Sunday Census: Flames’ most improved player, highest goal scorer, and preferred Pacific Division opponent

Welcome back to The Sunday Census. Throughout the week, The Win Column will be posing topical and intriguing polls on Twitter (@wincolumnblog) to gauge the fan-base’s stance on pressing issues. Want to make sure your opinion is taken into effect? Vote in the polls, start a debate, and propose alternative suggestions on the polls!

A main reason behind the Flames’ success this season has been the wealth of strong performances from players that came out from the shadows of 2017-18. Yes, the top players have been the top players, but the supporting cast have been immensely impactful.

New players such as Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan, and Noah Hanifin have been key pieces in the Flames’ strong season, but there have been some players from last year’s team that have stood out. What we wanted to see was who fans thought was the most improved among the bunch. We identified four candidates to choose from: David Rittich, Matthew Tkachuk, Mark Jankowski, and Travis Hamonic.

Jankowski received only 4% of the vote, which is slightly surprising. Already succeeding his point total from last year with 26 on the season so far, Jankowski has taken a consistent role as the third line centre. Last year he only appeared in 72 contests, a number he will pass very soon, but was able to register 17 goals.

Of course, excluding his four goal outburst in the final game of the season last year, Jankowski appears to be on track to replicate offensively. Where he stands out this season is his elevated penalty killing role. With five short-handed goals this season, Jankowski has become a mainstay on the ice when a teammate is in the penalty box. That being said, he doesn’t appear to have made a massive improvement in other areas of his play.

Tkachuk comes next on the list, which is frankly shocking. In 68 games last season, he registered 24 goals and 25 assists. In 71 games this year, he has accounted for 32 goals and 41 assists, exceeding his career high by 24 points with ten games to go. If that isn’t improved I don’t know what is. Perhaps because Tkachuk’s ceiling was so high last season, people don’t necessarily see that as improved? Your guess is as good as mine.

As shocking as it was to see Tkachuk’s lack of votes, my personal vote, in addition to 36% of voters, went to Hamonic. Easily one of the biggest scapegoats from last season, Hamonic has established himself as this team’s premier second pairing defenceman. Playing a much more physical role than others on the team, Hamonic has become the heart and soul of the team. Already with a career-high goal total this year, #24 is bound to continue his strong play.

That being said, the majority of fans voted for Rittich. With 50% of the vote, Rittich has evolved from potential shaky back-up candidate to premier starting goaltender. Last season his record was 8-6-3 and was somewhat questionable when Mike Smith went down with an injury late in the season. This year, however, Rittich has been a completely different goaltender. Going 25-7-5, Rittich will most likely be the starting goaltender come the playoffs. That is one improvement no one dares overlook.

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After the recent offensive outbursts by Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau, the gap between the Flames’ top goal scorers has become much closer. Including Sean Monahan, the three forwards have all reached the 30 goal platform. The real question is who ends up with the most goals come the end of the season?

Monahan and Tkachuk, currently with 31 and 32 goals respectively, received nearly an equal number of votes. Although it was a smaller proportion, fans are split on both players. Normally, Monahan is the unequivocal goal scorer among the bunch, but has been slowing down in terms of production as of late. Tkachuk on the other hand, has six goals in his past four games, catching up immensely after a similarly quiet stretch. My vote actually went to Tkachuk here, as he could have the strongest closing stretch out of all Flames.

The clear winner though was Gaudreau. Currently leading the team with 34 goals, he received an overwhelming majority of the vote. Whether this is because he already has a two goal lead, or because he is on an absolute tear as of late, Gaudreau is the front runner to have the most goals come the seasons’ end.

Our final poll of the week focused on which Pacific Division opponent would fans want to see in a playoff series more. Now of course there are many factors that could go into this poll. The first being that the Flames would likely be seeing these opponents at different times in the playoffs.

It’s virtually a guarantee that the Flames will not meet the San Jose Sharks until the second round. Based on how the seeding will occur the Flames will either play a wild card team or the third place Pacific team. The Sharks just simply aren’t going to be in one of those positions come the first round. The Vegas Golden Knights well could be. Should the Flames drop to second place, they will most likely face the Golden Knights. With the teams tying their season series at two wins apiece, the Golden Knights and Flames series would be tantalizing.

Both teams displaying tons of bad blood already, it would be a classic Western Conference beat-em up series. Although it wouldn’t be good for a long term run, it sure would be entertaining. That being said, the Arizona Coyotes are also pushing for the third place position at the moment, which would cause a completely different scenario

Although the Sharks would most likely be the second round match up, they would also would pose an extremely engaging series. Of course it doesn’t seem fair that the top two teams in the west should meet in the second round, (think Nashville-Winnipeg last season). It would make for must-watch hockey, and it would be a dream for the Flames to be a part of that.

Fans clearly are leaning more towards the Vegas series at the moment, most likely due to the match up being a bit more favourable. That being said, things could change over the remainder of the regular season that could change some opinions along the way.

Want to be a part of the conversation next time around? Follow us on Twitter @wincolumnblog and be sure to keep a look out for our polls throughout the week.

Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

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