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Breaking down the Calgary Flames’ first quarter player performances

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Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
3 months ago
The Calgary Flames played their 21st game of the 2023-24 regular season on Saturday night, dropping a 3-1 decision to the Colorado Avalanche. The contest dropped the proverbial checkered flag on the first quarter of their season.
With 21 down and 61 left to play, we thought we’d dive into the club’s individual performances so far and assign letter grades to every player who’s dressed for the club so far.
A disclaimer before we get going: we’re judging each player relative to their role, their playing time and the reasonable expectations for their performance based on their particular circumstances – age, cap hit and what-have-you.

Goaltenders

Jacob Markstrom – B-
14 starts; 5-7-2, 2.93 GAA, .901 SV%, .904 5v5 SV%
Last season, Markstrom had a habit of giving up what felt like a “bad” goal every game. (It was actually probably a “bad” goal every three games, but it felt like more.) The Flames have had defensive foibles to overcome in front of him as they’ve learned the zone defensive scheme, but Markstrom has been steady, reliable, and given them chances to stick around in games consistently. He hasn’t really stolen any games, but he hasn’t given them away either.
Dan Vladar – C+
6 starts; 3-2-1, 3.60 GAA, .869 SV%, .875 5v5 SV%
Vladar’s been used less often than Markstrom, and he’s been not quite as good as his counterpart, but like Markstrom it’s not like he’s been a liability. He’s dealt with the same defensive struggles in front of him as Markstrom has, but Markstrom has fared a little bit better than Vladar.
Dustin Wolf – Incomplete
1 start; 0-1-0, 4.02 GAA, .895 SV%, .875 5v5 SV%
Wolf played one game and gave up four goals. But he made 34 saves, many of them really strong. It’s probably unfair to judge him off a single outing.

Defencemen

Noah Hanifin – B+
21 games; 4 goals, 6 assists, 10 points, even; 52.17 xGF%
Hanifin’s game has been pretty representative of the Flames’ entire defensive group. Offensively, he’s been pretty good. Possession-wise, he’s also been pretty good. The details of his defensive game have been kind of all over the place, hence his plus/minus. And he’s been a contributor to a power play that’s been unimpressive. Hanifin is hardly a liability, but you’d love to see more from him.
MacKenzie Weegar – B+
21 games; 4 goals, 6 assists, 10 points, minus-1; 51.36 xGF%
Weegar has been quite similiar to Hanifin. He plays a lot. He’s shown both some very impressive offensive instincts and some defensive miscues at pretty bad times. On the balance, if the power play had been more effective and his offensive numbers were a bit better, you may consider giving him an A or A-. As it stands, this is where he lands so far.
Rasmus Andersson – B
17 games; 3 goals, 8 assists, 11 points, even plus/minus; 46.13 xGF%
Do you knock down Andersson a bit from Hanifin and Weegar for (a) getting suspended for four games and (b) having somewhat worse possession numbers than his defensive teammates? Yep.
Chris Tanev – B
21 games; 0 goals, 5 assists, 5 points, plus-4; 54.30 xGF%
Tanev’s been used all over the place so far this season, often dealing with whichever pairing or defender is having the most challenges. He’s been pretty effective at five-on-five – his plus/minus leads the defensive group – but he gets dinged a little bit for the team’s special teams struggles, as the penalty kill has slid a bit of late.
Nikita Zadorov – B-
20 games; 1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points, minus-6; 54.67 xGF%
On one hand, Zadorov has had some really nice offensive contributions and his possession metrics are quite nice. On the other hand, he’s been sheltered in terms of partners and/or deployments throughout this quarter, and he’s still deep in the red in terms of goal differential when he’s on the ice. His offensive contributions keep him in the Bs. For now.
Nick DeSimone – C+
8 games; 0 goals, 4 assists, 4 points, even; 58.31 xGF%
DeSimone came up in early November and was quite solid. He was sheltered, sure, but he put up some very nice possession numbers and contributed with some really savvy puck plays that led to goals for the Flames. He’s less of a physical defender than, say, Dennis Gilbert, but he’s brought some positives in a limited role.
Dennis Gilbert – C
12 games; 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, minus-3; 47.83 xGF%
Our primary lens of comparison for Gilbert is DeSimone. Gilbert played in a similar role, generated less offence, and was hemmed in defensively more often than DeSimone. The entire team was sort of a work in progress defensively when Gilbert got most of his games in early on, so we’re discounting some of his defensive challenges a little bit.
Jordan Oesterle – D
4 games; 0 points, minus-2; 37.19 xGF%
All due respect to Oesterle, but take all the challenges Gilbert faced in a similar role and make them a little bit worse. And then remember that Oesterle is four years older than Gilbert and has played more than twice as many pro games.
Ilya Solovyov – Incomplete
2 games; 0 points, minus-3; 31.77 xGF%
Solovyov played twice, both in defensively-skewed roles, in games where the Flames were collectively a bit of a mess defensively. As with Wolf, he hasn’t played enough for a grade to be totally fair.

Forwards

Blake Coleman – A
21 games; 6 goals, 6 assists, 12 points, plus-7; 55.82 xGF%
It’s tough to ask much more of Coleman. On the negative side of the ledger, he’s part of a penalty kill group that slid a bit to close out the quarter. On the positive side, everything else. He’s put up good possession metrics, leads the team in goals, and has really contributed nicely to an effective shutdown line.
Connor Zary – A-
11 games; 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points, plus-3; 55.71 xGF%
Once Zary arrived, he seemed to add a bit of energy and swagger to the Flames’ attack. Not only that, but he helped bring that swagger to Nazem Kadri – and that’s really helped get a couple different lines going. Zary’s scoring at just shy of a point-per-game pace in the best league in the world, and is showing none of the tentativeness we sometimes see from players in their first NHL appearances. If the power play had scored more often, he’d get an A.
Martin Pospisil – A-
11 games; 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points, plus-5; 59.12 xGF%
Pospisil’s game is all about agitation, disruption, and generally using his frame and physicality to create time and space for his teammates. He’s been a consistently noticeable player while playing on lines with decorated NHL veterans like Nazem Kadri and Mikael Backlund. He’s been set up for success with the player he’s on with, but he’s living up to his end of the bargain, too.
Mikael Backlund – B+
21 games; 4 goals, 6 assists, 10 points, plus-5; 55.13 xGF%
Backlund plays on both sides of special teams, so he gets dinged a little bit for their foibles early on. But through 21 games he’s been precisely what you would expect Backlund to be: a two-way ace that can be relied upon to put up about half a point per game pretty consistently.
Elias Lindholm – B+
21 games; 5 goals, 10 assists, 15 points, minus-1; 47.99 xGF%
On one hand, Lindholm’s been pretty effective offensively. On the other hand, while cycling through a lot of different linemates, his two-way game has been solid – but not quite up to his previous standards – and he’s been part of a power play that’s struggled and a penalty kill that’s slid back to Earth a bit after a strong start. The good out-weighs the bad on the balance.
Andrew Mangiapane – B
20 games; 5 goals, 8 assists, 13 points, even; 56.85 xGF%
Mangiapane missed a game due to a suspension. He’s put up good offensive and possession metrics at even strength, but he’s a contributor to a power play group that hasn’t been up to snuff early on. He was moved away from Backlund and Coleman with the hope that he would spark another line offensively. The results have been mixed.
Nazem Kadri – B-
21 games; 4 goals, 9 assists, 13 points, minus-10; 52.13 xGF%
Offensively, Kadri’s been consistently pretty solid, and his possession game has also fared well. Defensively, he struggled early on – he’s one of two veterans with a double-digit minus – but his game overall has found a new level since Zary and Pospisil arrived. The entire team has been better defensively over the last dozen games (or so), and Kadri’s attention to detail in the neutral and offensive zones have been really noticeable.
Yegor Sharangovich – B-
21 games; 5 goals, 5 assists, 10 points, minus-6; 50.02 xGF%
Is Sharangovich an offensive driver? Nope. He’s probably a complimentary player at this level at this point in his career. And we’re not sure that using him as a fourth line centre is his strength area. But he’s been a pretty effective complimentary player so far. If you put him with players that can put the puck in dangerous areas he can get there and do good things with it.
A.J. Greer – B-
20 games; 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, plus-1; 48.34 xGF%
Greer is a league-minimum waiver pick up that doesn’t really touch special teams at all. The fourth line is whatever line he’s playing on. He’s been underwater possession-wise a little bit, but with a fairly rotating and inconsistent cast of characters. Greer doesn’t set the world ablaze overall, but he makes a really good play every few games. Given his role and cost, he’s been good value.
Jonathan Huberdeau – C+
21 games; 4 goals, 9 assists, 13 points, minus-12; 47.40 xGF%
Huberdeau struggled at times to the point where he was benched for the entire third period of a comeback win. He has a team-worse minus-12 rating. He’s also made some really good plays with the puck, and he’s seemingly finding his swagger playing with Backlund and Coleman. He’s a work in progress.
Dillon Dube – C
20 games; 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, minus-6; 46.04 xGF%
Dube’s been kind of all over the place. He’s been fourth line centre, briefly. He’s been a top nine winger. He’s been a fourth line winger lately, as the arrival of Zary and Pospisil have bumped him down the rotation. Dube’s a player that has shown speed and great instincts at times, but he’s also prone to fading into the background for long stretches. He’s been fine overall, but for a player that onlookers have hoped to see a big step forward from, that’s arguably a bit of a letdown.
Adam Ruzicka – C
16 games; 3 goals, 3 assists, 6 points, minus-2; 48.39 xGF%
A quarter of the way through the season, is Adam Ruzicka less of a riddle than he was going in? He’s probably not a fourth line centre at this level. He’s shown some flashes of brilliance. He’s also faded into the background at times. His defensive game was never going to be his calling card, but it would have been nice to see a bit more from him offensively given the amount of time he’s spent – at five-on-five and on the power play – playing with the club’s most offensive-minded players.
Matt Coronato – C-
10 games; 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, minus-9; 46.03 xGF%
When Coronato was sent down to the AHL, he had the worst plus/minus on the team. The team’s offensive challenges at five-on-five led to him bouncing around the lineup as the coaching staff tried to get their veterans going offensively. Coronato didn’t have a clear role. His plus/minus wasn’t entirely his fault – he was present while others made defensive gaffes – but his lack of role likely merited a change.
Walker Duehr – D
14 games; 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, plus-1; 45.40 xGF%
A year ago, Duehr burst onto the Flames’ roster and used his speed and physicality to create offensive opportunities, momentum and energy for his club while playing on the fourth line. His effectiveness in that role just hasn’t been there this season, to the point where he was healthy scratched for a third of the Flames’ games this past quarter.
Dryden Hunt – D
4 games; 0 points, minus-3; 40.60 xGF%
Let’s call a spade a spade here: Hunt was really effective in the pre-season and was entirely deserving of starting the season on the NHL roster. And while he’s been the victim of some of the same “Where do we put him?” questions that plagued Coronato as the team churned through line combinations early in the season, he didn’t really perform all that well (even when used in roles that seemed to suit him).
Do you agree with our grades? Which players should be higher? Lower? Let us know in the comments!
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