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Handicapping the Flames 2020-21 roster midway through camp

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 year ago
Folks, we’re midway through the 2021 edition of Calgary Flames training camp. By 3 p.m. MT on Tuesday, we’ll know which players will begin the 2020-21 regular season on the main roster, on the taxi squad, and who will be sent down to the minors.
Here’s our attempt at handicapping the roster through the first four days of on-ice work.

The Locks

Alright, most of these names won’t be terribly controversial, and we’ll run them down in descending cap hit order along with a quick sales pitch for each player involved.
LW Matthew Tkachuk is the team’s highest-paid player and arguably the team’s emotional leader. D Mark Giordano is the team’s oldest player, their captain, and not terribly far removed from winning a Norris Trophy. LW Johnny Gaudreau is still the most offensively creative player on the team (and not terribly far removed from a 99 point season).
C Sean Monahan just consistently scores goals. G Jacob Markstrom finished fourth in Vezina Trophy balloting last season and is signed through 2026. C Mikael Backlund is arguably sliding into the back nine of his career, but he’s still a really useful two-way forward.
LW Milan Lucic has an objectively bad contract, but he brings size and physicality that nobody else in the organization has – and he’s a much better fit for a secondary role than James Neal was. D Noah Hanifin has some rough spots in his game, but he’s young, inexpensive and fairly consistent. RW Elias Lindholm is arguably still scratching the surface of what he can be in the NHL (and he’s an incredible bargain given his offensive contributions).
Speaking of bargains, D Rasmus Andersson is just beginning a new contract that pentupled his previous earnings, yet he’s still probably underpaid given how much (and well) he plays. D Chris Tanev has fantastic hockey hair and terrible injury luck, but he should give the Flames some physical defensive presence that they don’t otherwise have. C Derek Ryan is another versatile bottom six forward who can play anywhere and provide value.
G David Rittich is a bit inconsistent at times, but he slots as an excellent backup behind Markstrom. LW Sam Bennett was superb in the playoffs and maybe, this time, he can be like that in a regular season. LW Andrew Mangiapane was the team’s best even strength player in 2019-20 and is somehow 15th on the team in cap hit.
RW Josh Leivo is coming off a horrible injury last season, but he seems like he could slot into the top six and give a lot of versatility. LW Dillon Dube provides speed, smarts, grit and the ability to grow the best beard on the team. RW Dominik Simon comes with experience riding shotgun to highly skilled players and while he may not be a higher-end player, he can play with pace.
Finally, D Nikita Nesterov has an Olympic gold medal and can play either side of the defensive pairing, while LW Joakim Nordstrom seems like the ideal 13th forward in that he’s inexpensive, versatile, and can play special teams to take some of the burden off the club’s stars.
There, that’s 21 roster spots right there. None of the players mentioned to this point are going anywhere except the opening night roster. That leaves one spot left and not a ton of cap space.

On the Bubble

Okay, there’s a spot left and it’s for the seventh defenseman. D Oliver Kylington is waiver eligible and has shown he can hack it in the NHL. But by the time he clears his quarantine, he’ll have missed the entire camp. Do you get a job if you miss the entire interview? On the other hand, D Connor Mackey has seemed quite good over this camp and during July’s Phase 3 camp, but he’s entirely unproven in pro hockey. The seventh spot seems like a toss-up between these two players – Kylington may have a slight edge because of his waiver status.

Taxi squad contenders

Speaking on Thursday morning, Flames head coach Geoff Ward detailed what he’d like to see from his taxi squad:
Obviously we need players from all three positions on our taxi squad. And we need players who are going to be able to fit into our lineup and play right away. So, those things are all important to me. I think how they fit into our group is going to be important, too. The season is going to be short and furious and we need to have guys that are capable of stepping in and playing at the NHL level, but we also need guys who are going to be able to step in and fit in with our team. So those are some of the things that we’ll be looking at when we make those decisions.
Okay, simple stuff first: G Louis Domingue is a lock for the taxi squad. He’s inexpensive and well-versed in being a guy that doesn’t play a lot but stays ready (just in case). And whichever player doesn’t get the seventh defensive spot between Kylington and Mackey likely falls in here (probably Mackey due to Kylington’s waiver status.
Another easy fit: LW Zac Rinaldo. He was basically the 13th forward last year and while he’s not as versatile as Nordstrom is, he’s shown the ability to be thrown in from time to time and bring some energy.
Probably one of the younger right shot forwards gets a spot, in the form of either C Glenn Gawdin or RW Matthew Phillips. If I had to choose, I’d go with Gawdin, as he’s a little bigger, can play centre or the wing, and he’s arguably less in need of games to fill out his game than Phillips is. (He’s closer to being what he’s going to be, while Phillips can still round himself out a bit.)
And if you think the Flames are going to roll with a full six players on the taxi squad (and not leave a spot open for cap shenanigans), one or two of RW Buddy Robinson, D Alex Petrovic, RW Brett Ritchie (if he ends up in camp) or D Alexander Yelesin slide in. Robinson and Ritchie bring some size, while Petrovic has NHL experience and Yelesin has some very savvy defensive presence in his game. (If I had to choose, I’d keep Petrovic so Yelesin can keep playing.)
Just to throw a wrinkle in things, though, consider this: the WHL doesn’t have a timeline to return as of yet, which could leave C Connor Zary without a place to play. In theory, the Flames could keep him on the taxi squad to practice with the NHL team until the WHL gets going. He’d get development time with the team and avoid any quarantines he’d have to endure if they send him down to Stockton for their camp. (And this wouldn’t impact his contractual status going forward, either.)

Pushing for Call-Ups

C Byron Froese, RW Luke Philp and C Adam Ruzicka aren’t quite in the taxi squad mix, but they’re knocking on the door. Froese could be a taxi contender, but he’s probably more valuable to the Flames as a mentor for all the young kids in Stockton who need to learn to be good pros. Froese, the Heat captain, is the guy who can get them there.

Here for an AHL Gig

G Garret Sparks is basically in camp to replace Tyler Parsons, who’s coming off ankle surgery and may not be available for awhile. Similarly, D Michael Stone is in camp to even out the numbers. Neither guy really seems like a threat to take an NHL gig, but both could be useful pieces for the farm system.

Here to Learn

Finally, the Flames have (or will have) a bunch of players in camp who aren’t in the hunt for NHL gigs right now, but could be in a year or so. This crew includes G Artyom Zagidulin, G Dustin Wolf, D Carl-Johan Lerby D Colton Poolman, LW Jakob Pelletier, LW Emilio Pettersen, RW Eetu Tuulola, LW Justin Kirkland and RW Dmitry Zavgorodniy. If the QMJHL wasn’t set to return on Jan. 22 (in a series of bubble situations), the Flames may have been tempted to use Pelletier on the taxi squad.

Projected opening roster

  • Goaltenders (2): Jacob Markstrom & David Rittich
  • Defensemen (7): Mark Giordano, Rasmus Andersson, Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, Juuso Valimaki, Nikita Nesterov & Oliver Kylington
  • Forwards (13): Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Josh Leivo, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Dominik Simon, Dillon Dube, Derek Ryan, Milan Lucic, Sam Bennett, Joakim Nordstrom, Andrew Mangiapane & Mikael Backlund

Projected taxi squad

  • Goaltender (1): Louis Domingue
  • Defensemen (2): Connor Mackey & Alex Petrovic
  • Forwards: (3): Glenn Gawdin, Connor Zary* & Zac Rinaldo
*- If Zary’s not on the team, they might just keep this spot open so they can potentially float one of Dube or Valimaki onto the taxi squad on off days for the salary cap savings.

Headed to Stockton’s camp

  • Goaltenders (3): Dustin Wolf, Garret Sparks & Artyom Zagidulin
  • Defensemen (4): Michael Stone, Carl-Johan Lerby, Alexander Yelesin & Colton Poolman
  • Forwards (10): Brett Ritchie (if he comes to camp), Emilio Pettersen, Luke Philp, Eetu Tuulola, Matthew Phillips, Adam Ruzicka, Dmitry Zavgorodniy, Byron Froese, Buddy Robinson & Justin Kirkland

Headed back to Val-d’Or

  • Forwards (1): Jakob Pelletier

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