The Calgary Flames are on their way to the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, a remarkable achievement given how rough they looked in the early going of the regular season. Once at the bottom of the points percentage rankings, the Flames have captured points at a break-neck pace. A lot of the credit for the Flames kicking it into high gear, so to speak, has to go to the team’s big guns: Brian Elliott, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, Mikael Backlund and Johnny Gaudreau have anchored the team over the last several months. But a handful of players have done yeoman’s work this season and arguably not gotten nearly the attention they’ve deserved.
Here are five unsung heroes from the Flames’ 2016-17 regular season.
Brian Elliott was brought in to be the Flames’ top netminder. While he’s managed to take the reins recently, he had a rough start and won just 3 of his first 11 appearances. As a result, the Flames turned to Johnson to provide some stability. Johnson started all but one game during the Flames’ initial November/December surge that saw them vault from the NHL’s basement and into playoff contention. Elliott’s been a big part of the Flames cementing their playoff status, but Johnson’s strong mid-season stretch gave them a chance to be in that position.
Occasionally maligned for his contract – $2.917 million per season is a bit steep for a third pairing defender – Engelland has played everywhere and with everyone this season. The veteran has been relied upon to play primarily a depth role, spending time in the defensive zone and with a rotation of regular partners (Jyrki Jokipakka, Brett Kulak, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano and Matt Bartkowski). The rotation of partners this season screams “We don’t know where to put this person, so let’s just throw them with Engelland,” but the 34-year-old has been steady in his role. It’s be a bit of a stretch to say that he’s excelled, but he’s eaten up minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill without giving up a crazy amount of goals. For a depth guy, that’s a good thing.
Versteeg signed on the eve of the season with the Flames rather than with with the Oilers, the team he spent training camp with on a try-out. The Flames snagged a really savvy veteran, as Versteeg has played on virtually every line, on both wings, and in virtually every situation depending on how the rest of the team has been playing. He’s been a big part of the team’s power play despite toiling on the third line for a good chunk of Calgary’s even strength play.
If there’s an under-the-radar success story this season, it may be Chiasson. Acquired last summer from Ottawa for AHL defenseman Patrick Sieloff, likely due to Gulutzan’s familiarity with him, Chiasson has been a bargain. He’s played on the right side of every single line this season – the only center he hasn’t played significant time with is Mikael Backlund – and he’s chipped in with energy and offense in whichever situation he’s been placed. He likely doesn’t have the offensive upside that a guy like Micheal Ferland has displayed, but Chiasson always seems to play the same way regardless of his linemates or the score and that’s made him a very useful, versatile secondary player for the Flames.
Better known as Dougie Hamilton’s big brother, Freddie has had a tough task this season: he’s been Calgary’s 13th forward. A healthy scratch 53 times over the team’s first 77 games, Hamilton’s appearances in the line-up are often short-notice (due to an illness or injury) and so he’s had to stay game-ready perpetually. When he has gotten into the line-up he’s been fairly effective playing primarily in a fourth line role. Hamilton’s focus, maturity and preparedness is probably why the Flames seemingly haven’t worried about him spending the season in this role (as he’d probably clear waivers if he was sent to the AHL).
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.