4 things I think I know early in Calgary Flames training camp
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
11 months ago
Training camp is officially underway, the Flames have played two preseason games, and some early storylines are starting to emerge. It’s still very early in camp, which leaves plenty of room for evolution, but here are a few trends I’ve picked up on.
The top line has been in the works for some time
One question I had coming into this year’s camp was if we’d see newcomer Jonathan Huberdeau on a line with Elias Lindholm right from the start. The answer was a clear yes starting from day one. Huberdeau, Lindholm, and Tyler Toffoli have consistently practiced together so far and remained a trio during Saturday’s intra-squad game and Sunday’s preseason opener. According to Huberdeau, this had been the plan for weeks leading into camp.
“During the summer (head coach Darryl Sutter) kind of told me that was going to be my two linemates for the start of the camp,” Huberdeau revealed last week. “We’ll see…we’re probably going to have a chance to play a game or two.
“It’s going to be good. I don’t think I’ve ever played with two righties, so it’s cool to have that. We’re going to build chemistry throughout the camp, so I’m excited to play with those guys.”
Line combinations tend to change as camp progresses, and we might see both of Huberdeau and Toffoli tested with other centres between now and the start of the season. But these three were put together to start for a reason and no one should be surprised if they line up as a unit on October 13th vs. Colorado.
There’s a defined a role for Sonny Milano
Milano told us last week he chose the Flames on a PTO over other similar offers for two reasons: the opportunity that exists and the skilled players around him. That opportunity seems very clear-cut, both based on what we’ve seen early on and what general manager Brad Treliving told me last week.
“To me he fits in a spot in your top nine,” Treliving said. “Wing depth, scoring wing depth, to me is an area that we have to continue to look at. Is he a guy that can help that? And is there a fit for him? I know there’s a handful of (internal) guys there that think they want to grab ahold of that. That’s where Sonny fits.”
Now it’s on Milano to prove Calgary right. Wisely, the Flames are giving him the tools to make the most of this opportunity, as he’s been on a line with Nazem Kadri at practice thus far. I believe Calgary wants to sign Milano, which means he’s likely going to see a lot of preseason action in a top nine role. The more evaluation the better, especially knowing how tight the Flames are to the cap once again.
There’s a door open on defence
Oliver Kylington is dealing with something in his personal life and deserves all the time and privacy he needs to work through it. The most important thing is Oliver’s well-being and the Flames will welcome him back when he’s ready. There’s no timeline on a return and the team is operating as if a return isn’t imminent.
From a hockey perspective, it leads to an interesting conversation on the back end. The team’s top four is defined, comprising some combination of Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, MacKenzie Weegar, and Chris Tanev. For now, that leaves Nikita Zadorov as Calgary’s number five and an interesting conversation to fill out one or two more spots.
Currently, it feels like the Flames have numerous options in the mix to fill out the number six and seven spots. Juuso Valimaki has looked solid at times early on while Mackey strong in Saturday’s preseason opener. Both prospects are eligible for waivers for the first time, which adds an interesting wrinkle to Calgary’s decision.
Notably, free agent signing Nicolas Meloche has been consistently paired with Zadorov throughout camp and is definitely in the conversation. The Flames signed him to a one-way deal in July, so it’s clear they see Meloche as more than AHL depth. Both he and Michael Stone, at camp on a PTO, have right shots, which doesn’t hurt the case for either.
In Kylington’s absence, the competition between Meloche, Stone, Valimaki, and Mackey for two spots is going to be fun to watch. And, more than anything, we send nothing but good vibes and wishes to Oliver.
Bringing back Brett Ritchie was a good move
While I know many in our online community disagree, I firmly believe bringing Ritchie back for a third year was a low key solid move. At first rumoured to be joining Edmonton on a PTO, Ritchie signed a one-year deal with the Flames right before camp at $750,000. As a result, Calgary is returning who I believe was their most effective fourth line option from last season.
While playing fewer games than Lucic and Lewis, the two returning Flames consistently in a fourth line role last year, Ritchie was the more effective player. Yes, his counting numbers were low, but positive things consistently happened with Ritchie on the ice. Good teams have solid, reliable, predictable players on the fourth line and Ritchie fit that bill.
If Ritchie can do it again, Calgary will have a nice option as their 12th or 13th forward.
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