The NHL preseason always includes less-than-stellar hockey. It’s a fool’s errand to try and draw conclusions about a team’s performance from their first few preseason matches. The Calgary Flames got off to a shaky start in games against the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks, but their best players weren’t playing. At the very least Darryl Sutter now has a full training camp to impart his methods and the Flames are hoping that some of their prospects will stand out for all the right reasons.
Over the past few years, the Calgary Flames seem to be a team where there’s consistently one rookie comes into camp and absolutely blows away the competition. A few seasons back that player was Andrew Mangiapane, who made his mark and then found a permanent role in the lineup. Then for a couple of seasons in a row, that player was Dillon Dube, who nearly forced his way into the lineup straight out of junior and then again in his first pro year before he finally found his way into the lineup on a more permanent basis.
Although a number of Flames rookies did look very good in the two rookie games against the Edmonton Oilers, none of the Flames’ rookies have made a mark in the preseason as of yet.
Unfortunately, through the first two games of the preseason, the Flames did not look dominant at all. Given they were working with mostly younger players, this is not too much of a surprise, but the fact that the most impressive players on the ice were veterans like Dube and Mangiapane in the second game, this is a bit disappointing.
In the first game, the Flames were overwhelmed by the Oilers, but looking at the numbers, only one Flames’ rookie managed a high-danger scoring chance at 5v5, which was Martin Pospisil. Not one of the Flames’ rookies had a single shot on net at 5v5, and the only Flames’ prospect with a CF% at 5v5 above 30% was Pospisil. This is not a way to get into the coaching staff’s good books.
In the second game against the Vancouver Canucks, the prospects again looked below-average. Although there are no official statistics collected at non-NHL rinks, the Flames’ prospects did not stand out positively at all. Oliver Kylington struggled to make passes that would hit their targets, and gave the puck away numerous times on breakout passes. Connor Mackey was better and managed to score the team’s second goal. He also made a number of smart defensive plays to breakup chances, but still was not driving offense the way the team needed him to throughout the game.
Up front, Jakob Pelletier, Matthew Phillips, and the rest of the Flames’ rookie forwards were invisible for large chunks of the game. While Gawdin did make a number of good passes, when he entered the zone with speed, he would make a turn towards the boards and then lose the puck shift after shift. For a guy with a shot of making the team this season, it simply was not good enough.
To be fair, the Canucks iced a more competitive lineup in this game, but the Flames rookies needed to do a better job to show that they could hold their own against the Canucks’ middle-six skaters.
Veteran presence on the Flames roster
Did the Flames make the right move in bringing on so many veteran players this offseason? It may be a bit premature to say that the Flames’ new veteran signings will outperform their rookies, but given how the latter have performed so far, having more options to fill roster spots looks like a smart gamble by GM Brad Treliving. While they may not be perfect, having players with experience playing in big games against top opposition is worth a lot in this league.
It is also premature to say that the Flames’ rookies are not good enough and will never be good enough. Making the jump from the AHL to the NHL is a big step, and not every prospect will be able to do it right away. This is okay, but if the Flames are looking for one to step up and make the team out of camp this year, their young players will need to do more to show that they deserve a spot.
The rookie recipe for success
The long and the short of it is for a rookie to make the team out of camp, they will need to emerge as the best player on the ice—not just in one game, but over the remaining preseason contests. With six games remaining, the fight for roster spots in these games is going to intensify as the team tries to get their main players into the lineup.
Young players like Pelletier, Phillips, and Ruzicka are going to have to battle harder to get into the lineup, and even harder on the ice if they want to stay in it. If they can show that their play is head and shoulders above a player like Brad Richardson or Trevor Lewis, there is a chance that they can earn a spot on opening night, but if not, they will be back in Stockton for their season.
To see a prospect make the jump, they would have to check off all boxes:
- Be the best player among all Flames prospects
- Show that they can handle tough minutes against quality opposition
- Consistently outwork veteran players
If they do this, then at least a few NHL games should be in their horizon for 2021–22.
The Flames’ organization has been keen on not giving young players opportunities simply because they were high draft picks—those spots have to be earned—and having Sutter as coach will emphasize this more. The fact of the matter is that the rookies have not usurped the veteran spots on the roster yet. If any of the Flames’ rookies want to earn a spot this season, they have a lot of work to do. To quote the iconic line from Mulan: “Let’s get down to business…”