Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: Forwards trending up in Calgary

The Calgary Flames and no depth scoring—name a more iconic duo. There’s no drum beaten on more than the call on Brad Treliving to bolster this roster before or at the trade deadline with players who can score. However, there’s been a few players that have slowly heated up and are now scoring or contributing even more elsewhere on the ice just in time for the Flames to enter the second half of their season. Whose recent play is the most exciting? We asked, you answered.

Flames rising from the depths

Aside from the top line and Andrew Mangipane, you could point at every other forward and they’d be the first to know about their own offensive struggles. That said, Sean Monahan, Blake Coleman, Mikael Backlund, and Adam Ruzicka are listed on the poll as players trending in the right direction. The first three for obvious reasons, and Ruzicka for what looks like earning a full-time NHL roster spot until proven otherwise.

Monahan’s resurgence

With Monahan’s history of offseason surgeries, not many expected him to be the same calibre player as he was in 2018–19, but many were hopeful that he’d be better than he has been over the past couple of seasons heading into this one. However, he had a slow start that saw him play on the fourth line, well far away from his former first line usage.

As the season transpired, it was clear that he wasn’t quite up to par, and his biggest contributions came on the power play or the often lesser appreciated defensive play. He won’t be scoring 30 goals a season, but he’s still a very important player on this roster with a well-defined role.

Often included in trade proposals due to his salary cap and his less-than-stellar performance, it’s worth noting that other teams are also acutely aware of this too. Unloading Monahan in a trade requires negotiation, and if it doesn’t work with any team at all, the Flames better hope that he’s still a net positive player on the roster.

That’s where he is right now, as the first half of the season was slow and steady grind for Monahan to get himself to a better position. While he isn’t out of the water yet, it’s clear that he’s making huge strides compared to where he was five months ago.

Now more of a power play specialist with defensive upside, both him and the Flames know exactly what’s expected, which bodes well for his second half. Now with seven goals and 12 assists, Monahan’s on pace for 40 points, which isn’t all too bad.

Coleman’s keeping steady

As the player currently signed through the most calendar years on the Flames’ roster right now, Coleman’s first 40 games with Calgary saw a combination of subdued offence with excellent defence. Not many worried about his play in particular, after all he brings with him Stanley Cup-winning pedigree and is known for being a reliable middle-six player.

While it took some time for him to get on the scoresheet, he’s starting to see more shots go in his favour. With a recent string of four goals in seven games, he doubled his goal total on the season.

Like Monahan—but even more obviously—Coleman’s value this year has come on defence. While it isn’t going to impress as much as putting up points, he’s still a big reason why the Flames are successful in limiting their goals against per game.

Now that his offence is starting to come, Coleman’s first year with the Flames can include both offensive and defensive value, which is exactly what the Flames were hoping to get when they signed him through 2026–27. There’s a lot more Coleman has to offer for Calgary over the coming seasons, and his first half of 2021–22 is showing good signs. Let’s hope he can fend off the age curve.

Ruzicka’s rise to the main roster

Ruzicka has been patiently waiting for his opportunity and it looks like he’s got it now. With his play far superior to other fourth line options, his current stint in the NHL is getting an extended look. While he’s not going to singlehandedly solve the Flames’ depth scoring woes, he still represents a much better option to round out their bottom-six.

Ruzicka’s highlight so far this season would easily be his tic-tac-toe goal where he kept the play alive at the blueline and then getting assists from Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau on a highlight-reel play.

As the season enters its second half, Ruzicka is well in control of his destiny. He clearly has been favoured over Brad Richardson already, which makes his spot on the roster his to lose. String together a few solid games right now and he’s got a strong case of becoming a permanent NHLer.

Lo and behold, his best game was just last night in the 1–0 overtime shutout win against the Vancouver Canucks. Though he didn’t score and his minutes were limited, his 5v5 score-and-venue adjusted CF% and xGF% were both north of 80% to lead the Flames.

There is plenty of upside to Ruzicka’s game left yet to be seen, but the Flames look to have their latest prospect graduation in him and it makes the roster all the more better today.

Backlund’s back

Backlund has made a bit of a name for himself being a second-half player—always playing better after the new year than before it. While his offensive production isn’t ever going to reach the level it was at playing alongside Tkachuk, Backlund is still very much a driver of play when he’s on the ice.

Recently seeing goals scored in back-to-back games, Backlund—like Coleman—is starting to get rewarded offensively while remaining a defensive stalwart among the Flames’ forwards. To be as consistent as he is year in and year out is no easy feat, yet Backlund quietly delivers.

While he doesn’t have the same knack for scoring, he is starting to make up for it with volume. The offence he’s generated as of late is good for both himself and the Flames, and if he starts seeing a sustained boost in scoring, then there is little left you can ask of Backlund.

Digging deep

Only time will tell whether any of these four forwards are able to keep up their recent success, but the fact that there are this many in the conversation right now makes it good problem to have. Gearing up towards the trade deadline, the Flames’ blueprint for a contender is starting to look more sound. Add some more scoring talent and the Flames suddenly look like they have a real shot. Which Flame has impressed you the most? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.

Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

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