The Flames are officially one week and three preseason games into 2021 training camp. While a good chunk of Calgary’s opening night lineup seems to be determined, I still have a few questions I’m interested to have answered between now and then. With five exhibition games to go, there’s plenty of time for these topics to play themselves out.
Is Oliver Kylington in the mix?
After missing Calgary’s pre-season opener, Kylington has looked good in the team’s last two outings. In fact, assistant coach Ryan Huska told us on Wednesday’s Sportsnet 960 post-game show Kylington has been the most impressive D-man in game action thus far. That seemed to be echoed most recently with Kylington’s team leading 24:27 of ice time vs. Seattle. It’s been a nice fall so far for the 2015 second round pick.
The left side of the Flames blueline is a work in progress, which means the door is open for a player like Kylington to make a mark. So far he’s done just that and has impressed the coaching staff, but this is just step one. Opposition lineups will get better as the preseason continues and the pace of play is going to ramp up. If Kylington can keep holding his own in the next phases of camp, he’ll put himself in the mix for meaningful playing time from the start of the season.
What will the top two pairings look like?
Based on the first week of practices and game action, it’s safe to say Calgary is looking at a top four on defence consisting of Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, and Nikita Zadorov. That’s very much the personnel I expect to form the team’s top two pairings to start the season. What’s a little less clear, however, is how the Flames are going to mix and match those four.
This is how the top pairings looked for the first couple days of camp:
That changed after a few sessions, though, with Zadorov and Hanifin swapping spots. I’m guessing this is how things will look to start the year:
Hanifin has yet to appear in a pre-season game as he finishes recovering from shoulder surgery and likely won’t until late in the exhibition schedule. That said, we’ve now seen a pair of games with Zadorov and Andersson together, while Tanev made his pre-season debut Wednesday playing with Kylington. Calgary has different pairing options on the blueline, but this story seems to trending in one certain direction.
What is Dan Vladar?
No one has played more this preseason than the front-runner for the team’s backup goalie job. The Flames gave Vladar a half workload on both of Sunday and Monday before he went the whole way against the Kraken on Wednesday. In three appearances, Vladar has made 53 saves on 59 shots, good for an 0.898 save percentage.
Overall, I’ve liked most of Vladar’s body of work and it’s clear there’s a lot of potential despite limited NHL experience. At 6’5, Vladar moves well and his athleticism has been on display. I like how quick Vladar’s reactions are, which pairs nicely with his positioning. Vladar is clearly Calgary’s best backup option right now, and what I’ve seen so far has me optimistic about regular season results.
Will we see more of Dillon Dube at centre?
Head coach Darryl Sutter essentially answered that question earlier this week, and that answer would be yes. Dube moved to centre for Monday’s game in Abbotsford and looked comfortable and confident on a line with Andrew Mangiapane and Brett Ritchie. Dube scored a goal and was noticeable all night long as one of the team’s best players, if not their best.
You can expect Dube to get another run or two down the middle between now and the end of the pre-season, because it’s something Sutter wants to explore. The head coach likes the option of having multiple multiple players to flex from the wing to centre. I don’t expect Dube to spend a lot of time down the middle this year if the Flames are healthy, but this is a good chance to try him out if the need arises down the road.