The 2014-15 season saw the Calgary Flames surprise many people by finishing third in the Pacific Division and making it to the second round of the playoffs. Some numbers suggest they were playing a little over their heads and that they were the benefactors of some good puck luck. But then they went and had a huge offseason, bringing in talent in the form of Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik.
These acquisitions, and the development and addition of young talent have created a lot of hype for Calgary’s upcoming season. They’ll be deeper than last season, and hopefully will have a healthy Mark Giordano for the full season, after the early-season Norris candidate wound up on the Injured Reserve. While the fireworks from late June and early July are done, there are still a few storylines to follow as the 2015-16 season approaches.
What Happens With Oliver Kylington?
The 60th selection in this summer’s draft could turn into a great NHL defender for the Flames. Kylington will be leaving AIK of Sweden’s second-tier league, Allsvenskan (where he was loaned to from Farjestad of the top-tier Swedish Hockey League), and coming to North America. There are three possible destinations for the six-foot, left-handed blueliner. He could play major junior in the WHL for the Brandon Wheat Kings, who called his name at 60 overall in the CHL’s 2015 Import Draft. He could also play with the Flames, or spend time in the Calgary’s farm system with the AHL’s Stockton Heat.
Kylington didn’t transition to playing at Sweden’s top level as well as expected, which saw his draft stock fall. He initially was regarded as one of the top European skaters available, and a guy that would likely go in the first round. He also had some injury issues during the 2014-15 season, which might have contributed to his two goals, five points in 18 games in the SHL. While Kylington’s a phenomenal skater with great offensive instincts, he may need to fill out his 181-pound frame a little bit to compete at the NHL level. Calgary’s very deep on the blueline, and Kylington’s development would probably be best served if he can play a more prominent role.
He projects to be one of the top defencemen in the WHL if he joins Brandon, and would have an opportunity to really rack up a lot of points. But the best way for Kylington to adjust to the North American game may be spending time in Stockton. He could log big minutes and develop in a league that would be more of a challenge for him than joining the junior ranks and playing with some guys that would be two years his junior. But maybe Kylington surprises us and forces his way into the Flames lineup, like Dallas Stars defenceman John Klingberg did last season. Klingberg, 22, proved skating ability can trump a lack of size as 6-foot-2, 180-pound blueliner racked up 11 goals and 40 points in 65 games, despite only playing three North American games (all in the AHL) before joining the NHL ranks. He also came over from Sweden. I still don’t think Kylington’s that close to making the NHL, but a strong start in the minors and an injury or two may yield an NHL debut earlier than expected.
Who’s Between the Pipes?
The Flames were all over the place with the goaltending in 2014-15. They bounced back and forth between Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo. Hiller played more games, starting 44 of his 52 appearances, and posting a 2.36 GAA to go with a .918 save percentage. Ramo started 32 contests, but came in for an extra two games. Throughout last season, Ramo’s goals against averaged to 2.60 per game, and he had a .912 save percentage. The playoffs were no different, as Hiller was initially the man in the blue paint, but Ramo eventually took over the starting job. The starting role is still up for grabs, and the Flames wouldn’t mind one goalie taking it and running with it.
Any speculation of 24-year-old prospect Joni Ortio, who saw six games last season, and recorded a .908 save percentage and 2.52 GAA, joining the big club this season (his contract turning into a one-way deal) was put to rest when Ramo re-signed for an extra year at $3.8 million. Ortio will have to make his NHL-level salary with Stockton, barring an injury to Ramo or Hiller. Both Ramo and Hiller are both set to become free agents next summer, so you’ll likely see Ortio up with the Flames for the 2015-16 season.
Where Does Sam Bennett Line Up?
One of the big questions for the Flames’ 2015-16 season is where Sam Bennett will fit in. He’s 19, was the fourth-overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft, and looked like he might make the team out of the preseason a year ago before he had shoulder surgery. Bennett, naturally a centre, missed much of the season before being returned to the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs for the final stretch of the season and playoffs. After recording an aggregate 11 goals and 27 points throughout 15 regular season and playoff games with Kingston during 2014-15, he was called back up to Calgary, where he had an assist in his only regular season game and three goals and four points over 11 postseason contests.
Bennett projects to be in a top-six role for the coming season. But it’s hard to tell whether it’ll be on the first line or second line, and whether he’ll be playing up the middle or on the wing. The native of Holland Landing, Ontario, played wing for pretty much all of the playoffs with the Flames. There’s a lot more responsibility as a pivot than a winger, and his transition to a full-time NHL position could be a little easier lining up alongside another centre, such as a Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler, or Mikael Backlund. Monahan and Hudler formed part of a lethal unit along with rookie sensation, Johnny Gaudreau, last season. It would be hard to break up the trio, but Calgary could spread out some of that scoring and let Bennett play on the wing by splitting them up. Backlund is a great defensive centre, and could be a nice contrast to Bennett’s offensive ability on the second line, if the Monahan-Hudler-Gaudreau line remains intact.
Wherever Bennett lines up for 2015-16, look for him to contribute, as he’ll have the benefit of a full summer to train without any shoulder woes. Calgary’s going to be an exciting team to watch for years to come after one of the more impressive offseasons an NHL team has had recently. For more Flames reading, check out Felix Sicard’s 30 In 30 piece on whether the Flames are the real deal here.