61Devante Smith-Pelly
Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports

Looking at the roster spot races midway through pre-season

The Calgary Flames have played four pre-season games thus far, picking up two victories. More important than the wins and losses, though, are the assessments the Flames are making on the players vying for a handful of job openings.

Here’s a snapshot of how the races are shaping up.

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The blueline

Five spots are spoken for: Rasmus Andersson, Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic and Noah Hanifin. That leaves two gigs up for grabs.

Oliver Kylington is either going to play the left side of the third pair, or he’ll be in Stockton as he’s waiver exempt. He’s played two games and generally looked pretty good, though he hasn’t blown te doors off.

A trio of veterans are vying for either a third pairing gig or a job as the extra defender: Michael Stone (three games), Andrew MacDonald (two games) and Brandon Davidson (two games). Of the three, Stone is arguably (a) the player that the coaching staff knows the best and (b) the player who’s been the most consistent in his outings.

If I were a betting man, I would imagine Kylington begins the season on the third pairing and Stone as the seventh defender.

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The forwards

There are 10 roster spots locked down – Derek Ryan, Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Milan Lucic, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Michael Frolik, Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett. Presuming the Flames are intending to carry 13 forwards, and that Matthew Tkachuk will be one of them, that leaves two spots available in camp.

The two spots have seven players in the mix. The leading contenders include Austin Czarnik, Dillon Dube, Alan Quine and Zac Rinaldo. The next tier includes Tobias Rieder, Devante Smith-Pelly, Matthew Phillips and Glenn Gawdin.

Due to performance, flexibility and cap hit, it’s reasonable to place Dube and Quine at the front of the line. Both can play center or the wing, both carry fairly low cap hits, and both have performed very well in camp thus. Simply put: Dube’s been probably the best bubble body in camp, and has put himself in a position to begin the season in Calgary for the second camp in a row.

Rinaldo has been a big surprise, as he’s managed to combine physicality, speed and a surprisingly good sense of when to make passes. Smith-Pelly, on the other hand, has struggled with the pace of the pre-season at times.

On the fringes

Finally, while the two NHL goaltending jobs are locked down, the play of Artyom Zagidulin (and the struggles of Jon Gillies) have likely changed the team’s netminding plans a bit. Zagidulin could be pushing into the conversation for a potential recall, provided he doesn’t regress during his impending stint in the AHL.