The Calgary Flames completely overhauled their roster this offseason, but still entered training camp with one vacancy in their top-nine forward group. On the wing, several players have been jockeying to make the opening night roster, however none stood out enough to secure the spot.
Jakob Pelletier, Matthew Phillips, Adam Klapka, and Connor Zary were sent down to the AHL this week; and PTOs Sonny Milano and Cody Eakin haven’t stood out enough. As the season approaches, the flurry of waiver assignments has intensified, with most teams sending down a slew of players with the hopes of having them start the year in the AHL.
The Flames are no exception as they shuffled down Phillips, who, by all accounts, was the most impressive out of the group trying to win an opening night job, but will ultimately start the season with the Calgary Wranglers after passing through waivers unclaimed.
Radim Zohorna claimed on waivers
The Flames may have found their answer, or at least the answer on opening night. Yesterday, they claimed Radim Zohorna off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins, much to the dismay of Penguins fans (and Oilers fans, for that matter).
The way waivers work in the NHL is that once a player is claimed, they cannot be sent down to the AHL without being placed on waivers again and fully clearing. If a team who claims a player chooses to place that player on waivers again, the original team he was claimed from can select him and immedidately assign him to the AHL.
Since the Penguins wanted to assign him to the AHL in the first place, it wouldn’t make any sense for the Flames to put Zohorna back on waivers. Therefore, we can safely assume he will be on the opening night roster.
What stands out about Zohorna is his size. He is 6’6″ and 220 lbs, an absolute “mammoth” as former teammate Evan Rodrigues called him, and you can feel his presence on the ice. However, he doesn’t play a bang and crash game at all. He’s a strong player, but instead of being a bruising winger, he uses his size to protect the puck and shield it from his opponents. He plays much more of a finesse game than you’d expect from a player of his stature.
He is fairly fresh in North America, coming over from Czechia in 2020–21. He has split time between the Penguins AHL and NHL teams since then, except for at the start of the pandemic when he went back to the Czech league on loan.
|2020–21||BK Mladá Boleslav||Czechia||21||12||10||22||12||19|
Zohorna impressively put up 22 points in 21 games on loan back in 2020–21, and has had a decent pro career in North America for a bottom-six forward.
Zohorna’s progression and impact
This season was especially interesting in Zohorna’s development. He progressed significantly this offseason and was pushing hard to make the Penguins opening night roster. Despite being waived, all signs point to the Penguins not actually sending him down to the AHL right away, but keeping him at training camp.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan gushed about Zohorna following a training camp session:
(Zohorna) has played really well for us. His fitness level has been the best it’s been since he’s been a Penguin.
That’s allowing him the opportunity to play his game, just his ability to sustain his energy level and his effort level throughout the course of a long shift or just shift to shift or period to period. That’s something that we tried to challenge him with in the off-season and certainly, he’s put the work in. We can see it on the ice.
Performance matters. I think (Zohorna) has played extremely well throughout the course of this training camp.Mike Sullivan – Pittsburgh Penguins Head Coach
via Wes Gilbertson – PostMedia
The Flames agreed. When Zohorna was placed on waivers, the Flames area scout pushed hard for the Flames to claim him.
He’s a guy that we’ve liked for a while. You identify players around the league who are coming into training camp and potentially could be on waivers. Our eastern scout, Steve Pleau, has liked him for a long time.
It’s a small, small, small sample size of his NHL work but when you look at his data too, his five-on-five metrics are good. He’s big. He’s rangy. He can skate. We think he has some hand skills.Brad Treliving – Calgary Flames General Manger
via Wes Gilbertson – PostMedia
The Flames are one of the most progressive analytics teams in the NHL, and Treliving’s comments on 5v5 metrics adds up, at least according to publicly available models. Evolving-Hockey.com shows positive impacts from Zohorna in his limited minutes last season.
Zohorna’s fit on the Flames roster
Because Zohorna can play all three forward positions, there are a lot of options for him. With good two-way impacts, it’s likely we see him debut on the third line, with Dillon Dube elevated to play on the second line.
Perhaps the forward group then lines up like this:
Huberdeau – Lindholm – Toffoli
Mangiapane – Kadri – Dube
Zohorna – Backlund – Coleman
Lucic – Rooney – Lewis
It’s not what anyone expected heading into training camp, but Dube looked good on the second line against the Seattle Kraken and despite how good Kevin Rooney looked on the third line, Zohorna could be a much better fit.
Maybe he’ll ruffle some feathers up the highway, too.
He’s going to be here for opening night, so feast your eyes on a couple Zohorna highlights from his time in the NHL so far.