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4 young players the Calgary Flames could target in unrestricted free agency

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Photo credit:Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Gould
22 days ago
The Calgary Flames are expected to be on the prowl for good value bets in this year’s unrestricted free agency period.
No, the Flames aren’t in the middle of a competitive window, so don’t expect to see them in pursuit of names like Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Marchessault, and Brandon Montour. Those guys would be better suited on teams with Stanley Cup aspirations
But with plenty of spots up for grabs in this lineup, the Flames could become an attractive destination for young players in search of an increased opportunity. The prime examples of this are those players who did not receive qualifying offers from their previous teams as pending restricted free agents.
With that in mind, here are four players aged 26 or younger who could draw interest from the Flames in free agency on Monday after being non-tendered by their previous clubs.
One last note: In a pure coincidence, three of the four players listed below were born in Calgary. This was completely unintentional but a welcome development nonetheless!

Alex Nylander

Opportunity can be the only thing separating a player from finding real success in the NHL, and that appears to be the case with Nylander, who took off after being given top-six minutes with the Columbus Blue Jackets down the stretch last season but is once again on the hunt for a new team.
The 26-year-old winger collected 11 goals and 15 points in 23 games with the Blue Jackets to conclude the 2023-24 campaign, but it appears the regime change in Columbus might spell the end of Nylander’s tenure. In a surprise move, new GM Don Waddell opted not to tender Nylander a contract as a pending RFA on Sunday.
Nylander has yet to truly live up to his pedigree as the No. 8 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, but the Calgary-born Swede has shown flashes of his talent over the years and could thrive on a Flames team with plenty of holes in its lineup.
He may not be the strongest all-around player, but Nylander was genuinely impactful in Columbus after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins for a pittance midway through the season. He’s a 6’1″ winger who shoots right and has lots to prove. There aren’t many other players on the market who tick as many boxes while also likely coming cheap.

Brett Leason

Leason is another Calgary kid who, unlike Nylander, actually grew up here, too. He was a bit of a late bloomer in his junior days, only cementing himself as a difference-maker with the Prince Albert Raiders in his draft-plus-two season. That was enough to convince the Washington Capitals to select Leason as a 20-year-old in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft.
Now 25, Leason is coming off his best NHL season to date as a member of the Anaheim Ducks and should command significant interest on the market as a non-tendered free agent. In 2023-24, the 6’5″ right wing collected 11 goals and 22 points in 68 games with the Ducks, who claimed him off waivers from the Capitals at the start of the 2022-23 season.
Leason would be an interesting player to pair with Martin Pospisil on a bottom-six line for the Flames. While Pospisil is one of the most aggressive players in the entire league, Leason is more of a finesse guy — his 28 penalty minutes with Prince Albert in 2018-19 are the most he’s ever had in a single season in his career. Nevertheless, Leason’s imposing stature makes him a potential fit up and down the Flames’ lineup.

Nick Blankenburg

Blankenburg is the lone non-Calgarian on this list, but he did play his junior hockey with the Okotoks Oilers (then of the AJHL, now in the BCHL) — so, to steal a phrase from Ryan Pike, he’s somewhat local, but definitely not big.
In many ways, Blankenburg is a little like the second coming of Troy Stecher. Even though he’s only 5’9″ and 177 pounds, he’s rugged, fearless, and capable of playing anywhere in a lineup. There aren’t many more effortlessly likeable players in the entire league.
The right-handed Blankenburg joined the Blue Jackets as an undrafted free agent from the University of Michigan in 2022 and quickly made himself a fan favourite in Columbus, scoring six goals and 18 points in 55 games over parts of three seasons with the team.
If the Flames do lose Oliver Kylington in unrestricted free agency on Monday, signing someone like Blankenburg for a year or two would make a whole lot of sense. He’s the perfect kind of player to have around in a retool or rebuild scenario.

Jake Bean

Yes, this makes three players on this list who played for the 2023-24 Blue Jackets. It’s no secret that Waddell wants to put his very own stamp on that team, and that means a lot of roster turnover. (In another notable move on Sunday, the Blue Jackets placed defenceman Adam Boqvist on waivers for the purposes of a buyout).
Bean went to the Carolina Hurricanes five picks after Nylander in the 2016 NHL Draft. The former Calgary Hitmen defenceman is the son of former Flames CEO John Bean, who stepped down from the position earlier this year. Bean appeared in parts of two seasons with the Hurricanes before being traded to Columbus in 2021 in exchange for a second-round pick.
After a solid first season in Columbus in which he scored 25 points in 67 games and averaged over 20:34 of ice per night, Bean saw his role diminish significantly over the following two years and will soon be available to any team for free.
Once again, with Kylington potentially on his way out of town, the Flames will need to shore up their defensive group. Like Kylington (and unlike Blankenburg), Bean is a left-handed shot with top-four experience. He has plenty of ties to the city and organization and only just turned 26 earlier this month, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Bean come home.
Get ready for the Daily Faceoff Live Free Agency Special, coming to you on July 1st, 2024 LIVE from 11am to 2pm Eastern Standard Time. Join Tyler Yaremchuk, Frank Seravalli and friends from all over the league 3 hours of non-stop action as they dive deep into the heart of the Free Agency. We will be breaking down every trade, discussing the impact on teams, predicting the future of the Free Agents, and giving you the inside scoop on all the wheeling and dealing happening around the league. Catch all the action live on July 1st from 11 AM to 2 PM EST for the The Daily Faceoff Live Free Agency Special you won’t want to miss!

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