Every training camp is important for every franchise, as each club is trying to get their ducks in a row in order to start the season on the right foot. But within every training camp there are a few players who are in a unique position to make a mark – or absolutely need to – in order to establish themselves, rewrite old expectations, or potentially extend their big league dreams.
For the Calgary Flames, five players in particular are in a position to provide answers to questions about where they are in their careers – or desperately need to. Here’s a rundown of five Flames players in a bit of flux as they head into the meat of training camp.
A year ago, Dube knew he was headed back to the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets. As a result, he was playing with proverbial “house money” and was able to leave everything out on the ice. He managed to stick around for awhile in main camp and was one of the last players sent back to junior – he was assigned on the same day as 2017 first round pick Juuso Valimaki. Now the 20-year-old is poised to turn pro, but his performances throughout the early section of Flames main camp has led to the question of where he’ll end up: Stockton of the American Hockey League or potentially the Flames.
Dube has shown tenacity and versatility over the past couple seasons with the Rockets, as well as during two productive stints with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. He can play any forward position. He can play an offensively-tilted role, or he can play en energy role. He’s a blank slate as a pro at this point, aside from a short stint in the AHL on a tryout, and the question is what role he’ll carve out for himself at this camp – and in what league that role will be.
At 21 years of age, Kylington is in the unique position of being one of his team’s most experienced pros at a very young age. He played two seasons of pro hockey in Sweden prior to being drafted by the Flames in 2015, and is entering his fourth year in North America following three seasons with the Flames’ affiliates in the AHL.
Kylington was lauded during his draft year (and even before that) for his impressive skating and puck-moving abilities, a huge asset in today’s game. But his defensive game has been a work in progress since he came over to North America. Is his play away from the puck good enough to challenge for an NHL job?
Many Flames fans groan at the mention of Lazar, who was acquired for a second round pick two seasons ago but hasn’t amounted to much more than a fringe body. The forward is speedy and has a good shot, but he has struggled to put together consistent stretches of play at the NHL level.
He’s heading into his fifth pro season and it’s difficult to determine what he can be at the NHL level due to his consistency issues. He’ll need a strong camp to stay on the big league roster.
If there’s one player in the Flames organization that analysts are simultaneously impressed and befuddled by, it’s Phillips. A product of the WHL, he exploded for 98 combined goals over the past two seasons. Simply put, his size – just 5’7″ and 150 pounds – has not been a hindrance at the junior level. He can score nearly at will.
But the pros are a different animal, and the preseason will be spent trying to determine if Phillips can continue to wheel and deal. He’s an impressive player and seems to have an innate drive in him to prove people wrong, so he’ll definitely be coachable and adaptable as he moves to the higher levels. But he’ll still be very small for a pro.
Acquired in the trade that sent Kris Russell to the Dallas Stars, Pollock has been on a bit of a slow burn since going pro two seasons ago. He spent his first season in the ECHL with the Kansas City Mavericks. He spent his second season as a bottom six forward for the AHL’s Stockton Heat, but was relied upon heavily late in the season when the team pushed for a playoff spot while missing the majority of their established big guns.
Brett Pollock just put on a stickhandling display through the Jets zone, toe-dragging Laine and then going backhand shelf on Connor Hellebuyck.
— Murat Ates (@WPGMurat) September 22, 2018
Pollock is entering the final year of his entry-level contract with the Flames. The big question is whether he’s a late blooming player at the pro level – and the improvements Pollock has shown are part of an upward trajectory – or if his development will top out as a useful AHL depth player. This camp and this season will go a long way towards determining if he’s re-signed following this season.
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.