The Calgary Flames have had a unique training camp experience as they prepare for the upcoming 2018-19 National Hockey League season. A nine-day trip to China for the team’s veterans resulted in essentially two training camps going on at one time.
But while the domestic training camp group has been rather heavy on players with professional tryout contracts, the lack of established NHLers for most of their games has given a trio of prospects a ton of ice time. Defender Juuso Valimaki and forwards Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane have gotten an extended audition in the 2018 preseason, playing the most games possible during the first chunk of the exhibition calendar.
The Dynamic Defender: Juuso Valimaki
The Flames’ most recent first round selection (from the 2017 NHL Draft), Valimaki is poised to turn pro after three impressive seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans. A lanky, rangy left shot defender, Valimaki was one of the top blueliners in the WHL last season and came to camp with his eyes on a big league job. While Valimaki hasn’t exactly blown the doors off in this camp – as fellow Flames defender TJ Brodie did in his first pro camp in 2010 – he’s played a ton of hockey since prospect camp began and been relied upon in key situations.
Valimaki suited up for both prospect camp games as well as the first five domestic preseason games, among the most games of any player. He scored two goals and two assists through five exhibition games. When you factor in his role as a minutes-eating defender, it’s likely that he played more preseason hockey than any other Flames player – a sign that the club is trying to get a handle on his game so they can fast-track his development.
The Tenacious Forward: Dillon Dube
Just three months older than Valimaki, Dube was one of the youngest players selected in the 2016 NHL Draft. Dube is graduating to the professional ranks after amassing a stellar resume during his four seasons as a high-end amateur – he went to the Memorial Cup as a 16-year-old rookie and helped lead Team Canada to a pair of medals at the World Junior Championships, including capturing gold as team captain last winter.
Another strong performance for Dillon Dube. Via coach Bill Peters: “Dube has been great. I watched a couple of games before we left and we’ve had him playing out of three different positions. He took some faceoffs and moved great when he did not have possession of the puck.”
— Aaron Vickers (@AAVickers) September 25, 2018
While Valimaki is going pro with zero pro games on his resume, Dube has a limited seven game sample at the AHL level on late season tryouts. A tenacious fore-checker and excellent skater, he’s been used primarily as a center in his two prospect camp appearances and five preseason games. One of the Flames’ top offensive producers in the exhibition games – he had a hat trick in their first home game – Dube’s camp has pushed him to the forefront of conversations about the team’s prospects.
Depending on what happens in the remainder of training camp, they may be tempted to make some room on the roster for him as a bottom six energy forward. His performances have certainly merited some NHL regular season duty.
The Savvy Sniper: Andrew Mangiapane
Of the three heavily-used prospects, Mangiapane is the player the Flames have seen the largest body of work from as a pro. A sixth round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft (in his second year of draft eligibility), Mangiapane is a slightly undersized winger who scored at will in the Ontario Hockey League. He’s continued that offensive production through two seasons in the AHL.
Mangiapane played one prospect game and the first five domestic preseason games. While his offensive output was a bit less than Valimaki or Dube’s, the Flames arguably have a better idea of how his game will translate to the NHL level than with the other two. The question with Mangiapane is whether there will be a spot open with a role that will suit his skill-set – he doesn’t play a gritty game so he would likely need to be a middle six winger.
Looking Ahead to Opening Night
Following his fifth preseason game – an overtime loss against the Winnipeg Jets – Dube reflected on the sheer amount of hockey he had played since the beginning of prospect camp. While he did admit to a little bit of fatigue, he remained committed to continue to make decisions tough for Flames management.
“At some points you feel it a little bit,” said Dube. “But if I want to stay in this league I have to be ready to go every single night. Basically if I crack the opening night [lineup] it’s going to be a tryout basically the whole year anyway. I know that, so I’ve got to be running on adrenaline the whole time so I’m just getting used to it now.”
Flames head coach Bill Peters had praise for Dube and Valimaki following the loss to Winnipeg, adding that the window for them to work their way into the NHL roster was quickly winding down.
“That’s the beautiful thing, they’re in there grinding away right now trying to get it all figured out,” said Peters. “I know the game in Edmonton [on Saturday afternoon], our final preseason game, we want to dress our NHL lineup. We wanna make sure we’re getting ready and doing the right things… You’re down to two games, right? It’s going quick now.”