And all of a sudden, the Flames have a really deep defence.
It’s not necessarily deep in terms of elite talent level – Mark Giordano is elite, and after him, everyone else mostly ranges from “very good” to “developing” to “okay” with a side of “I would prefer you not be on the ice” – but it is in terms of actual NHLers at their disposal. With Michael Stone back in the NHL, the Flames now have nine defencemen available:
- Giordano – the favourite for the Norris Trophy this year, one of just five defencemen 35 years or older to score 65 points in a single season ever.
- TJ Brodie – Giordano’s regular partner, and his first partner since establishing himself as a top-tier defenceman, albeit with some misgivings in his own game.
- Travis Hamonic – often reliable to take on big defensive minutes, with a surprising uptick in offence this season.
- Noah Hanifin – 22 years old, playing in his fourth full season, likely to set a career year in terms of points.
- Rasmus Andersson – 22 years old, established himself as an NHL regular this season, already tasked with playing on the first pairing at times.
- Oliver Kylington – 21 years old, wasn’t supposed to be an NHLer this year but has slid right in out of necessity, plenty more promise to come.
- Oscar Fantenberg – Recently picked up, unspectacular but solid, someone you’d definitely trust on the bottom pairing.
- Dalton Prout – Probably the least desirable option, but he does have over 250 games under his belt; certainly, worse could be done, but probably a last resort.
- Stone – Just now returning, so we’ll have to see how things shake out over the rest of the regular season. However, he was originally slated to be part of the Flames’ six main defencemen – that he now serves as an alternate option indicates how much more the core has grown over the past couple of months.
This doesn’t include Juuso Valimaki, who could be added to the group at some point, but for the time being isn’t a factor.
The main thing that’s led to this gain in defensive depth for the Flames is all three of their high-end defensive prospects working out: Kylington was able to step in for Valimaki’s injury with little to no disruption, and that bodes well for the team’s future.
But the big one here is Andersson, who went from starting the season in the AHL (albeit never playing an AHL game) to overtaking a veteran’s spot in the lineup to being a regular on the second powerplay unit with top pairing potential that he’s already displaying. Andersson adds a lot to the Flames’ defensive group: he’s another talented player the team can count on in most situations. If he were to be removed from the equation, the Flames would still have a pretty decent grouping, but a less talented one, and one that would be much harder to get excited about.
In the meantime, though, the Flames have 12 games left in the regular season, and that means 12 more games to mix and match their nine defencemen. I think it’s fair to say that, assuming the Flames are dressing a full lineup every night (i.e. not resting anyone healthy), Giordano, Brodie, Hamonic, Hanifin, and Andersson will be dressed every single game, leaving one spot open for the remaining four defencemen to rotate through.
Which brings us to the what would you do part: who would you want to regularly dress as the sixth defenceman, a player who would likely be either Andersson or Brodie’s partner going forward? (Either Brodie or Andersson is going to be Giordano’s partner, leaving the other one to play on the third pairing with another defender.)
Prout is probably the least likely to draw in on the regular. Kylington is the Flames’ sixth-most played defenceman this season in terms of games, but did recently miss some time due to an injury; at this stage of the season, we aren’t going to know just how hurt any player actually is, so his injury status remains in question. Fantenberg is the new guy who has taken Kylington’s spot, and has had a good early showing. And Stone is the most known commodity, albeit one who hasn’t played in the NHL since November.
How would you arrange the defencemen going down the stretch, and who would you like to see as a regular in the lineup once the playoffs start? What would you do?