Leading the Pacific Division with a 43-19-9 record, it is a foregone conclusion that the Calgary Flames are playoff-bound. Aside from a recent three-game slide, this team has been firing on all cylinders for almost the entirety of the 2021-22 season.
For any team to be successful in the NHL, they need their top players to perform, and that has certainly been the case for the Flames. In net, Jacob Markstrom has been outstanding and leads all goaltenders with nine shutouts. Meanwhile, Johnny Gaudreau’s 99 points are tied for fourth in league scoring and have many believing he should be a candidate for the Hart Trophy. Both of his linemates, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm, are also having career years.
While the top players have received most of the credit, the Flames’ success has been a full team effort this season. That in large part is due to head coach Darryl Sutter, who has the entire team buying into his systems, proven by how hard they work each and every night. And while his top guns will have an opportunity to shine in the playoffs, he has always been known to love the lunch pale type players, meaning there could be an unlikely star or two in the making for this team in the Spring. Here are four that could play a surprising hero role in the postseason.
Though it didn’t receive as much attention as the Tyler Toffoli acquisition, many discussed how vital of a pickup Calle Jarnkrok could be for the Flames. Through seven games, he has yet to fully establish himself with just two points, but his track record speaks for itself.
Not only has Jarnkrok proven he can provide secondary offence, but he is also a terrific defensive player. He brings plenty of postseason experience to this roster, having played in 63 playoff games at the NHL level, including a run to the Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Nashville Predators in 2016-17.
Though he has missed the past three games due to a non-COVID illness, he has spent most of his time thus far on the third line with Dillon Dube and Blake Coleman as his linemates. As far as third lines go, that one is quite skilled, meaning Jarnkrok has a great chance to have some heroics in the playoffs.
For many years, Mikael Backlund has been one of this team’s most reliable forwards. Each and every night, you can expect great defensive play from him, along with some solid contributions on the offensive side of things.
The 33-year-old, who was taken 24th overall by the Flames back in 2007, has only suited up for 30 playoff games in his career. That number is quite low for someone who has appeared in 813 regular-season contests. You can bet he will be chomping at the bit for the playoffs to begin, as this roster is likely the best he has been a part of in the NHL and gives him a legitimate chance to win his first-ever Stanley Cup.
As far as opportunity goes, he will be given plenty, as he has spent nearly the entire season on the Flames’ second line. He has a great chance to produce in bunches, as he will likely have two very solid goal scorers in Andrew Mangiapane and Tyler Toffoli on his wings. Fans of this team already love Backlund and what he has done for this organization, and that would only increase further if he is able to come up big in the playoffs.
It’s no secret to anybody around the game of hockey that Milan Lucic is no longer the player he once was. Back in his hay day as a member of the Boston Bruins, he was the most dominant power forward in the NHL, one who struck fear into opponents each time he hit the ice while also producing plenty of points.
Offensively, his game declined shortly after joining the Edmonton Oilers, and it has remained the same since being traded to the Flames during the 2019 offseason. With that said, Flames fans have embraced him and love what he can still provide, which is energy and physicality. On top of that, he is still able to provide offence every now and again, proven by his 10 goals and 20 points on the year.
Lucic has not only suited up for 124 career playoff games, but he also helped lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup back in 2011. His style of game is made for the playoffs, and he has produced plenty, with 76 points over those 124 games. Though he lacks foot speed, his strong, net-front presence could be a huge asset for the Flames this spring, and it is certainly possible that the big man is able to come up with some clutch goals for this squad.
There is no denying the fact that Dube’s overall career has been a disappointment to this point. After a number of high-scoring seasons in the Western Hockey League, paired with some great success in the American Hockey League (albeit in a small sample size), Flames fans expected him to do the same at the NHL level.
Unfortunately for both Dube and the Flames, that has not yet come to fruition. The 23-year-old has struggled to make much of an impression on Sutter and has just 21 goals and 44 points over his past 118 games. With that said, there is reason to be optimistic he can pick things up in the playoffs.
Back in 2020, Dube, who was appearing in his first-ever playoff series, finished one goal shy of Sam Bennett for the team lead with four in 10 games. That great showing after he had managed only six goals in 45 games that season gives strong reason to believe that he is a player who can elevate his play in big moments.
Role Players Will Be Critical
Make no mistake; if the Flames are to be successful in the playoffs, their top players such as Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Tkachuk will need to be at their best. As the saying goes, however, a team is only as good as its weakest player, meaning they will need everybody to be on top of their games. If they are, and one of the four above is really able to pop off, this team could be playing deep into spring this year.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.