Of all of Calgary’s new additions over the summer, no one has made a bigger impact than Elias Lindholm through the first month of the season. Lindholm has fit like a glove on the team’s top line and has also gotten the job done when shifted to centre. Unfortunately, the gap from Lindholm to the rest of the new faces is large. There’s still plenty of time for that to change, but Flames fans were certainly expecting more from the other four offseason additions.For the purpose of this article, we’re only including established NHLers. That’s because a look at Dillon Dube, Rasmus Andresson, and Juuso Valimaki is coming a little later in November.
Right from the get-go, new head coach Bill Peters publicly stated his desire to see Lindholm with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and that’s the look we saw to start the season. While many, including myself, wondered whether Lindholm had the offensive upside to compliment Calgary’s top two offensive players, that hasn’t been an issue. His eight goals lead the team through the first month, while his on-ice totals at five-on-five have been solid, too.
There have certainly been defensive issues with the team’s top line, with and without Lindholm on it. However, I’ve liked how relentless Lindholm has been away from the puck, which has led to numerous neutral zone turnovers and chances off the rush for Monahan and Gaudreau. Lindholm’s work on the team’s top powerplay unit has been strong, too, and he’s been a mainstay there since the start of the season.
The other number that jumps out is Lindholm’s faceoff percentage. At 57.6%, he sits in the league’s top 15 and has boosted the team in an area they’ve been historically poor in. Lindholm’s work in the dot has helped the top line and has also paid dividends when shifted to centre on another line. While the impact of faceoffs is a debated subject these days, I think we can all agree a top 15 player isn’t a bad thing.
Finally, Lindholm offers important versatility for the Flames, and at all strengths. Peters is able to use Lindholm in a scoring role on the top line or as the anchor of another line further down the depth chart. Furthermore, he’s averaging 4:23 per game on the powerplay to go along with 1:57 on the penalty kill.
Grade: A. It’s tough not to be excited by what we’ve seen from Lindholm. While his 23.5 shooting percentage is unsustainably high, his work so far has him in line for a solid step forward in points.
Neal was brought in for one reason: to score. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened with any regularity through 13 games with Calgary. Neal’s play has been remarkably beige through the first month and if things don’t pick up soon, the five-year, $28.75 million contract he signed in July is going to start making a lot of people nervous. At five-on-five, Neal has been ineffective most of the time with a few flashes every once in a while.
The most concerning thing about Neal is his individual offensive totals. He’s generating shots, attempts, and scoring chances at a rate below what he’s done throughout his career.
|Career (before Calgary)||703||3.1||5.5||1.2||12.1|
There are some good news items here, though. First, Neal is starting to play better and has been far more noticeable in the team’s last few games. His individual totals per game have gone up and moved a little closer to his career norm, and he’s just looked more dangerous to the eye.
As Bill Tran wrote earlier this week, some of Neal’s other five-on-five underlying numbers, like shots and shot attempts per 60 minutes, are closer to his career rates. In saying that, I think Neal is better evaluated when looking at him in all situations. When looking at those, you’ll still find Neal is down a little. His individual shots-per-60 is down to 9.7 from 10.4, while attempts-per-60 are down to 16.7 from 18.5.
Also on the bright side, Neal’s shooting percentage is significantly lower than his impressive career average; that is almost sure to normalize as the season plays out. Finally, it’s somewhat unlikely that he’s completely dropped off a cliff from one season to the next. I think Neal is capable of far more and when we start seeing it consistently, he still has the chance to be an important piece of this team.
Grade: D. I don’t think you can give a better grade than that so far, and some might think me a generous marker. As we discussed earlier this month, Calgary is still looking for the right spot to play Neal on a regular basis. Whatever the case, and wherever he plays, Neal needs to be significantly better than what we’ve seen thus far, although he’s showing signs of coming around.
Ryan hasn’t been particularly bad in his first month with the Flames. Instead, he’s been okay and has very much blended into the background as part of Calgary’s bottom six forward group. Ryan hasn’t contributed a ton offensively (12 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS) and his five-on-five totals aren’t anything to write home about, either.
When Ryan signed his three-year, $9.375 million deal on July 1, most Flames fans were hoping he’d be a significant upgrade from the bottom six options we saw last season. While that’s still the case in a couple instances, it certainly isn’t as emphatic as many hoped. And, at 49.5%, Ryan’s work in the faceoff dot hasn’t been a big step forward, either.
If you separate his contract from the conversation, though Ryan has been fine. Even though he hasn’t been a big time driver, Ryan definitely doesn’t hurt the team at five-on-five. The problem is, signing a contract that carries a $3.125 million cap hit brings with it certain expectations. He’s been okay through his first month, but Calgary was hoping for a little more than okay.
There was plenty of excitement surrounding Czarnik’s signing on July 1. Multiple reports suggested 20 or more teams were in a bidding war for his services. And, with a pair of 60+ point seasons in the American Hockey League, there was plenty of reason to be intrigued about his offensive upside. Follow that up with an impressive preseason and you can understand why there was a little excitement surrounding Czarnik.
So far, that hasn’t translated in a big way to regular season play, at least offensively. Much like Ryan, Czarnik hasn’t been bad, but to see him with just one goal through eight games played is slightly disappointing. However, I do think we’ve seen Czarnik impact the game a little more than a few other newcomer forwards on this team. That can be seen in his on-ice rates at five-on-five.
Czarnik has spent more time on the attack than not and is averaging about two shots per game in all situations. Knowing he’s essentially shooting at 0% (his only goal came into an empty net), there’s a solid chance the puck starts going in for Czarnik if he continues to shoot it. Knowing he’s been a mainstay on the second powerplay unit, those shooting opportunities likely aren’t going anywhere.
Grade: B. I know the offensive totals aren’t anything to write home about, but Czarnik has generally been a good, if not great, player through his first month with the Flames. He’s already been a healthy scratch five times, which I don’t believe is representative of his play.
While the debate about how good Dougie Hamilton was during his three years in Calgary may never end, it’s tough to argue Hanifin has been an upgrade early on. Because they were involved in the same trade, Hanifin and Hamilton will be associated with one another, at least for the time being. Regardless of what you thought of Hamilton, though, Hanifin has yet to show he’s ready for a top pairing role in the NHL.
From a defensive perspective, Hanifin has struggled, both analytically and by the eye. No Flames defenceman has been on the ice for more five-on-five high danger chances against than Hanifin’s 59. Visually, Hanifin hasn’t been overly hard to play against; opposing players are able to gain the zone on him without a ton of difficulty and his decision making under duress has been questionable.
On a brighter note, though, Hanifin has also been on the ice for 52 high danger chances for at five-on-five, which is the highest total among Calgary blueliners. With just two assists, his offensive totals haven’t reflected it, but Hanifin has been decent in contributing to the team’s attack. While I’m not convinced he’ll ever be an elite powerplay quarterback, Hanifin’s high level skating allows him to create odd-man mismatches by joining the rush at even strength.
Grade: C. While he’s been just okay so far, the good news is Hanifin doesn’t turn 22 until January and still has plenty of room to grow. Thanks to his incredible skating and offensive gifts, Hanifin’s ceiling remains very high. I love the raw physical gifts, which is why I still have high hopes.