5 storylines to watch as the Calgary Flames begin training camp
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike2 months ago
The Calgary Flames are set to begin the main portion of training camp on Wednesday, with on-ice starting on Thursday. As the curtain slowly rises on the 2023-24 campaign, here are four key storylines to keep your eye on as the Flames begin camp.
Where does Oliver Kylington fit in?
The Flames were kinda slow last season. By that, we mean that they looked and played a slow style at times. One of the reasons for that slowness was the absence of Oliver Kylington, a dynamic, smooth-skating blueliner, due to personal reasons. (Disclaimer: It was not the only reason, lots of things went wrong for the Flames in that regard.)
Well, Kylington’s back for the 2023-24 season. The big question for the blueline group revolves around how Kylington can fit within a defensive group that features two strong long-term pieces in Rasmus Andersson and MacKenzie Weegar, and a bunch of less certain players. If Kylington can bring what he brought in 2021-22, he could be a big, big add for the hockey club for 2023-24… and perhaps beyond.
Who is the fourth centre?
As camp begins, the Flames have three strong veteran centres slotted in three of the four lines: Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri and Mikael Backlund. Beyond that, there’s a big question mark for the fourth spot.
Could it be Adam Ruzicka, who played in that role at times last season (but seemed much better-suited for a wing spot)? Could it be Kevin Rooney, who played his way into the AHL after a pretty decent training camp in 2022-23? Could it be Ben Jones, who emerged as one of the more reliable players on a very good Wranglers team a year ago? Could it be Connor Zary, Calgary’s 2020 first-rounder who had a really effective 2022-23 season with the Wranglers? Or could someone like Dillon Dube, who’s been used up the middle here and there during his NHL career, convert to that role full-time?
How does the goaltending picture shake out?
The Flames have a number-one goalie named Jacob Markstrom who they quite like. He finished second in Vezina Trophy voting a couple years back. They have a number-two goalie named Dan Vladar they also like quite a bit. He’s barely 26-years-old and thought to be just scratching the surface of his potential. And they have a number-three goalie named Dustin Wolf they also like a lot. He’s been named goalie of the year in the league he’s played in over each of the past four seasons.
Any of the three could probably be a reliable starter. Markstrom is the only proven commodity of the three, but he’s also coming off a year that could be charitably described as challenging. It’ll be fascinating to see how the Flames juggle their goaltenders, particularly with Wolf being the only one of the three that’s waiver exempt.
Where do the kids fit in?
Former Flames head coach Darryl Sutter leaned on his veterans quite a bit, to the detriment of the some of his team’s younger players. (And veterans are proven commodities, so we kinda get his hesitance to use youngsters.) But new general manager Craig Conroy and new head coach Ryan Huska have touted the importance of adding some youth and energy to the team.
The players with the best chance of becoming full-time NHLers (that weren’t before) are forwards Walker Duehr, Jakob Pelletier and Matt Coronato. Given the versatility of the remaining veteran forwards, it’ll be interesting to see how these new faces are used, who they’re played with in camp, and which roles they can carve out for themselves.
Can the Flames ease their cap crunch?
Finally, we broke down the Flames’ salary cap situation heading into the season a little while back. In short: it’s tight, to the point where we’re not expecting them to be able to carry more than 21 players to start the season. Well, that’s assuming they don’t make any trades or other moves during camp.
The Flames have a lot of good players on their roster, with the potential to be a team to watch in the Western Conference. But the cap math isn’t going to make their lives easy… unless they make a move to ease the financial logjam.
We’ll see what happens on that front, particularly following a summer that was very quiet due to a cap crunch across most of the league.
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