New-look lines at Calgary Flames training camp could indicate opening night combinations

Normally, training camp line combinations shouldn’t be taken too seriously, especially in the first few days of camp. However, with this year’s camp being just 10 days long, what we see on the ice matters a lot more.

Head Coach Geoff Ward has stayed true to his word and looks to be testing out new line combinations to use this season. Again, the grain of salt that would normally be prescribed when looking at training camp lines is no longer required; these combinations matter.

Forwards

The Flames have been split into two groups, but the NHL players seem to be paired together from top to bottom. In the first group, we’ve seen these steady line combinations through two days of on-ice sessions:

Mangiapane – Backlund – Bennett
Lucic – Ryan – Dube
Petterssen – Gawdin – Philp
Kirkland – Ruzicka – Phillips

The second group has also remained steady through camp so far:

Tkachuk – Lindholm – Leivo
Gaudreau – Monahan – Simon
Nordstrom – Froese – Robinson
Tuulola – Zavgorodniy – Rinaldo

The top two lines in both groups are composed entirely of players who will play a regular role on the NHL lineup this season, and are all different combinations from what Ward deployed in the return to play.

One thing that jumps out right away is there appears to be “pairs” instead of lines in Ward’s forward setup. We see that Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, Andrew Mangiapane and Mikael Backlund, and Milan Lucic and Dillon Dube are paired together as they were last season. The new pairing appears to be Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm, which looks to be a clear indication that Lindholm will indeed move to center and will have Tkachuk as his primary winger.

The rest of the players will probably rotate through the four pairings until something sticks, and will probably have short leashes as well.

Newcomer Dominik Simon is on the big boys line with Gaudreau and Monahan, likely being asked to play a similar role to that he played in Pittsburgh when he lined up next to Sidney Crosby.

Simon will be going to the dirty areas of the ice, asked to win battles along the boards, and have his stick on the ice ready for Gaudreau to pass him the puck. This line has a worker in Simon, playmaker in Gaudreau, and sniper in Monahan. We know that splitting Monahan and Gaudreau has been a bad tactic in the past so this line could work.

The Mangiapane, Backlund, and Bennett line promotes Bennett into a top-six role where he probably doesn’t belong, but if he can replicate his bullish style from the playoffs, he could be a very good addition to the play-driving force that is the Mangiapane/Backlund combo. The one odd part of this line is that Bennett is playing his off-wing, which is concerning considering he struggles playing his strong-wing.

I’d much rather see Dube on that line instead, but it’s hard to break up a pairing that worked so well last season. Lucic and Dube were a force in the playoffs, and having a more defensively reliable and right-handed center in Ryan is a lateral move for this line. As Dube gets better and Lucic gets worse, we could see some shuffling but this line makes sense overall.

For the rest of the forwards, including Joakim Nordstrom, Glenn Gawdin, and Matthew Phillips, it looks like they already have their work cut out for them to make this team. They’ll have to really show up in the scrimmages to stand out because they aren’t getting any reps with NHLers just yet.

Defense

The first group’s defense pairs have looked like this so far:

Giordano – Tanev
Mackey – Petrovic
Lerby – Stone

And the second group:

Hanifin – Andersson
Valimaki – Nesterov

Poolman – Yelesin

Same deal as the forwards, the apparant NHLers are together. At least so far, it looks like Connor Mackey isn’t being given an NHL spot off the bat; he’s paired with fellow bubble player and probable taxi squad candidate Alex Petrovic.

The first pairing isn’t what we had projected all offseason long in Mark Giordano and Rasmus Andersson. Through camp so far, Giordano has been paired with newcomer Chris Tanev on a pairing of the two strongest defensive defensemen on the team. It’s a bit curious since Tanev is this season’s replacement for Travis Hamonic, and the Hamonic/Giordano pairing wasn’t ideal when it was used the past few seasons.

However, there is a caveat with this line. Ward indicated that these two were paired together for one key reasons. Giordano and Tanev will be on the team’s first penalty killing unit and Ward wanted them to build chemistry defending together.

It makes sense to give them some time to acclimate to each other’s styles if they’ll be playing an important role together in just over a week. Whether that means we’ll see a Giordano/Andersson pairing is unknown, but it does leave the door open for that possibility.

Andersson instead was paired again with Noah Hanifin, a duo that was used in the return to play and was quite effective for the Flames. This top-four would be more balanced than having Giordano paired with Andersson and Hanifin paired with Tanev, but it gets rid of the offensive/defensive pairing that happens when you don’t slot Tanev with Giordano.

Perhaps Ward wants to maintain some consistency by keeping the Andersson/Hanifin pairing together but we’ll see how things stack up once we get more dynamic practices going. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the pairs shuffle.

The third pairing appears to be Juuso Valimaki and Nikita Nesterov, two players who did not play for the Flames last season. This is the third pairing we predicted in the offseason with Nesterov able to play both sides, but that isn’t set in stone just yet because of one key absence from camp: Oliver Kylington.

Don’t expect Valimaki to lose his spot in the top-six, but Nesterov could be replaced by Kylington when his immigration issues are resolved and he comes to camp. Also vying for that spot are Mackey and Petrovic.

It was surprising and scary when the Flames signed Michael Stone to a PTO last week, but it looks like he’s just there to help round out the pairings in camp. Where he gets shuffled to when Kylington gets to camp will be telling. Because Stone is currently paired with Carl-Johan Lerby who will not be on the NHL team this season, it doesn’t look like there’s anything to worry about with Stone just yet.


What do you think of the lines so far? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

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