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5 questions that need to be answered during Calgary Flames training camp
1 year ago
Welcome to training camp week! The 2022-23 Calgary Flames officially hit the ice for the first time on Thursday and play their first pre-season games on Sunday. As one of the most fascinating camps in team history opens, here are five storylines to monitor over the next three weeks.
Does Huberdeau play with Lindholm?
When Calgary acquired Jonathan Huberdeau in July, my initial thought was we’d see him immediately slide into the team’s top left wing slot alongside Elias Lindholm. That’s still what I’m anticipating a couple months later, but head coach Darryl Sutter has mentioned the need to find out if Huberdeau is better suited to play with Lindholm or newcomer Nazem Kadri.
I certainly wonder if we see some experimentation in the early stages of camp. For instance, one year ago the Flames started with Johnny Gaudreau on a line with Sean Monahan, while Matthew Tkachuk and Lindholm were on another. By game one of the regular season, the trio of Lindholm, Tkachuk, and Gaudreau were ready to rock for what would end up being a banner year.
Does Sutter put Lindholm and Huberdeau together on a line right from the get-go? Is that something that develops throughout camp? Or does the head coach determine Huberdeau is better suited flanking another centre? I think a Huberdeau-Lindholm duo has insane potential, but things don’t always play out the way we think.
How do the rest of the forward groups come together?
With so many new faces at forward to go along with a pair of significant departures, the intrigue surrounding Calgary’s forward combinations is as high as it’s ever been. The Flames are deeper at centre as they’ve been in years, but have a few things to work out on the wings. That’s why I like the idea of building around a few forward pairings.
From there, Calgary would have the ability to plug-and-play wingers like Tyler Toffoli, Dillon Dubé, and even PTO addition Sonny Milano on different lines to see how things fit. But that’s just me; it seems like everyone has a slightly different opinion on what they’d like to see from the forward groups, which will make this a fun story to track during camp.
Does MacKenzie Weegar sign an extension prior to the season?
While Weegar gets used to his new teammates in Calgary, his contract status will likely be the largest off ice story during camp. I’ve been saying for some time I believe a deal will get done and I remain just as confident that’s going to happen. I know Weegar and his camp would like to sign long-term, and the Flames would like to lock up a key member of a franchise-defining trade.
So now we have two questions. What does that deal look like? Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested somewhere in the range of eight years at $6.5 million per last week, so there’s your ballpark. And when does the deal get done? I’m sure both sides would love to have it done before the regular season starts, but that shouldn’t be a dealbreaker on either side.
Who does Weegar play with?
No team had consistency across their defence pairings like the Flames did last season. All three of Calgary’s regular duos ranked top ten in minutes played together at five-on-five, something no other team was able to say. That might happen again, but the addition of Weegar likely means changes coming in the top four.
Body for body, the Flames are looking at Weegar in for Erik Gudbranson. But, with no disrespect intended, Gudbranson was perfectly slotted on Calgary’s third pair. Weegar, on the other hand, is a bona fide top four blueliner and should end up on the first or second pair. That raises some fun and fascinating questions.
Weegar is a right shot who can play the left side, which makes it a little easier to pair him with Tanev or Andersson. So does that drop Kylington to the third pair with Zadorov? If so, is Calgary comfortable with one of their third pair d-men playing their off side? How much was Kylington propped up by Tanev last year? And how does PTO Michael Stone, a right shot himself, factor into the equation? I can’t wait to see how this plays out during camp and potentially into the regular season.
Does a prospect push for playing time?
The Young Stars Classic is done for 2022 and now we see if any of the team’s prospects can carry momentum from Penticton into main camp. Jakob Pelletier, Cole Schwindt, and maybe Walker Duehr seem to have the best opportunity to push for a spot, but it won’t be easy.
After a lukewarm start, I thought Pelletier had his best game to wrap up the Young Stars on Monday. Schwindt and Duehr, on the other hand, were both quietly effective in all three of their games. But with Milano and Cody Eakin coming to camp on PTOs and a rumoured Brett Ritchie signing, too, competition for NHL roster spots is going to be heated.
One guy I’m watching: 2020 first round pick Connor Zary. I don’t think there’s a path for Zary to crack the big team out of camp, but I thought he was the best Flames prospect over the weekend in Penticton. Zary looks to have taken a step for this season and if he can carry that into main camp, maybe we see him get a long look before he inevitably starts the season with the AHL Wranglers.
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