The Calgary Flames have key newcomers and many players battling for spots on the team in training camp this season. Some surprise players have made the decisions tougher, and whatever the roster makeup is right now, it’s bound to change come opening night.
There are three key training camp battles that are the most intriguing and subject to debate. The first is a fourth-line role considering there are multiple players vying for spots and not a lot of room on the roster. The second is figuring out who will play right wing in the top nine since there are a lot of players who can flip back and forth between the wings. Finally, we will look at the battle for the final defensive roster spot and who will be the first call-up if injuries occur.
4th Line Forward Role
This is the last season that Milan Lucic’s $5.25 million cap hit will be on the books, but that doesn’t mean he will move on afterwards and not come back on a cheap deal. The style of play he brings to the team is beneficial for the Flames and he can still produce a decent amount of offence for a fourth-line player.
As for the others, Kevin Rooney is one of the new additions this offseason and played over 14 minutes for the New York Rangers last season. His contribution and involvement on that team indicate that he won’t easily be taken out of the lineup with the Flames. He is a bit of an overqualified fourth-line centre and though he doesn’t provide a ton of offence, has a strong rest of his game.
So that leaves about five players fighting for one lineup spot and three roster spots. Two of the players, Sonny Milano and Cody Eakin, are on professional tryouts and will have to really impress to stick around, while the other three are already signed but are fringe NHLers. There is no doubt in my mind Adam Ruzicka will be an NHL player, but he is currently in the process of making the transition. He could spend some more time in the American Hockey League (AHL), but could also very well hang around with the Flames. Seeing how he scored five goals and 10 points in 28 games in a fourth-line role last season when he was recalled, he may be ready.
Trevor Lewis is signed to a 35-plus contract and this will be the season he finally sees his games cut. He brings physicality and a strong defensive game, but he is also older and the team needs to give opportunities to younger players who can help them in the future. Brett Ritchie had little production last season and if he even makes the opening night roster, it will be as a healthy scratch.
Eakin is in the toughest spot to even earn a contract after the other PTO, Milano, scored 14 goals and 34 points last season and is just 26 years old. It would be tough to see Milano not earn a contract with the Flames this season. Despite not impressing in the top six, he can still be very effective in a bottom six role. They could also easily use him as a potential candidate to move up the lineup at a later date too.
How the Right Wing Shapes Up for the Flames
The right wing position is also interesting, as the Flames have options. Jonathan Huberdeau has one of the top three left-wing positions locked up, but the team has multiple wingers who can play left and right wing. A likely outcome is to assume Andrew Mangiapane will also line up on the left side for the second line to spread out the scoring since he potted 35 goals in 2021-22.
That leaves Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman, Dylan Dube, and likely Milano to fill the right side in the top nine and one of them to play the left side. The general consensus is that Toffoli will start out on the top line. He can provide goals and that should work well in conjunction with Huberdeau’s playmaking ability. He also provides solid play in the defensive end. On a line together with Elias Lindholm, they can both shut down opposing top lines and cover for the lack of defensive play Huberdeau provides.
The dispute is about which of Dube and Coleman earns second-line minutes. As the decision is very tough, I think that both will get a good look there early in the season. Coleman has chemistry with Mikael Backlund and they create a very formidable duo on the defensive side of the puck. This is a good reason to start Coleman alongside Backlund on the third line. The lack of offensive production received from the winger last season also works against him.
Dube is ready to take the next step and there is an opportunity for him in the top six. Playing alongside Nazem Kadri and Mangiapane will help him reach that next level of offence and consistency. Since Dube is younger and has more upside than Coleman, there’s no harm in giving him a better opportunity to start the season. The Flames can then see what he can do alongside better players and with more ice time.
The Flames have probably the best defence core from top to bottom in the league. So with six great defencemen in the lineup, the training camp battle is to be the seventh defenceman. There will always be times the seventh defenceman has to fill in. The Flames’ good luck is bound to turn eventually, as they have been very healthy on the back end over the past few seasons.
The Flames have three younger defencemen who are NHL-ready and on one-way contracts, but also have a familiar face in Michael Stone who is back again on a PTO. It’s not as easy for Stone to be on the team as the seventh defenceman this season as there is the risk of losing other players if they’re sent through waivers. Stone has had a very impressive preseason thus far and is making a case to be on the team once again.
Nicolas Meloche played 50 NHL games last season and averaged just under 17 minutes a game. When he signed with the Flames, it made it much harder for him to get the ice time he had last season. He is an option that has more experience than Juuso Valimaki or Connor Mackey but has less potential.
It may be yet another season where Valimaki fails to impress and has to spend his time in the AHL. He played nine games for the Flames until he played out the rest of the season in the minors. As for Mackey, he is a very good AHL defenceman, but is 26 years old and has played just nine NHL games.
The Flames have a plethora of riches on defence and even though they risk losing a decent young player through waivers, they are going to ice the best lineup possible to win each night. They have the offence, defence, and goaltending to be a serious Stanley Cup contender this season and have plenty of extra talent available if needed. Watch for the last few games to signify the direction the Flames intend to head in.
Latest News & Highlights
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.