It’s been a revolving door for the Flames at the number six defenceman spot recently, not unlike other spots in the lineup. Such is the case when your team is struggling to string wins together. The coaching staff has tried various different combinations with varying success throughout the season.
With the Flames at a critical point in their season, there isn’t much time left to tinker with the lineup and test things out anymore. Having consistency in your lineup this time of year is crucial for success. The team needs to find the right partner for the bottom pairing to play with Juuso Valimaki in order to create some consistency and chemistry before it’s too late. Let’s take a look at the options and who would be the best fit based on what we’ve seen so far.
Who’s in the Running?
It seems like the Flames have been trying to fill this spot in the lineup for years now. Last year the team used 11 different defenceman, including six different players in the number six role at one point or another. Derek Forbort, Erik Gustafsson, and Brandon Davidson all left this off-season, while Michael Stone and Oliver Kylington were re-signed.
In order to replace the players who left and create some competition for the role, Brad Treliving brought in Nikita Nesterov and Alex Petrovic this past year to compete with Stone, Connor Mackey, and Kylington. So far this season, Nesterov and Mackey have both gotten into some games for the big club, Petrovic has spent his year in the AHL, though he was recently called up to the active roster last week. Whether this was just to get him some NHL pay, or it was to have him as an option on the roster we’ll never know.
Kylington has also played a few games in the number six role. Stone has spent the entire season on either the taxi squad or in the AHL and hasn’t suited up for the big club yet.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, it seems like the two main names for the role right now are Nesterov and Kylington. Mackey only got into three games earlier in the year and struggled in his limited minutes. My guess is the Flames let him get a year of development in the AHL this season before giving him another shot at the role next season.
Petrovic, meanwhile, had spent the entire year in the AHL before being called up last week to the Flames. He has been outstanding for the Heat this year with 12 points in 11 games while donning the ‘C’ for the team. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a shot with the Flames at some point in the near future.
For now, we will compare the two options the Flames have used in the role so far this season, Nesterov and Kylington.
How Do They Stack Up?
Let’s take a look and see how each has fared this year so far in the NHL at even strength and on special teams. All numbers are courtesy of naturalstattrick.com. All numbers are 5v5 SVA, with the number in brackets being their team rank. Isolated 5v5 impact is courtesy of hockeyviz.com.
|Nikita Nesterov||24||50 (6)||37.52 (8)||51.02 (4)||45.01 (5)|
|Oliver Kylington||6||52.55 (3)||47.88 (5)||47.22 (6)||51.91 (4)|
All things considered, both Nesterov and Kylington have been okay in the role this year, especially over past options like Stone. Considering the team’s struggles this year, particularly on the top pairing, it’s impressive that both Kylington and Nesterov have put up okay underlying numbers so far.
Looking at their isolated impacts they come out somewhat similar. Neither guy moves the needle very much at either end. Kylington has the slight edge on offence as Nesterov doesn’t help generate much of anything when on the ice. In the defensive zone, Nesterov is slightly better at limiting chances than Kylington.
In other words, Kylington has the slight edge on offence, while Nesterov has a slight edge on defence.
Although it’s a small sample size, Kylington’s HDCF% and CF% ranking third and fourth on the team among defenceman is impressive. He’s only played six games, but this is the first season of his career that Kylington has been above 50% for CF%. He’s typically struggled at even strength so it’s nice to see him improve so far this year, at least with his on ice statistics.
Despite this he’s been on the ice for just three Flames goals in his six games played, but he’s also been on for three against. The Flames are controlling the chances with Kylington on the ice so far this year which is good to see, but unfortunately it isn’t the same story for goals as he sits below 50% for both GF% and xGF%.
Meanwhile, Nesterov can be described as a black hole offensively. His GF% and HDCF% are downright ugly, as the Flames have gotten outscored whenever he’s on the ice this year and don’t generate many dangerous chances either. The team has scored just 12 goals with Nesterov on the ice at even strength in his 25 games played, the fewest of any Flames defenceman with over 20 games played.
He’s also been on the ice for 20 goals against, the fourth highest among defencemen despite having just the sixth most minutes on the team by over 100 minutes. It is worth noting that he currently has a team-low on-ice save percentage of 0.894, which is one reason why his xGF% is much higher than his GF%. Either way, he hasn’t brought anything on offence and the Flames have been just average on defence with him on the ice.
Both players have been pretty average this year across the board at even strength, which isn’t a bad thing considering the role they play. There isn’t much separating them in terms of results as neither brings much offensively and both play okay defence. Kylington has helped generate chances at a better rate in his limited playing time, while Nesterov holds the advantage when it comes to expected goals.
Neither guy will sway the teams chances of winning very much, however Kylington does bring some more skill to the lineup, something the Flames are desperately lacking right now. The big difference to me is the skating ability that Kylington brings to the table compared to Nesterov. He brings more effective tools when he’s in the lineup and introduces some much needed speed to the Flames defence.
He’s much more offensively gifted, he just has yet to put it all together at the NHL level. The best way to look at it is that Kylington has a much higher ceiling than Nesterov, while their floor is about the same.
Case in point, his one point this year was a beauty.
So, how about special teams impact? Well, neither Kylington or Nesterov have been used much on special teams so far this year. Kylington hasn’t seen any power player time while Nesterov played on the powerplay once in the Flames loss to the Maple last week for… reasons?
Kylington also hasn’t played on the penalty kill, although Nesterov has been a consistent option for the team on the PK when he’s in the lineup. He currently has 34:43 TOI on the penalty kill, sitting fifth on the team among defencemen, just two minutes behind Rasmus Andersson.
Unfortunately he’s given up the third most goals against on the PK of any Flames defencemen, behind only Mark Giordano and Chris Tanev who play on the teams number one PK and have over 100 minutes shorthanded.
It’s definitely a bonus that Nesterov can log PK minutes when needed, but he isn’t particularly great on the PK so his presence there wouldn’t be missed too much.
Impact on Juuso Valimaki
Whoever slots in as the number six defenceman for the Flames will almost certainly be playing alongside Valimaki. Both coaches this year have shown a reluctance to split up their defence pairings, meaning Valimaki is locked into the number five spot for now.
All 31 games either Nesterov or Kylington has played this year have been played mainly alongside Valimaki as their primary partner. When deciding who should play in that spot going forward, it’s worth looking at how Valimaki has fared with each partner.
|Valimaki w/ Nesterov||285.27||51.65||38.54||54.93||52.03|
|Valimaki w/ Kylington||54.25||59.19||57.60||53.73||61.46|
Right away the first thing that jumps out is how effective Valimaki and Kylington have been together this year. It may be a small sample size, but it’s still very impressive how dominant they have been together.
In fact, among Flames pairings with at least 50 minutes together, the Valimaki, Kylington pairing has the best CF% of on the team. Their HDCF% and GF% also both rank second, behind only the Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev pairing and their ridiculous 65.18 HDCF% and 65.62 GF%. Again, it’s worth noting the sample size has obviously been very small, but the results have been incredibly impressive thus far.
Valimaki’s results with Nesterov have also been solid, although not as impressive. Their xGF% ranks second on the team among pairings with at least 50 minutes, also behind the Hanifin, Tanev pairing. It’s also worth mentioning that their CF% and HDCF% both rank third, and ahead of the Mark Giordano, Rasmus Andersson pairing.
Both pairings have had decent results so far this year, but it may be worth it to give Kylington some more chances in the lineup to see if he and Valimaki can continue their strong play together.
Who gets the spot?
Considering how bad the Flames have been this year, it is certainly a nice change to have a competent third pair for once. The go-to pairing of Valimaki and Nesterov have put up some solid numbers this year, and have even performed better than the Flames original top pairing of Giordano and Andersson.
That said, the Flames are at a critical point of their season right now and have struggled mightily to score. That’s why going forward I think Kylington should get a long look in the role and be given a shot to run with it. His skill and skating ability are something Nesterov simply doesn’t possess. Kylington has the ability to help the team score goals when he’s on his game while Nesterov just doesn’t.
Add in the elite numbers that Valimaki and Kylington have put up together this season and it’s worth giving them some more time to together to see if their strong play to continue. Kylington’s history of poor defensive mistakes and decisions certainly won’t be something Darryl Sutter likes, but I mean, what do you have to lose at this point? Get the young guy into the lineup and see what he can do.