The Calgary Flames have an important season ahead of them. After missing the playoffs last year, the team needs to find a way to get into the playoffs. One way they can get that help is a breakout season from three players on the roster in Noah Hanifin, Andrew Mangiapane, and Dillon Dube. All three players had personally successful seasons in 2020-21, even when the team as a whole did not.
Now is the time for them to build on the progress they’ve made in order to become key contributors for the team this season. There are many questions surrounding the Flames and how they will perform in 2021-22. But if these three players can have truly breakout seasons, there will be fewer questions surrounding the team and its performance.
Hanifin had one of, if not his best season to date with Calgary in the shortened 2020-21 campaign. He finally looked like the defenceman that the Flames were hoping they would get when he was brought over from the Carolina Hurricanes. He was third amongst the defence regulars in terms of Corsi for (CF%) posting a 53.03% and second in expected goals for (xGF%) with a 55.20%. The biggest factor for him during the season was that he was defending his own end much better.
The chart above shows Hanifin’s timeline of his wins above replacement (WAR) over time both in terms of offence and defence via JFresh (@JFreshHockey on Twitter). What can be determined is that Hanifin’s value as a defenceman has risen dramatically since his debut in Calgary. His offensive production fell off in 2020-21, but that could be attributed to the whole team struggling to score goals on many nights. If his defence continues to trend upwards this season and he can produce in his opponent’s end, he will solidify himself as an elite defenceman in the NHL.
He and Chris Tanev formed a solid pairing for most of the past season via moneypuck.com their combined 58.4 xGF% was third in the entire league among pairings that played over 400 minutes together. The most likely scenario is the duo becomes Calgary’s top pair in 2021-22, and if they can continue their dominance, Hanifin may have an even bigger breakout season than he did in the last.
It’s no secret to Flames fans and management that Mangiapane has become a key component of the team after this past season. The 2021-22 season, however, may be the year that he becomes a household name with fans around the league. He’s become a versatile two-way forward for the team with a good motor and a player who’s not afraid to get into the dirty areas. After an MVP-calibre performance with Team Canada at the 2021 World Championship, he should be poised to have a huge breakout season with Calgary.
As his player card points out, between defence, offence, and finishing in 2020-21 Mangiapane, really found his game and became a key contributor for Calgary. He was able to be productive as he was all while averaging just 12 minutes and 56 seconds of average ice-time per game which was sixth amongst Flames forwards. He has quickly become one of Calgary’s best two-way forwards, and if the production follows, he will become an elite player in the league.
Looking at Mangiapane’s 18 goals in 56 games doesn’t seem like a number to be excited about, but when you turn it into a per 60 minutes rate is when you see how effective he was. At five-on-five, he scored at a rate of 1.24 goals per 60 minutes which ranked him 24th in the NHL. He ranked just higher than David Pastrnak (1.23) and Connor McDavid (1.22). Of the 23 players ahead of him, he had the 10th lowest average ice-time per game. His 18 goals at five on five led the Flames and he should be poised to surpass that career-high this year.
At the beginning of the 2020-21 season, it looked as though the line of Dube, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm had a spark together. That spark quickly fizzled out after Dube suffered an injury that kept him out for several games, and the line never really found their game again. Through nearly a week of training camp, Flames head coach Darryl Sutter has kept the practice group close to the opening night roster, and Dube is slotted for the third line with Mikael Backlund and Tyler Pitlick.
Dube finished the 2020-21 campaign with a career-high in both goals (11) and assists (11) in 51 games. His 52.1 CF% ranked 14th on the team, while his 51.7 xGF% was 16th of 22 Flames regulars. His numbers were decent as he was above 50% in both categories, but if he wants to continue to progress as an NHL player, he will need to find a way to become more effective for the team, especially with his new two-year contract he signed this summer.
Dube hasn’t played much at center since he’s made the step to the NHL, but Sutter is looking to change that this season. “You need multi-position guys, it’s really clear he’s one guy that I think can, so I wanna do it a couple times in preseason so he’s ready for it, cause it will happen in the season at some point,” Sutter said prior to the Flames preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday. Sutter Credited Dube for his speed and having played the position before as to why he thinks he’ll be a fit down the middle at some point.
3 Key Players for the Flames
The absence of Mark Giordano will be felt immensely in the early goings of the season, but Hanifin could ease that loss if he can grow into the team’s number one defenceman on the left side. Mangiapane is now a fixture in the top six, and through the first week of training camp, looks to be the new winger for Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Dube should get some help to grow, playing alongside Backlund but will also be tasked with learning to play canter in the NHL.
Three breakout seasons from Hanifin, Mangiapane, and Dube could really help to push Calgary into a playoff spot in the west and even beyond. All three players have the skillsets and abilities to take the next step this season, and the pressure should now be on them to continue to improve.
Brett is a freelance writer covering the Calgary Flames here at The Hockey Writers. He is an enthusiast of hockey stats and continues to learn every day about the sports analytics movement. Brett enjoys using both statistical analysis and the old-fashioned eye test in his writing to create the best content for readers. His work at THW has been featured on the Calgary Flames’ news feed for The Score and on Yardbarker. Brett is also part of THW’s Flames Faceoff YouTube/podcast show where he brings his opinions each week on the team’s current state of affairs.