Calgary Flames

The time is now for the Calgary Flames to call up a forward prospect with skill

The Calgary Flames are reeling. 

After starting the season with a blazing record of 5–1–0, the team has gone on to lose five straight games moving their record to 5–4–2 to sit fifth in the Pacific Division.

Sure they have some games in hand, and lots of hockey left to play, but they have not looked like the team earlier in the season. They look lost, they look brittle, and they look a step behind.

Calgary’s forward lines

The Flames have been rolling a somewhat similar forward lineup for the first 11 games of the season in terms of personnel. The only main difference was the one game that Adam Ruzicka slotted in for Kevin Rooney, outside of that the lineup has mostly looked like this:

Jonathan Huberdeau – Elias Lindholm – Tyler Toffoli

Andrew Mangiapane – Nazem Kadri – Dillon Dube

Trevor Lewis – Mikael Backlund – Blake Coleman

Milan Lucic – Kevin Rooney – Brett Ritchie

Although it worked for the first six games of the season, it clearly is getting a bit stale. A bit of a refresh would be perfect.

Calling on the Wranglers

We took a look at whether Lindholm could potentially move to the wing earlier today, which is a tantalizing option at this point. However, another solution for a shakeup could be to finally call up an AHL forward who deserves the spot more. It’s about time.

Matthew Phillips, Connor Zary, and Jakob Pelletier are all off to amazing starts with the Calgary Wranglers. Their timing for an NHL opportunity couldn’t be better.

The case for Phillips

Phillips has eight goals and five assists so far, which means he has thirteen points in just nine games. This puts him in a tie for fifth in AHL scoring, just one back of the AHL lead. The players that are around him in the scoring race are either AHL rookies destined for NHL success, or career AHLers that have had their NHL shot.

Phillips is neither. 

Phillips has logged one meaningless game in the NHL during the COVID impacted season when the Flames were already out of the playoff race. After a career year, it’s time to inject him into the lineup for some speed and versatility.

Longer odds on Pelletier or Zary

Speaking of which, Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary can also provide that spark in the forward group. Zary has been a point-per-game player, with Pelletier just one point off that pace. These performances are a welcome sign for Zary and in line with expectations for Pelletier. 

What is the worst that can happen to give either of them a game? In doing so, the Flames would be able to deploy a much more even and balanced forward group in the interim. Something to the effect of:

Jonathan Huberdeau – Elias Lindholm – Tyler Toffoli

Phillips/Pelletier/Zary – Nazem Kadri – Dillon Dube

Andrew Mangiapane – Mikael Backlund – Blake Coleman

Milan Lucic – Trevor Lewis – Brett Ritchie

By moving things around like this, you are able to reunite the Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman line that worked so well last season, while also creating an additional scoring line in the process. Trevor Lewis works better as a fourth line centre than a scoring winger.

This also allows the Flames to keep their penalty kill groups intact, with limited impact on the power play deployments as well. It’s not perfect, but it’s a low-risk solution to a troubled lineup.

Experiment now before it’s too late

Now in order to call up someone, the Flames most likely waive Ruzicka in order to be cap compliant, but in his limited sample size this season and lack of AHL play he could go through unclaimed. Of course, it’s doing him no favours as well as not playing at any level. Even putting him in alongside Nazem Kadri could be a solution.

The top line looked to get a bit of their groove last night, so if the Flames want to keep that line together, getting momentum going is key. So looking elsewhere in the forward lines, an AHL callup could be the slight ignitor the team needs.

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