If there’s a commonality between the many, many Zoom media availabilities the Calgary Flames have hosted since Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return to Play began back in July, it’s this: these guys love talking about their teammates. Frequently, questions about an individual player’s approach turn into discussions about the team’s common processes and focuses.
Much of the talk about collective buy-in and team maturity might have come from two places: the hard lessons the Flames learned from last April’s early exit, and the common experiences the team’s youngsters have had alongside the team’s big guns.
One of the main success stories of Brad Treliving’s tenure as Flames general manager has been drafting and development. Simply put, the Flames have become quietly very effective at drafting promising youngsters, developing them through camps and the AHL, and then slotting them into their lineup.
Case in point? Here’s a rundown of Flames draftees on Game 1 playoff rosters over the four trips to the post-season since Treliving’s arrival:
- 2015: 7 (TJ Brodie, Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Markus Granlund, Sam Bennett, and Micheal Ferland); Gaudreau and Bennett were rookies making their playoff debuts
- 2017: 8 (Brodie, Backlund, Gaudreau, Monahan, Ferland, Bennett, Lance Bouma, and Matthew Tkachuk); Tkachuk was a rookie making his playoff debut
- 2019: 9 (Brodie, Backlund, Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Monahan, Bennett, Mark Jankowski, Rasmus Andersson, and Andrew Mangiapane, while Juuso Valimaki played later on); Andersson, Mangiapane and Valimaki were rookies making their playoff debuts
- 2020: 9 (Andersson, Brodie, Backlund, Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Monahan, Mangiapane, Bennett, and Dillon Dube, while Jankowski played later on); Dube was a rookie making his playoff debut
From a long-term mentorship standpoint, having the likes of Mark Giordano and Mikael Backlund around as leaders has been tremendously valuable. They’re both guys that worked their way up the lineup from the bottom and have become established as top guys in the league. But if you’re 22-year-old Dube, can you relate to Backlund as easily as players your own age?
Well, the benefit of the Flames’ progression as a group is the Flames have had a succession of fresh faces playing their first playoff games every year, so the lessons can be passed along by any number of players. Having a cohort of draftees coming up in waves has undoubtedly made integrating the kids easier, especially in the playoff pressure cooker.
In terms of hard lessons from last spring? The bulk of the roster from the flop against Colorado are still around – even some of the black aces – and Dube’s first exposure to NHL playoff hockey was watching from the sidelines as Colorado did their thing. The series seems to have left its mark on the Flames and, at least through the Winnipeg series, it has framed how they’ve approached each game.
Half of the 18 skaters the Flames dressed for Game 4 are 25-years-old or younger. The Flames are the team with the least playoff experience of any team involved – and that fact will be true for the entire post-season. But interim head coach Geoff Ward praised the team, including their youngsters, for embracing a team-first mentality that has helped them overcome their lack of experience.
“I think they’ve all done a really good job of it,” said Ward. “I think the biggest thing is they’ve just given themselves to the team. Everybody in that room is doing things in order for the team to win hockey games, and they’re committed to doing that. So, I think when you get to that point in time you can kind of counteract some lack of experience because of exactly what you’re willing to give in order to get something. And that kind of grows on you.”
The Flames struggled in 2019 against Colorado because the team was less than the sum of its parts. Against Winnipeg, they were greater than the sum of their parts. Against a very deep, experienced and talented Dallas Stars team, that will need to continue to be true if they hope to be playing into late August.