Flames Sunday Census: Which depth forward is Calgary’s playoff x-factor?

While the Calgary Flames’ top-six boasts a plethora of scoring, heading into the playoffs will require their depth players to know their roles and execute them too. There are a few forwards in the bottom-six who may come into the playoffs and become an x-factor specifically for the role they play on the ice or in the locker room.

Whether their impact is tangible with stats or less tangible with their presence, someone is definitely going to be integral to the Flames’ success. Who might that be for Calgary? We asked, you answered.

Calgary’s depth is heating up

At this point in the season, the Flames pretty much have their lines sorted out. We can expect their third line to be centred by Calle Jarnkrok with his linemates being Dillon Dube and Blake Coleman. The fourth line can rotate players a little bit more flexibly, but realistically it’s going to be Trevor Lewis, Milan Lucic, and Brett Ritchie.

The x-factors we want to consider then, are the third line players as well as Lucic. The four of them all have different roles and levels of experience, all of which may easily emerge as key parts of bottom-six success.

Coleman’s got it

When Blake Coleman signed with the Flames, his role on the team wasn’t immediately defined. A clear middle-six option, it wasn’t obvious whether he was expected to score goals, play his highly touted defensive game, or do a combination of both.

Because of that, his on-ice results aren’t exactly blowing anyone out of the water, but they are more than reasonable. Once his role became more established, the forward was put into a better position to succeed and he’s done exactly that.

As seen by his player card from Evolving-Hockey.com below, he’s been executing on defence and been getting limited scoring. His style of play fits right into the Darryl Sutter system and it’s nice when he gets on the scoreboard every now and then too.

He’s one of the best defensive forwards in the game.

Coleman has some winning pedigree as well, coming off two back-to-back Stanley Cup wins with the Tampa Bay Lightning. That’s definitely experience that will come in handy.

Dube’s arrival is perfectly timed

Dube’s season has been lukewarm. While many wished for the forward to have a breakout season, it didn’t really happen for much of the year. Dube’s on ice presence was less effective than he could have been.

However, as of late, Dube’s found a new gear. His play exudes confidence and his motor has been overclocked for an impressive turnaround in his season. If any player could have used an offensive boost, Dube was it. And right now he’s padding a career-high year in both goals and assists.

While his player card shows there’s a lot to desire, what’s more important is he’s on an upward trajectory. With his hot hand and his drive coming to life now, it’s about as good a timing as can be and hopefully some of this will translate into the playoffs.

Jarnkrok is still unknown

Jarnkrok has had a bit of a turbulent start with the Flames, missing a handful of games. As a trade deadline acquisition, it’s important to get those minutes in under a new coach and system in order to see success.

Of course, his locker room chemistry is already there being best friends with Elias Lindholm and Jacob Markstrom, but his on-ice impact has been middling if even below-average. It’s tough to fault a third line player too heavily when he has only featured in 14 games so far, but he could bring a lot more to the table.

Like Coleman, Jarnkrok isn’t expected to score in spades, but he’s expected to be good in his defensive awareness. So far, he’s been involved in some fancy assist work while still looking for his first goal as a Flame, and his defence has been just alright.

Once Jarnkrok gets his first goal secured, we might see his play elevate even more, but for now at least he’s motivated and driven in every shift—that’s the most noticeable part of his game right now. He’s getting marks for his tenacity on the ice, but not much else so far.

His player card combines results from predominantly his time with the Seattle Kraken and his short time with Calgary. We’ll see how his play evolves as the Flames head into the playoffs—there’s a lot more he can offer than how he’s currently playing.

Lucic has struggled

Despite having a hot start to the year and even putting up 10 goals on the season, unfortunately Lucic has had a rough, rough end to the regular season. Having not put up a single point in the month of April, his offensive contributions have evaporated.

While his defensive play has deteriorated, it still leaves a lot to wonder as to what can Lucic do to be effective again. His early play in the season was well above what was expected of him, but his current play right now has cratered and realistically he should be somewhere in the middle.

If he can get any semblance of offence going for him again, it’d be good news for him and for Calgary. However, where his impact comes into the picture is more around his defensive game, and his on ice presence.

It’s no secret that Lucic has had an awful stretch of play, yet he’s been consistently rostered. Sutter is a coach that knows what he’s doing and he’s more than aware of Lucic’s offensive struggles. However, the defence and the role the Lucic plays on the fourth line is good enough to keep him over other players.

Had the Stockton Heat not also be in playoff contention all year long, maybe more players would have had the opportunity to be called up beyond just Adam Ruzicka, and maybe a better fit than Lucic could have emerged for the fourth line.

However, the Flames are content with Lucic’s play—well aware of both facts that he does still bring defence that works well with Sutter’s system, and that he won’t be expected to score ever again.

Playoffs will tell all

The Flames are setting themselves well for the postseason, but they really do have to take it one game at a time. Until the get their first win, then their second and so forth, the team hasn’t accomplished anything in the playoffs yet.

The main focus of this poll was to see who in the bottom-six can bring it come the playoffs, and with two viable options in Coleman and Dube, the sentiment here is that the Flames could very well have a solid top-nine. They can roll their lines and expect good results in all cases.

For the Flames and their fans alike, there is a lot of cautious optimism now. We’ll soon learn how this team can fare in the postseason and which of their players step of their game.

Who do you think will elevate their game and be an x-factor for Calgary? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.

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