Valimaki Injury Means Flames Need Other Defense Options

With the recent news of Juuso Vailimaki’s ACL injury during the offseason, the Calgary Flames will be likely counting on their other young defenders in the system to step up.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving said the injury was “terrible news.”
“We’re going to be in the market,” Treliving said of a possible trade or signing to help bulk up the team’s defense, according to the Flames website.

“The good news is that we have some young guys that we think have taken some steps, but we’re certainly going to be looking at potential options on our blueline,” Treliving said.

Aside from Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano, the Flames defense is comprised of a fairly young group with players like Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington. And, with the recent news of Valimaki’s injury and a tight cap situation, the Flames’ young and inexpensive defensemen will be heavily counted upon.

Valimaki, after a great playoff showing, was a likely candidate for the sixth defense slot before his unfortunate injury. Now, it appears someone else will need to step up in that spot.

Juuso Valimaki
Juuso Valimaki (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“With Valimaki’s injury, Treliving says the team will be looking externally for help on the blue line on top of internal options,” Flames radio host Pat Steinberg said on Twitter. “[Treliving] says Oliver Kylington is a natural internal option but says the team will also start looking at trade options very shortly.”

But, what are some of the best options available to the Flames to use to boost their defense either internally or externally?

Oliver Kylington

According to a recent Instagram video shared by the NHL, Kylington has been hard at work over the offseason. Last season, he played in 38 regular-season NHL games and had three goals and five assists for a total of eight points.

Kylington is one of the Stockton Heat’s only defensemen to play NHL minutes last season aside from Valimaki. That’s why he’s a likely candidate to play more games and fill in that sixth spot in 2019-20.

Scott Laughton, David Rittich, Sam Bennett, Oliver Kylington
Philadelphia Flyers’ Scott Laughton tries to score on Calgary Flames’ David Rittich while Sam Bennett and Oliver Kylington defend. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

“Kylington is a slick, smooth-skating offensive defender coming out of the pro leagues in Sweden. It only takes a few minutes of watching Kylington to see exactly what he brings to the table. He’s an effortless skater, one of the most mobile players in the entire draft, and possesses an immense amount of skill when it comes to both carrying the puck as well as distributing it to teammates,” Derek Neumeier wrote in a The Hockey Writers article in 2015.

Kylington played in the Swedish Hockey League with Farjestad in 2013-14, and was in the top-10 European skaters eligible for the 2015 Draft. He signed a three-year contract with the Flames on July 15, 2015.

He was assigned to the Heat and made his NHL debut on April 9, 2016 against the Minnesota Wild. Then, he spent the next few seasons with the Heat, eventually picking up some ice time with the Flames last season, especially after veteran defenseman Michael Stone was out with a blood-clot injury.

Rinat Valiev

Rinat Valiev, a left-shot defenseman, recently signed a one-year, two-way contract at $700,000 AAV with the Flames ahead of his Aug. 4 arbitration hearing.

Valiev hasn’t stepped on the ice for the Flames after playing 57 games with the Heat last season. The 24-year-old had 4 goals and 17 assists for a total of 21 points last season in the AHL.

Although Valiev hasn’t played in a Flames jersey, he has played 12 NHL games: 10 for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015-16 and two for the Montreal Canadiens in 2017-18. He has yet to get his first NHL point, but could have a better chance to get on the scoreboard if he draws into the lineup a few times this season.

Adam Ollas-Mattsson

Adam Ollas-Mattson has never played an NHL game, but the 23-year-old defenseman could be a viable option to enter the lineup. Last season, with the Heat, he played in 65 regular-season games, scoring 6 goals along with 12 assists.

Adam Ollas Mattsson
Adam Ollas Mattsson at Calgary Flames development camp. Photo: Nick Fleehart

Ollas-Mattsson is a Swedish-born defender and was selected in the sixth round at No. 175 overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the Flames. He’s played in three seasons with the Heat, including a majority of last season. His game has been developing and could be a viable option as a Valimaki replacement.

Trade T.J. Brodie

Trade rumors surrounding veteran T.J. Brodie are still looming, but it’s not entirely clear what will be happening. If the Flames could unload Brodie, it’s likely to be for a low trade value – and if anything, that would help out the Flames’ current cap situation to sign Matthew Tkachuk.

If Brodie were to be traded it would likely have to be for someone near his price range or on the cheap. It’s tough to say if trading Brodie would be the best option with the current hole on the Flames defense.

Last season, Brodie appeared in 79 regular-season games. He had 9 goals and 25 assists to rack up 34 points. Naturally, being paired with Giordano, Brodie had a plus-29 rating.

Flames defenseman TJ Brodie
Flames defenseman TJ Brodie (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Some say, even if Brodie stays, Andersson could be more worthy of the top spot alongside Giordano. He showed promise in his first full NHL season and could possibly take that first pairing slot with his hard work, arguably becoming more consistent than Brodie. With 2 goals and 17 assists, he is slated to only go up from here and could possibly take Brodie’s top line spot.

If that would be the case, Brodie would likely be moved to the third pairing as Hanifin and Hamonic made a great pair last season with 33 points and 19 points, respectively.

What Will the Flames Do?

There are a lot of internal and external options for Treliving and the rest of the team’s management. It’s really hard to say if some of the younger options will be enough or if Treliving will have to pull the trigger by trading for a defenseman. 

Searching for a defender wasn’t initially on Treliving’s radar ahead of the Valimaki injury. Now, it’s either an opportunity for a young defender to prove himself or for Treliving to shed some cap and make a trade. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how things play out for the Flames’ back end.