After a busy start to the preseason, the Calgary Flames campers got their first day off on Saturday.
But you can bet head coach Darryl Sutter and his staff were making some decisions. The roster will look like very different in the coming days. Some easy choices, some not so simple.
Sutter said Friday his group will shift away from the half-prospect lineups he’s been using.
“The last three (games) we’ll be moving more into what our team could look like,” he said.
Few prospects and PTO players have made a lasting impression through the first four preseason contests. That makes it a bit of a crapshoot as to who will get an elongated look. Tryout players Sonny Milano and Cody Eakin are both still hoping for NHL contracts but could be let go at any moment. They may get another look in Monday’s game with the Calgary Flames hosting the Seattle Kraken — if Sutter deems them worthy.
Michael Stone may be the best bet of the three PTOs given the uncertain status of Oliver Kylington. However, the Flames do have nine other defencemen already signed to one-way deals and may be reluctant to expose one or two of them to waivers.
So what could this team look like?
Calgary Flames lineup locks:
Wingers Jonathan Huberdeau, Tyler Toffoli, Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dube, and Blake Coleman are undeniable as part of the top nine forwards. Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis are considered valuable pieces of the leadership core and most likely start the year on the flanks on the fourth line.
At centre, Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri and Mikael Backlund give the Flames a strong presence down the middle.
On defence, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, MacKenzie Weegar, Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov and the Kylington (when he returns) are your top six. Nothing beyond that is certain at this point.
Flames on the fringe:
Milano and Eakin are hanging around on their PTOs, and Stone is patiently waiting to see how the process shakes out. On the back end, candidates for Kylington’s spot who already have NHL contracts include Connor Mackey, Nicolas Meloche and Juuse Valimaki.
People are down on Valimaki but there is still time for him to dig out of the hole that has been created by his early ascension and injury history. Mackey has had a strong camp if only for his lack of mistakes, and Meloche is a fairly steady, defensively sound if not spectacular option who could potentially play a role on the penalty kill.
Things aren’t very pretty up front. Unless Milano turns his competitive dial up a notch, the Calgary Flames may not have a great in-house option for the second line alongside Kadri and Mangiapane.
I think Dube could fit there, and Eakin may get an edge over Milano for a spot beside Backlund, but fans are likely hoping for a more exciting prospect to grab a spot.
Matthew Phillips has been better than Jakob Pelletier, and Adam Klapka has been better than both of them. But the odds are long for all of them at this point. It will be interesting to see who gets the longest look among them. Walker Duehr is another darkhorse candidate.
Centres Kevin Rooney and Adam Ruzicka seem to be battling for fourth-line duties, with Cole Schwindt expected to stick around and push them for more looks.
Connor Zary has been one of the most exciting young prospects over the last couple of weeks. But after last year’s injuries it’s as if he’s starting his first pro season over. He’ll get a chance to shine with the Wranglers to start the year.
As good as Brett Sutter and Mitch McLain have been, it’s hard to imagine the Flames offering either of them NHL deals out of camp. They’ve already got Brett Ritchie as the potential 13th or 14th forward.
What the lines could look like on opening night:
Barring any late trades, here is a projection on what we may see come October 13. Keep in mind this is not a personal preference, just an educated guess based on current bodies and coach tendencies.
Extra(s): Ruzicka, Ritchie
If Matthew Phillips overcomes the odds and sticks, he could land with Backlund or Kadri. That would push Mangiapane or Coleman to the other side with Dube slotting in on the open left flank. That would likely eliminate both Milano and Eakin from signing deals — unless Eakin bumps someone from the fourth line.
Should be an interesting week. Who says preseason games have no drama?