The Calgary Flames enter the 2019-20 season with a number of undefined roles, which is a good thing. Thanks to the emergence and/or addition of players like Rasmus Andersson, Derek Ryan, Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Tkachuk, a few NHL regulars find themselves fighting for ice time. It’s a good problem to have, but it has players like Mark Jankowski and Michael Stone unsure of where exactly they fit on the Flames.
Jankowski started last season as Calgary’s number three centre. By the end of February, though, he’d been overtaken by Derek Ryan and was the clear number four. In the final two months of the season and into the playoffs, Ryan saw more even strength ice time and more difficult minutes than Jankowski and was the vastly superior player.
|Mark Jankowski||Derek Ryan|
While Jankowski rarely hurt the team, he didn’t move the needle on a consistent basis, specifically at five-on-five. What helped keep Jankowski in the lineup was his strong work on the penalty kill; he averaged 1:57 of PK time during the regular season and finished with five shorthanded goals.
Entering his third full season, Jankowski is no longer a lock for an everyday role. With the team focused on winning now, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, and Ryan are all ahead of him on the depth chart with Dillon Dube knocking on the door. Furthermore, Jankowski was part of a trade that almost happened earlier this summer with Toronto, which shows you he’s not untouchable.
Because he played four years at Providence College, Jankowski is no longer young by NHL standards. He’ll turn 25 in September, which is when many players start to enter “is what he is” territory. Jankowski’s challenge is to prove he needs to be in the everyday lineup, whether it be with improved five-on-five play or continued great PK work. Regardless, this season looms large for Jankowski’s future with the Flames and in the league.
When Calgary acquired Stone prior to the 2017 trade deadline, he instantly became a mainstay on the team’s blueline. Stone helped the team clinch a playoff spot that season and played all 82 games the following campaign. Last year took a different turn, though; Stone was passed on the depth chart and ran into a major medical problem that effectively ended his season. An off-season of training will certainly help.
Stone dressed for the Flames in the first ten games last season before becoming a victim of the numbers game. Andersson quickly proved he brought more to the table, and Stone started an extended stretch in the press box when Travis Hamonic returned from injury in late October. Prior to being diagnosed with a blood clot on Nov. 22, Stone dressed just once in a span of 12 games.
Other than three meaningless appearances late in the season, Stone’s play was on par with the rest of his time in Calgary. He was physical and responsible defensively but didn’t help drive play or generate much offence. In fairness, that’s not what Stone is; steady and strong physical is what he brings to the table.
Unfortunately, when the choice is between Stone and Andersson, the latter is going to win out. Andersson is a superior skater, puck mover, and has more offensive upside, while the defensive comparison is a wash. If the Flames’ blueline consists of the same personnel next season, Stone will likely be sitting more often than not again.
There is one caveat for Stone, and that’s the future of TJ Brodie. Also linked to the Leafs in that aforementioned failed trade, many believe Brodie will be playing elsewhere to start next season. If that’s the case, Andersson probably starts on the right side with Mark Giordano and leaves an open spot. If that happens and Stone has a strong training camp, regular NHL work in Calgary could still be in the cards.
We won’t spend as much time on Bennett, mainly because we wrote about him earlier this week. While I believe Bennett’s role is becoming more defined, his play this season will go a long way to define whether the middle six is his permanent slot or if more upside remains.
The other thing that remains in the ether is what position suits Bennett best. I believe Bennett is far more effective on the wing where the role of primary offensive puck carrier is off his shoulders. The organization still holds out hope he can develop into an NHL centre, which is what they drafted him as in 2014. From what I’ve seen in four seasons, though, I question whether he thinks the game at a high enough level to succeed down the middle.
I like Bennett and I think he has a role on the Flames, even if it’s not the one many hoped when he was drafted five years ago. With a new contract pending, Bennett will likely remain cost effective and should have a chance to continue to cement his role as a hard-nosed, physical winger.
Year one in Calgary was an up and down one for Czarnik after signing in free agency last summer. After playing in the team’s first six games, Czarnik dressed for just 23 of the team’s next 51 games and struggled to effect the game as a bottom six winger. Czarnik finished the season with 25 straight appearances but only saw one playoff game against the Avalanche. I think the best word to use when describing Czarnik’s first season with the Flames is inconsistent.
Czarnik has an opportunity in front of him knowing the team is looking for more scoring pop off the wing. If Calgary ends up dealing Michael Frolik to free up cap space, there’s an even better chance for Czarnik. That said, the likes of Mangiapane and Dube will be right there fighting for the same spot.
Czarnik was a high scoring winger in the American League playing in a top six role. His challenge is translating that success to a bottom six slot in the NHL, which is much easier said that done. If Czarnik can do that more consistently early in the season, he’ll have a chance to play on a nightly basis. If not, there are plenty of younger forwards ready to leapfrog him on the depth chart.