Dennis Gilbert forced his way onto the Calgary Flames’ roster in 2022-23
Photo credit:Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike7 months ago
In every National Hockey League organization, depth is important because you never know when you’ll hit injuries, when somebody will go ice-cold or when a change will need to be made to your roster’s mix. For the Calgary Flames, blueliner Dennis Gilbert was seemingly signed as organizational depth but he managed to take advantage of a few opportunities and force his way onto the big club’s roster for much of the season.
A product of the Buffalo, New York area, Gilbert came up through local minor hockey. He played his draft-eligible season with the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel – this was right around the time the USHL was becoming the place for junior-aged Americans to play – and was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the third round (91st overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Gilbert spent three seasons at the University of Notre Dame, then signed with the Blackhawks following his junior season. He spent two seasons in Chicago’s system, splitting time between the NHL club and their American League affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. Just after the 2020 NHL Draft, Gilbert was traded with Brandon Saad to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm.
In two seasons with Colorado, Gilbert played just three games with the big club. Meanwhile, after a very short 2020-21 AHL season – due to that damn pandemic – he had a quite productive 2021-22 season with the Colorado Eagles, posting 23 points in 52 games.
He left the Avalanche organization was a Group 6 free agent and was signed by the Flames to a two-year contract following the 2021-22 season.
A few blueliners departed the Stockton Heat following the 2021-22 season, including Andy Welinski and Kevin Grave. With Connor Mackey and Juuso Valimaki both requiring waivers, signing Gilbert was likely seen as two-fold insurance for both the NHL and AHL roster’s blueline depth.
Valimaki was claimed by Arizona on waivers after training camp, while Mackey made the NHL roster out of camp. Gilbert cleared waivers and joined the Wranglers. Mackey slotted into three NHL games before Nov. 6, registering a minus-3 rating and two penalties. When Michael Stone and Chris Tanev went down with injuries, the Flames called up Gilbert and Nick DeSimone to fill in on a road swing.
On the second half of a road back to-back on Nov. 8, Gilbert dressed in place of Mackey and fought New Jersey’s Nathan Bastien. When the team got healthy Gilbert went back down to the AHL on Nov. 13, but his boisterousness earned him another five recalls over the remainder of the season.
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Gilbert’s steady two-way presence and physicality earned him a fan in head coach Darryl Sutter, while Mackey’s early-season in-game challenges earned him a seat. After Gilbert’s debut, he dressed another 22 times for the Flames. Mackey dressed just six times, often sitting in the press box as Gilbert was called up from the AHL to play, before he was traded to Arizona at the trade deadline.
Gilbert dressed for 23 games for the Flames overall, almost exclusively playing on the third pairing alongside the likes of Michael Stone, Troy Stecher, Chris Tanev or Nikita Zadorov. He had one goal, three assists and five fights – his frequent fisticuffs led the team in that category. Gilbert occasionally made impressive plays with the puck, but for the most part he was a really solid, reliable two-way blueliner who chipped in with a fight or a bit hit when the team needed an emotional boost.
Gilbert remains eligible for waivers for the 2023-24 as he heads into the second year of a contract that carries a scant $762,500 cap hit – the league’s minimum salary for 2023-24 is $775,000, so he’s an absolute bargain. As he approaches his 27th birthday at the end of October, Gilbert may only become what he is now: a versatile, dependable third pairing defender.
On a deep team, he’s probably a number six or seven blueliner – somebody you plug in for spot duty when somebody’s hurt or under-performs, but not an every day guy necessarily. But if you asked us 12 months ago, we would have had him pegged as the classic “quad-A” blueliner, so he seemingly took a step this past year. If nothing else, he’s a player who’s shown he deserves to be in the conversation for regular NHL minutes. Time will tell if he can take another step in 2023-24.
Letter Grade: C+
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