that since the Flames’ third game of the season, when he dressed for 15:18.
Valimaki, the only Flames rookie to have dressed in every game to date, needs just one more to burn the first year of his entry-level contract. With pretty much no NHL-level replacements immediately available, it seems certain he’ll get there – to say nothing of how he deserves it. Michael Stone is his most common defence partner now, with the two getting offensive zone starts and playing relatively well with them. Valimaki has just one goal to date, and is playing a modest amount for a steady third pairing defenceman, averaging 15:13 a game.
Andersson, recalled after Travis Hamonic’s injury, has been a regular since the Flames’ third game of the season. Ultimately ending up on the second pairing with Noah Hanifin (for want of avoiding an all-rookie pairing that got exposed in Andersson’s second game of the season), he’s still looking for his first NHL point, but his ice time has climbed over the past four games, as he’s now averaging 16:16 a game – and even getting minutes alongside Mark Giordano on the top pairing. For the past four games, he’s played at least 17 minutes.
So, here’s the question: have these three rookies done about what you’ve expected out of them to start the season? Are they excellent, or underwhelming? Is their lack of scoring concerning to you? Are they playing the amount they should be, or should they be getting more ice time – whether in the NHL, or AHL? Would you keep them in the lineup, healthy scratch them, or even demote them and replace them with someone else (be it an AHL veteran performing well such as Curtis Lazar, or another rookie with potential like Andrew Mangiapane)?
Hamonic’s impending return complicates things some on the defence (if there’s no willingness to scratch one of the veterans, then Valimaki or Andersson would have to go down), while the forward group has a lot of flexibility and can afford to shelter Dube, or whoever else may play in his stead. The Flames have options at both positions, and none of Dube, Valimaki, or Andersson require waivers.
What would your plan be for the trio going forward?