When the Calgary Flames signed Walker Duehr at the end of last season, it was without much fanfare or excitement. A product of the Minnesota State Mavericks program, Duehr struggled to put points on the board throughout his four years. It was only in his final college season that he hit a half-point-per-game level, putting up 17 points in 28 games as a senior.
The long and the short of it is nobody expected much from Duehr. If he became a decent AHLer and a fan favourite in Stockton, that would have been a win on its own. However, this preseason, Duehr has been the story in Calgary, driving play in ways that few other Flames prospects did. Given his performance, he has made it very hard for the Flames to send him to Stockton early.
What does Walker Duehr bring to the table?
Since the Flames were roundly at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche during the 2019 playoffs, the prevailing opinion has been that the Flames were too soft and needed to get tougher to play against. The acquisitions of Milan Lucic, Brett Ritchie, Zac Rinaldo, and others were early signs that the Flames wanted to toughen up. Since the Flames named Darryl Sutter as their coach last season, this has gone into full swing with the adding of Nikita Zadorov, Erik Gudbranson, Tyler Pitlick, Brad Richardson , and more.
The problem with these players is that while they are big players who are tough in the corners, none bring the offence the way that the Flames need. Duehr is a pure power forward, able to drive to the net hard without being knocked off the puck. He uses his size to his advantage and he has incredible speed to match. The Flames have lacked that type of drive and ability since they lost Garnet Hathaway at the end of the 2018–19 season.
He is also a right handed shot, and needless to say, the Flames could absolutely use a few more of those throughout their lineup.
While the preseason is hard to assess and there is little point in taking much from how most players play, Duehr has made a strong case for himself to stay with the Flames to start the season. Through the four games that he has played so far, he only has one primary assist but has shown at both ends of the ice just how much of an impact he can make. This play is emblematic of what makes him so special:
Everything about this play shows why he should be an NHLer. From the positioning to steal the puck to the way that he is able to force the defender to second guess himself, to how he manages to beat the goalie clean up high (but not the post) Duehr just does everything right to create a goal for Michael Stone.
This type of play and speed is something that the Flames’ bottom-six is sorely lacking going into this season. In fact, it’d be surprising to see some of the other players on the pending fourth line pull off a play like this.
Will Duehr earn the spot?
It’s undoubtedly going to be very difficult for the Flames to give a spot to a young player straight out of camp simply because of the number of other players who have more experience in the NHL (heck, even in the AHL). But what Duehr brings to the table is a unique skillset that the Flames simply do not have; one which makes them much better.
Coach Darryl Sutter may be old school, but he knows how to assess quality. If Duehr can continue to show that he deserves to play at the NHL level, there will absolutely be a role for him in Calgary. Even if that means bumping an established veteran like Lewis, Pitlick, or Richardson to the press box, putting the best players on the ice night in and night out is the goal, and Duehr in the lineup at the exchange of Richardson can pay dividends all season long.
But this means that Duehr is going to need to continue to prove that he can be an impact player for the team each and every game. He will need to work harder and prove more to the coaching staff than anyone else on the team. This is no small task. But if he wants to make a name for himself in the NHL, this is the way to do it.
Would it be the worst thing in the world to be sent down to Stockton? Of course not! It gives Duehr an opportunity to continue honing his skills and proving that this preseason was not just a fluke and that he is the real deal. If he does get sent to Stockton, it will be with a list of things to improve upon in Stockton and a hope that if he can work on those areas of his game that he will earn yet another look at the NHL level, and this time perhaps in a meaningful game.
No matter what happens, Duehr has made an impact on this team and on the fanbase in Calgary. He has shown that there is a lot to be excited about with the product of South Dakota, and should he continue to grown and develop his game, he could become a household name in the NHL. A true testament that hard work pays off, and that even if a player isn’t drafted, they can still find their way to the NHL.