In this edition of Calgary Flames News & Rumors, Jacob Markstrom is preparing for what could be his busiest NHL season to date. His goaltending partner in Dan Vladar, however, is no slouch and has been getting rave reviews from his former teammate in Tuukka Rask. In other news, Matthew Tkachuk spoke on the 32 Thoughts Podcast about how frustrating watching last year’s playoffs were, given how close his team was to qualifying. Last but not least, Oliver Kylington is having a great camp early on and could be earning himself a spot on the opening night roster.
Flames Counting Heavily on Markstrom
After signing a massive six-year, $36 million deal last offseason, Markstrom failed to live up to his contract in his first season with the Flames. The 31-year-old has owned up to his inconsistent season and has acknowledged the fact that he needs to be better moving forward. His team will certainly be hoping he is, as they will need him in a major way this upcoming season (from ‘Wes Gilbertson: Behind new mask, Markstrom ready for busy season in Flames’ crease’, Calgary Sun — 09/30/21).
It is no secret that his head coach in Darryl Sutter tends to rely heavily on his number one goaltender. Markstrom is very aware of this and seems quite excited about the opportunity.
“Darryl loves to win hockey games, more than anything,” Markstrom said. “I want to be the guy. I want to play. I mean, if you put your hockey gear on, you might as well get out there on the ice. There’s nothing better than to be out there playing a game. Playing the game, that’s the reward.
“That’s what is fun with hockey – to win hockey games with your friends and teammates.”
In 43 games last season, Markstrom compiled a less-than-stellar 2.68 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .904 save percentage (SV%). Expect those numbers to improve in 2021-22, thanks in large part to playing in a Pacific Division which most expect to be the weakest in the NHL.
Tkachuk Vents Frustrations
Speaking on Elliotte Friedman’s 32 Thoughts Podcast this past week, Tkachuk was quite vocal about many things when it comes to the Flames. He is clearly frustrated by the team’s lack of success, particularly last season, and knows they need to improve. His most interesting comment came when he was discussing the success the Montreal Canadiens had during their Stanley Cup run.
“We finished the season three points behind Montreal, that’s what pissed me off the most and what made me the most upset,” Tkachuk said. “At the end of the day the team that beat us out by three points is playing in the Stanley Cup Final. I definitely didn’t have the greatest summer watching them.”
The Flames have the talent on their roster to turn things around, but as the 2020-21 season shows that doesn’t always matter. The majority of Calgary’s roster struggled last season, and Tkachuk was one of them, posting just 43 points in 56 games, which is far below what he is capable of. He could be in store for a major bounce-back season in 2021-22.
Rask Praises Flames New Goaltender Vladar
When the Flames traded for Vladar from the Boston Bruins this offseason, not much if anything was known about him. After all, the 24-year-old has spent the majority of his professional career in the American Hockey League, appearing in his first five NHL games this past season. Despite the very small sample size, however, Rask, who won a Vezina Trophy in 2013-14, believes the Flames made the right decision in choosing to bring him in. (from ‘Wes Gilbertson: Flames goaltender Vladar anxious to prove Rask’s reference was accurate’, Calgary Sun — 09/28/21).
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“He (Rask) said it was a great move for us,” said Flames director of goaltending, Jordan Sigalet. “He thinks Daniel is ready to take the next step and be an NHL goalie. He just raved about his personality and work ethic. He sounded like the perfect fit for a guy who was going to come in and be hungry to learn from Jacob Markstrom and be a good teammate who will go on early and stay on late and just do anything that you ask of him.”
Vladar has since said that he hopes to prove Rask, an idol of his, correct. Though some may be hesitant on him given his lack of experience, there is plenty of room for optimism here. Over the past two seasons, Vladar has been exceptional at the AHL level, in particular during the 2019-20 season where he posted a very impressive 1.79 GAA along with a .936 SV% in 25 games. Though he won’t be counted on to play a ton for the Flames this season, management is clearly confident that he will be capable of winning games when Markstrom is in need of rest.
Kylington Stepping Up
When the Flames announced the signings of Michael Stone and Erik Gudbranson just weeks before training camp, many expected it meant that Kylington would once again be pushed back on the depth chart and likely spend a good chunk of the season as either a healthy scratch or in the AHL. It is something all too familiar here, as this team doesn’t seem to be willing to give him a chance, including in 2020-21 where they dressed him in just eight games. This season, however, they may not have a choice but to give him an opportunity.
Though there is still some camp left to go, the 24-year-old Kylington is playing better than anyone had expected. He is clearly being looked at by the coaching staff as he has suited up for four of five preseason games and played nearly 25 minutes in a game against the Seattle Kraken last Wednesday. Sutter seems to be quite impressed with his play thus far.
“We need mobility back there,” Sutter said when asked about the possibility of Kylington being on the opening night roster. “Guys like that are fighting to be in your top six. By playing games he’s getting an opportunity to do that, and if he’s not he’s not. (The fact that he played again Friday) means we’re happy with him.”
After putting up solid numbers with the Stockton Heat in parts of three straight seasons from 2016-2019, it looked like Kylington was on his way to becoming a full-time NHLer as he suited up for 38 games with the Flames during the 2018-19 season and 48 in the next. However, as mentioned, he was used very sparingly last year, which cast doubt over his future with the team. Thankfully for his sake, he seems to have moved past any frustration he may have had, and is doing everything in his power to earn a spot in their top six.
The Flames have just three more preseason games left on their schedule. Next up is a game against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night, followed up by two games against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday and Friday. They will look to build on a mini two-game winning streak they have put together after beating the Vancouver Canucks and the Kraken this past Friday and Saturday night.