Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving promised big changes for his roster heading into the 2018-19 season, and with opening night rosters set it looks like he’s kept that promise.
Six new faces joined the Flames over the off-season, ushering a new wave of forwards and defence with Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, Troy Brouwer, and Brett Kulak on their way out.
Calgary’s team will also have a more youthful spin to start the year, with rookies Dillon Dube and Jusso Valimaki cracking the opening night roster.
After missing the playoffs altogether in a late season collapse, the Flames will be looking to get back to the post season in a wide open Pacific Division led by new head coach Bill Peters.
Here’s a look at Calgary’s off-season acquisitions and where they fit in the lineup to begin the year.
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1. James Neal, Right Wing
Beyond Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, the Flames struggled to put the puck in the net last year.
Cue the ‘Real Deal’ James Neal, who joins his third team in three years after signing a five-year, $28.75 million contract with Calgary on July 2.
Entering his 11th year in the National Hockey League, Neal is no stranger to success after leading Nashville and Vegas to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals appearances.
He’s also no stranger to finding the back of the net, scoring a career-high 40 goals during the 2011-12 campaign with Pittsburgh and has not missed the 20-goal plateau in his career.
Flames fans were foaming at the mouth with the prospect of Neal playing with Gaudreau and Monahan, but for now he’ll start the season on a line with Dube and Derek Ryan.
2. Noah Hanifin, Defence
Treliving has never been afraid to pull the trigger on blockbuster deals on the NHL Draft floor, with Hamilton and Travis Hamonic being acquired during Draft weekend.
Add Noah Hanifin to that list, who was brought over from the Carolina Hurricanes along with Elias Lindholm in exchange for Hamilton, Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox.
Already with 239 NHL games under his belt, it’s hard to believe Hanifin is still only 21 years old and is still developing his game.
Only missing seven games over the last three years, Hanifin broke out for 10 goals and 32 points last season in Carolina and was named to his first NHL All-Star Game in the process.
Expected to carry much of the slack on the blueline with the departure of Hamilton, it’s believed the American defender will be joined by Hamonic on the team’s second defensive pairing.
3. Elias Lindholm, Right Wing/Centre
If Neal isn’t the solution for the open right wing spot on Calgary’s top line, Elias Lindholm looks like the most likely man to slot in with Gaudreau and Monahan.
Acquired from Carolina alongside Hanifin, Lindholm hasn’t necessarily lived up to his fifth-overall selection from the 2013 NHL Draft but has shown flashes of his potential.
Netting 16 goals and 44 points on an offensively starved Hurricanes team last year, the 23-year-old Swede has hovered around the 45-point mark over the last few seasons.
Although he played centre predominantly in Carolina, Lindholm is expected to be moved to the wing as the Flames are already set down the middle with Monahan and Mikael Backlund.
Locked into a six-year deal with Calgary, expect Lindholm to post career highs in goals and points as he joins a more offensively charged top six grouping.
4. Austin Czarnik, Right Wing/Centre
If there was ever an opportunity to prove himself, Austin Czarnik walked into a pretty good situation with the Flames this summer.
Czarnik signed a two-year, $2.5 million contract with Calgary on Canada Day, just months after tearing apart the American Hockey League with the Providence Bruins.
Finishing third in league scoring with 25 goals and 69 points in 64 games, the diminutive centreman is looking to translate that offensive potential to the next level with the Flames.
Only dressing for 10 games with the Boston Bruins last season, Czarnik will likely get more NHL games this season with Calgary and is currently penciled on the wing with Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski.
Undrafted after four years of NCAA hockey with the Miami RedHawks, he’s a player that many Flames fans will have no issues cheering for.
5. Derek Ryan, Centre
From one incredible story of resilience to another, Derek Ryan is finally fulfilling his NHL potential at age 31.
Also going undrafted after three years of junior in the WHL, Ryan’s winding hockey career led him to the University of Alberta, Hungary, Austria and Sweden, before finally joining Carolina in 2015.
Coming into his own as a depth player last year with the Hurricanes, Ryan posted career-highs in both goals (15) and points (38) in his second full season in the big leagues.
Earning himself a three-year, $9.375 million contract with the Flames in the off-season, the Spokane, Washington product has a lot to live up to with his current deal.
He’ll have some electric line mates to begin the season however, as he’ll centre Dube and Neal on Calgary’s third line on opening night against Vancouver on Wednesday.
6. Dillon Dube, Centre
Captain of Canada’s gold medal winning World Junior team earlier this year, 20-year-old Dillon Dube has made the team after an impressive training camp and preseason. He scored 84 points in 53 games with the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL last season.
Calgary’s second-round pick in 2016 has limited pro experience, appearing in six games with the Stockton Heat to end last season.
7. Juuso Valimaki, Defence
At the tender age of 19, Juuso Valimaki has earned a spot on the roster playing a position that typically requires a long time to master. The Flames’ first rounder from 2017 has arrived earlier than most thought, hopefully to stabilize the back end.
8. Dalton Prout, Defence
Brought to the Flames’ organization in the Eddie Lack trade, Dalton Prout never appeared in an NHL game last season. He spent the year with the Stockton Heat, but rugged 242-game veteran has earned an opening night roster spot this time.
Bonus: Bill Peters, Head Coach
Calgary’s Carolina connection continues all the way down to their new bench boss, as Bill Peters takes over the reins from departed head coach Glen Gulutzan.
Serving as Hurricanes head coach between 2014 and 2018, Peters resigned from the team in April after missing playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
Compiling a record of 137-138-53 during his tenure out east, the 53-year-old led the Spokane Chiefs to a Memorial Cup title in 2008 and won gold with Team Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Championships.
Playing one season with the ACAC’s Red Deer College Kings, Peters was mentored by the team’s head coach and current Toronto Maple Leafs bench boss Mike Babcock.
Joining Peters on the Flames bench this season will be former Boston Bruins assistant Geoff Ward, former Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska, and longtime assistant Martin Gelinas.