The Calgary Flames roster looks all but set heading into training camp, which breaks Wednesday with fitness testing.
But with 11 forwards under contract, a few more welcomed on try-outs, and the rumoured signing of returning Brett Ritchie, things seem virtually sealed up front. On the back end, there are six rearguards penned in, and 10 defencemen total locked into one-way deals — plus the welcomed return of free agent Michael Stone on a peek — so the blue line seems squared away.
Both goalies, team MVP Jacob Markstrom and backup Dan Vladar, are locks to return too.
So, while there’s not a lot of mystery on the 2022-23 Flames roster, there still is some intrigue in how the pieces fit together.
Here’s a look at three training camp battles to keep an eye on:
1. Top-line tussle
Though Darryl Sutter’s configuration up front is still to be determined, the likelihood that newcomer Jonathan Huberdeau and centre Elias Lindholm connect to form two-thirds of Calgary’s top contingent remains high. The question at hand is who rides shotgun on the right.
Tyler Toffoli might be the first to get a sniff in the top trio. Toffoli, acquired last February, was a 20-goal scorer last season and has pedigree as a finisher having banked the biscuit off the back of the net 31 times in 2015-16 as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. He’s got 193 goals in 651 career games with the Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, and Flames — an average of 24 per season since becoming a full-time regular.
Andrew Mangiapane, who is more familiar with the left side, could also be near the front of the list to get a look. Among the team’s returning skaters, only Lindholm had more goals than Mangiapane’s 35 markers last year. Mangiapane has a fresh three-year contract at an average of $5.8 million he’s eager to get to work on.
Blake Coleman, a versatile forward, might be a compliment as well. Coleman had 16 goals in 81 games in his first tour with Calgary, is a two-time 20-goal scorer with the New Jersey Devils, and paced out at 21 goals in an injury-riddled 2020-21 campaign with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
2. Just wingin’ it
The top line right wing spot is up for debate, as is that corresponding spot on the second line. But, for the most part, the top-six is set barring anything shocking. The third line, however, is far from it.
Mikael Backlund will play pivot on that threesome with Nazem Kadri taking up the middle spot on the second line. Dillon Dube, who scored 18 goals a season ago, is likely to flank Backlund on at least one side. But that still leaves one spot, especially if Sutter is resigned to roll Milan Lucic with Kevin Rooney and Trevor Lewis as a fourth line.
Prospect Jakob Pelletier is a fan favourite to land the position, but the team is also bringing Sonny Milano, who had 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 66 games with the Anaheim Ducks last season, in on a PTO. Adam Ruzicka, who remains a restricted free agent, is more suited at centre but could slide over with the crunch down the middle.
Suffice it to say, a spot on the wing on the third line is far from written in pencil, not ink.
3. Flames blue line battle
The top-six is seemingly set already, with left-handers Noah Hanifin, Nikita Zadorov, and Oliver Kylington and right-shots MacKenzie Weegar, Rasmus Andersson, and Christopher Tanev set to suit up. Their combinations, however, remain to be seen.
Weegar played the left side with Aaron Ekblad with the Florida Panthers last season and did a formidable job. There’s a scenario where he reprises the role alongside Tanev, but that also forces a left-shot to the right side as a result — likely a Kylington-Zadorov combo that could be an adventure. There’s the option of returning two pairs from last year in Kylington-Tanev and Hanifin-Andersson, but that leaves Weegar, who has top-pair potential, further down the depth chart.
The undercard battle on the blue line could be for that coveted seven-spot. Stone will be back on a try-out to contend, and prospects Connor Mackey and Juuso Valimaki will try to thrust themselves front and centre into the conversation, too. Nicolas Meloche and Dennis Gilbert are each earning one-way money but are more likely to land on the Calgary Wranglers — the Flames’ American Hockey League affiliate.