Calgary Flames training camp battles: Defence – four guys, two jobs

Photo credit:Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Stevenson
1 year ago
To make the jump to the next level is extremely difficult – to make it under the tutelage of a legendary coach like Darryl Sutter even moreso. When one finally breaks through it means either one of two things 1) the player themselves is ready to be there or 2) there were no other options, so a veteran gets put in as a placeholder.
By no means is that an insult to a younger player trying to make it – injuries and call-ups present opportunities every single year. There’s more playing time and more room to grow in the minors. That’s good news for younger guys like Yan Kuznetsov, Jeremie Poirier, or even Ilya Solovyov, but for the guys in the battle right now – it’s time to be ready.

Michael Stone – RHD

Mr. Reliable wasn’t always a fan favourite. I know I was hyper-critical of him when he first arrived in Calgary – an analytical black hole as some would say (it was me I said that). Funny though, how good coaching and proper systemic approaches to practice can change a man. Michael Stone has not been that player since Sutter’s arrival in Calgary. The role and job he’s been given to do – he’s excelled in it. Please don’t mix excelling in a specific role as excelling in an overall sense – two very different definitions. Michael Stone excels within his role.
The turnaround after Geoff Ward and his passive brand of hockey played well for Stone. He improved in possessive metrics (largely a reflection of a team, not really the player) and both defensive restricting and offensive creation metrics. Albeit in a very limited sample size the last couple of years.
The best phrase for Stone right now would be the devil you know vs. the devil you don’t. We know exactly what Stone can bring to the table. We also know that by him sitting in the press box no such developmental path would be stunted – and that when called upon you know what type of game he’ll bring. The only thing fighting against him right now – he’s had a fairly decent camp – is the lack of contract.

Nicolas Meloche – RHD

When evaluating Meloche and his limited past I like to take the situation he was in to the table. A San Jose Sharks squad that was not even closely built for the playoffs, they tended to surrender more quality chances than Calgary did as a group. Even then Meloche’s defensive metrics weren’t terribly unbearable. 783 minutes of sample and the defensive impact from Evolving-Hockey’s RAPM is slightly below replacement
With a full season on what should be an elite possession team in Calgary I don’t doubt this would turn around. He’s been reliably in position all through the pre-season and has yet to really show a major hole in his game. He’s not going to be an offensive threat like Andersson or Hanifin, but that’s not what he’s here to do.
Add in the reality of his one-way contract, him holding his stick right-handed, and the benefit of being more youthful than his counterpart he’s got a stronger case to make the opening day roster than some give him credit for. Heck when he was signed, I viewed him as AHL depth myself, but after consistent viewings him playing would not be a major detriment to the team.

Connor Mackey – LHD

Less of a track record than any of the other guys in the competition for 6/7 D nobody has to rely on pure consistency in this fight more than Mackey himself. Not a top end draft pick, not a seasoned veteran, and very little NHL experience to date. Yet, he’s right there precisely because of said consistency.
The jobs open are for the sixth and seventh defenceman. Calgary doesn’t need a flashy scorer or a punishing defender. They need some reliable to go over the boards, defend the high danger area of his own zone, and get the puck up the boards to an outlet winger and let them go on the attack. Trying too much can get you sent home – being reliable can get you a job. To date in camp Mackey has been extremely reliable – it’s helping his case tremendously.

Juuso Valimaki – LHD

Anytime someone loses years of prime development we hope it doesn’t come to hurt them. Add in rushing them into the pros before they are ready and bad habits can be formed. Darryl Sutter is trying to work these out of Valimaki’s game – round out the 200 foot aspect of it. So far the message has not quite been received.
Of all the four defenceman in competition the one with the most expensive contract and highest draft pedigree is falling behind. Blown coverages in his own zone don’t help – chasing the puck all the time doesn’t either. If you’re consistently caught chasing the puck, you’re guilty of trying to do too much yourself. Teams win championships not individuals – you need to have faith and trust in your teammates to get their own jobs done on the ice. No trust on this team won’t get you any consistent ice time – it won’t even get you a roster spot.
Camp has entered it’s next phase – time is running out to make that final impression.

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