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Mitch McLain a perfect fit for 13th forward next season

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Mitch McLain Calgary Flames

General Manager Craig Conroy has his hands full this offseason when it comes to shoring up weak points on the 2024-2025 Calgary Flames roster.

While he may have twelve forwards and five defencemen already signed, the term “team needs” certainly needs to be addressed.

For one, the Flames will likely need to add a top four defenceman. It may be fair to say that their latest blueline iteration of:

Weegar-Miromanov
Kylington-Andersson
Solovyov-Pachal

Is one that lacks depth, physicality, and high end defending ability.

Another roster hole? The Flames would do well to pick up a forward or two with speed to allow their aggressive transition style to work more efficiently.

And then there is the challenge of adding a bit more snarl to the lineup. The club very quietly rolled out a fairly toothless roster in 2023-2024. The issue was underlined in late October when Oilers power forward Evander Kane challenged any and all Flames players within a scrum at the Heritage Classic..

To no response.

“What are you gonna do? What is anybody here gonna do?”

A sore spot in the season, but one that many fans may have moved on from. It is worth noting that Calgary lost that game 5-2.

Also likely forgotten was a career-altering event that took place only five days before the Kane incident. Amid a six game slide on Oct. 24, Slovakian center Adam Ruzicka received a devastating cheap shot from New York Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey. Zero response from the Flames, and the Rangers took the game 3-1.

Jump forward to the middle of February. The Flames are again playing the Rangers. This time in New York. Rags captain Jacob Trouba sets the tempo early with a blindside hit on rookie Jakob Pelletier.

Walker Duehr kindly offered to fight Trouba. Keyword being “offered”. The Rangers proceeded to choke out the Flames 2-0.

After multiple seasons of having Milan Lucic, Brett Ritchie, and Nikita Zadorov patrolling the ice, the 2023-2024 Calgary Flames simply went without. While AJ Greer took on a few comers early in the season, there was no first responder by December. Blake Coleman, Joel Hanley, and Elias Lindholm, to name a few, threw their hats into the ring for the odd bout, but in terms of deterrence, there was little and less.

 

Dragging people into the fight

There is a strong case to be made that Martin Pospisil was Calgary’s greatest source of emotional motivation in the 63 games he drew into in 2023-2024.

A 34-25-4 record with the 24-year-old Slovak in the lineup. A 4-14-1 record without.

“I think to start the game, I don’t know if we were engaged physically the way you need to be to win games.” Head Coach Ryan Huska said of Pospisil’s impact following a controversial shootout loss to the Wild on Dec. 14. “I thought there were some scrums. Marty (Pospisil), I thought, did a good job of kind of dragging people into the fight a little bit tonight and I think it helped get our game going.”

Huska continued.

“He’s a competitive young man that just plays and plays hard, and sometimes he gets under the skin of his opponent. But that’s what makes him who he is.”

It wouldn’t be too outlandish to suggest that the Calgary Flames need more of that. Another physical driver. Maybe one more willing to drop the gloves in defence of his teammates.

Enter stage left Mitch McLain.

 

Mitch “Moose” McLain

A consensus fan favourite among those who follow the Calgary Wranglers, Mitch McLain provides exactly that “dragging people into the fight” brand of hockey.

For those reading McLain’s moniker with a play or two on the tip of their tongue, perhaps this will ring a bell:

He was the guy who baited Darnell Nurse into, not one, but two fights in one preseason game in September of 2022.

Yeah, that guy.

McLain draws Nurse into a fight between plays and somehow gets Evander Kane so upset that he takes a crosschecking minor as well.

The 30-year-old Baxter, Minnesota native brings more than just pugilism. In 2022, McLain racked up a goal and an assist in three preseason games. The 6-foot-0, 198-pound forward ended his sole preseason with the Flames with two points, 20 penalty minutes, five penalties drawn, and seven hits in 27:24 of ice time.

That is undeniably an impact player.

His nose for the net may have some use as well. Marc Savard may be leaving the organization, but chances are solid that we will see the Flames continue to run backdoor scoring plays in 2024-2025. A sequence that happens to be a strength for McLain.

If the meta is indeed heading towards the Zach Hyman-style net-front goals, McLain may find himself a fit in that doorstep role if given the opportunity.

 

The perfect 13th forward

The question is not whether McLain would have an impact. The issue may be more about where he will fit in the lineup.

There may not be a better option than McLain for a veteran who can slot in and make an impact. Opposing coaches need to factor in that a sparkplug who has scored 16 or more goals and notched 108 or more penalty minutes in each of his past three seasons will be dressing for the game. His high intensity style would pair well with not dressing for every game.

It seems like a win-win for both team and player.

Are the Flames quietly floundering through one of their many multi-game skids? Slot in Mitch. One more pair of skates dragging his teammates into the fight.

Do the Flames need someone to exploit the more hot-headed players in the next chapter of the Battle of Alberta? Mitch can do that too.

 

The X-Factor

One more reason for the Calgary Flames to offer Mitch McLain a two-way deal this offseason?

He’s entertaining.

Whether the team is rebuilding, retooling, or surprising as unexpected contenders, Mitch is a fun guy to watch play hockey. He evokes some of the greatest aspects of the game by driving his opponents into the red zone while serving as a rallying point for his teammates.

After all, is there a greater feeling than watching a player tilt an opposing team between plays and then follow it up by scoring a goal on them?

Regardless of how the season goes next year, fans want reasons to tune in. Fans want something to talk about between games. Fans want players to cheer for. As a fan favorite already in the Saddledome with the AHL Wranglers, McLain just needs to bring his style to the NHL.

The jersey sales will follow.

 

A new contract

McLain’s career will face some short-term uncertainty this offseason, as his two-year AHL deal with the Flames expires on July 1, 2024.

With the opportunity set squarely in front of them, it’s up to Craig Conroy and the Calgary Flames brain trust to decide whether they want to provide more of the same with an AHL extension, let him walk, or offer the former Bowling Green Falcon a chance to achieve his dream of playing in the show.

During that time of trepidation, Mitch McLain will return to Brainerd, Minnesota, to contribute as a coach and community mentor at Lakes Hockey Academy. Between sessions last summer, the seven-season AHL veteran spoke to Lakeland PBS about his approach to on-ice development.

“You gotta be where your skates are. We say it all the time here. Be where your skates are. You don’t need to be in a hurry to be in the NHL. You can get there at 35 years old if you really need to.”

 

More from CHN:

[Five high speed players for the Calgary Flames to target this offseason]

Kapanen Flames

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@CgyHockeyNow and @Trevor_Neufeld

 

Credit to @AHLWranglers for the photo of McLain.

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