Currently, the biggest storyline throughout Calgary Flames training camp has been the puzzle of how the new look forward group will all fit together. It seems more than likely now, at least to start, that there are three on-paper duos, yet there’s still nothing particularly set in stone.
Those current duos seem to be Jonathan Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane and Nazem Kadri, and the pair that seems the least likely to be split up anytime soon in Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman.
The rest of training camp has practically been a wholehearted attempt to discover who belongs alongside each respective duo inside the top-nine. Depending on the direction they go, the team’s fourth line could have multiple looks throughout the season.
It is also worth noting that Dillon Dube‘s current second line spot with Mangiapane and Kadri seems to be his to lose. It’s quite a promotion for the winger, but it’s partially out of circumstance. It’ll be up to Dube to seize the opportunity and cement his place there.
Questions for Calgary’s bottom-six
I think the biggest question right now is: who will be suiting up in that third line left wing spot next to Backlund and Coleman come opening night? We’ve seen Kevin Rooney get a look there throughout camp but it’s more than fair to question whether or not that deployment would be a long-term solution, considering Trevor Lewis at times has also moved up to that right wing slot on the third line with Coleman moving over to the left.
Sutter didn’t mince words talking about recently claimed forward Radim Zohorna saying it was evident he struggled after playing his second preseason game in Flames colours.
Zohorna was also re-placed on waivers on October 8 and has since passed through to be assigned to the Wranglers.
Milan Lucic, Lewis, and Rooney seem to be the fourth line mainstays, at least to start, which is fitting for the Flames’ fourth line philosophy.
Adam Ruzicka‘s two-way structure on his deal for this season (turning into a one-way contract in 2023–24) leads me to believe that the club is tentative in regards to sending him down as well, given he isn’t waivers exempt. He absolutely deserves to be with the big club as Calgary’s most NHL-ready player. He could potentially start as an extra forward on the opening night roster. Brett Ritchie could also be someone who could flirt with being sent up and down to the Wranglers with practically no risk of being claimed.
As of Saturday’s morning skate, the pencilled-in fourth line was one consisting of Lucic, Rooney, and Ritchie.
As mentioned, Lewis seems to have found his way up next to Backlund and Coleman, which was a trio that was deployed in stints last season. Both Rooney and Ruzicka were given looks during camp on the wing as well. However, it didn’t seem like Sutter enjoyed the winger version Ruzicka too much after the short audition.
Fourth line options for Calgary
Here are some other trios you shouldn’t be shocked to see explored throughout the season, of course pending any sort of move to shore up that third line left wing spot. Keep in mind that these looks are under the assumption that Zohorna doesn’t end up making the opening night roster and instead spends a chunk of time with the Wranglers. It also assumes that Adam Ruzicka sticks with the big club to be this team’s 13th (potentially 14th forward) by October 13.
It could still be a very real possibility that Zohorna draws into games for the Flames this season provided he gets his conditioning up, so I’d keep him as a call-up option over the course of the season as well.
With all the above assumptions considered, these are the trios we could potentially see experimented with, pending any more internal organizational tinkering or external transactions prior to Monday’s 23-man maximum cap compliance standard deadline at 5PM EDT, 3PM MDT.
- Lucic – Rooney – Ritchie
- Lucic – Rooney – Lewis
- Lucic – Ruzicka – Rooney
- Lucic – Ruzicka – Lewis
- Lucic – Lewis – Ritchie
- Lucic – Lewis – Rooney
These are all very reasonable lines that could be the Flames’ fourth line when it’s all said and done to begin opening night. The Flames have a plethora of guys at their disposal making for some interesting theoretical combinations. It’s all going to depend on whether or not any of the five guys listed can be a stable option for the team’s third line.
The problem for Calgary is that training camp answered practically none of these questions and there is indeed still lots of experimenting to do. They will continue to tweak into the regular season.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire