The Calgary Flames need more centres as they begin their roster retool

Photo credit:Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
Heading into this season, the common thought process regarding the Calgary Flames’ centres was something like this: “Hey, they have Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund and Nazem Kadri as their top three guys, they’ll be fine.” Sure, they didn’t have a defined fourth line centre, but they could lean on those three guys and the fourth spot would take care of itself.
Well, the Flames traded Lindholm to Vancouver, so they have some tinkering to do going forward as they enter their retooling period. And the solution may not be coming from within their organization.
Right now, the Flames are using three players as centres as a regular basis: Kadri, Backlund and Kevin Rooney. Kadri and Backlund are well-suited to being top nine centres, while Rooney has been a pretty reliable fourth line centre. The slot that was a big question – the fourth line – has been filled. (At least for now.)
But Lindholm’s departure opens a top nine spot that needs to be filled by somebody, both this season and into the future.
So who’s the right person for the gig? Let’s go through some contenders.

Yegor Sharangovich

Who better to do the job than the person currently doing it? Well, Sharangovich isn’t a natural centre. He’s played centre a bit in both New Jersey and Calgary, and he seems to be trying his best when he’s in that slot, but it’s not quite working. Sharangovich has won just 38.7% of his draws as a centre this season, and as a result his trios have to be given a ton of offensive zone starts when he’s up the middle. It limits how his line can be used, and focusing on the defensive responsibilities as a centre may be hampering his effectiveness as an attacker.
Has Sharangovich been a revelation this season? Yes. He’s been awesome as an offensive-minded winger. He’s just not a great centre.

Connor Zary

We saw Zary line up as a centre to start the Flames’ game with the Winnipeg Jets on Monday afternoon, the first time he’s done so at the NHL level. It didn’t last long. After a period between Sharangovich and Jonathan Huberdeau, he was back with Kadri and Martin Pospisil for the second period.
“The way we started the game with Connor in the middle of the ice just didn’t seem for me like it was working,” said head coach Ryan Huska following Monday’s game. “I feel like he’s been effective with Naz and Marty, and I guess I just didn’t like the way it was shaking out for him more so than anybody.”
We’ll see if Zary gets another crack at centre. He’s played centre in the WHL and AHL quite a bit, but he was moved away from that position over the last couple seasons with the Wranglers and it led to him getting an NHL opportunity. Would he be as effective if moved back to that slot?

Cole Schwindt

Is Schwindt a centre? Sure! He’s shown the ability to play the position pretty well at the AHL level. Is he a top nine centre at the NHL level? I’m not sure, since we haven’t seen a ton of him at centre at the NHL level. I think he can definitely be a good fourth line centre, but with Rooney seemingly having the inside track for that role, at least for now, Schwindt may be in tough.

Ben Jones

I’m a big Ben Jones guy – I think he’s been a really effective player for the Wranglers – but I would say similar things about him as I would about Schwindt, and Schwindt has the benefit of being a right shot, being two years younger than Jones, and already having more NHL experience. Just in terms of the fourth line gig, Jones seems to be behind Rooney and Schwindt right now.

Other possibilities

Matt Coronato was pressed into service as a centre in his sophomore season at Harvard. He worked hard at it and was fairly effective, but Coronato’s bread-and-butter is likely as a scoring winger, and it would probably hamper his offensive talents to make him a centre. (His brief Flames stint as a fourth line centre wasn’t great, either.)
Samuel Honzek could end up as a centre, but he spent most of last season on the wing and hasn’t played centre much at all this season – in part because of his early injury. Maybe he’ll get a chance in the future, but right now it feels like Honzek projects as a winger more than a centre.
In short: if anybody’s going to take on the role as the third centre on the Flames’ top three forward lines, right now it feels like it could end up being a newcomer to the organization, because the folks currently with the NHL club or in their system don’t seem ideally suited to success in that role.
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