Welcome to boot camp week! The 2022-23 Calgary Flames officially stepped onto the ice for the first time Thursday and played their first preseason games on Sunday. As one of the most fascinating camps in team history opens, here are five stories to monitor over the next three weeks.
Does Huberdeau play with Lindholm?
When Calgary acquired Jonathan Huberdeau in July, my initial thought was that we would immediately see him slide into the top left slot on the team alongside Elias Lindholm. That’s what I’m anticipating a couple of months later, but coach Darryl Sutter mentioned the need to find out if Huberdeau is better suited to play Lindholm or newcomer Nazem Kadri.
I certainly wonder if we see some experimentation in the early stages of the camp. For example, a year ago the Flames started with Johnny Gaudreau on one line with Sean Monahan, while Matthew Tkachuk and Lindholm were on another. For the first game of the regular season, the trio of Lindholm, Tkachuk and Gaudreau were ready to rock what would turn out to be a banner year.
Does Sutter put Lindholm and Huberdeau together in a line from the start? Is it something that develops throughout the camp? Or does the head coach determine that Huberdeau is better suited to outflank another center? I think a Huberdeau-Lindholm duo has incredible potential, but things don’t always go our way.
How do the rest of the forward groups come together?
With so many new faces up front to accompany a couple of significant starts, the intrigue surrounding Calgary’s forward combinations is higher than ever. The flames are deeper in the center than they have been in years, but they have some things to work out on the wings. That’s why I like the idea of building a few striker pairings.
From there, Calgary would have the ability to plug and play wingers like Tyler Toffoli, Dillon Dubé and even PTO addition Sonny Milano in different lines to see how things fit together. But I am so I; it seems that everyone has a slightly different opinion on what they would like to see from the advanced groups, which will make this a fun story to follow during camp.
Does MacKenzie Weegar sign an extension before the season?
As Weegar gets used to his new teammates in Calgary, the status of his contract will probably be the biggest story off the ice during camp. I have been saying for some time that I think a deal will be done and I remain confident that it will happen. I know Weegar and his camp would like to sign long-term, and the Flames would like to secure a key member of a franchise-defining trade.
So now we have two questions. How is that deal? Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested somewhere in the range of eight years at $6.5 million last week., so there’s your ballpark. And when is the deal done? I’m sure both sides would love to have it done before the regular season starts, but that shouldn’t be a deal breaker for either side.
Who does Weegar play with?
No team had consistency in their defensive matchups like the Flames did last season. All three of Calgary’s regular duos ranked in the top ten in minutes played together at five on five, something no other team could say. That could happen again, but the addition of Weegar likely means changes in the top four.
Melee, the Flames look for Weegar instead of Erik Gudbranson. But, no disrespect intended, Gudbranson was perfectly placed in Calgary’s third pair. Weegar, on the other hand, is a bona fide blueliner in the top four and should finish in the top two or two. That raises some fun and fascinating questions.
Weegar is a right shot who can play down the left, which makes him a little easier to pair with Tanev or Andersson. So does that leave Kylington in third pair with Zadorov? If so, is Calgary comfortable with one of its third pair of d-men playing offside? How much did Kylington support Tanev last year? And how does PTO Michael Stone, a right-handed shooter himself, come into the equation? I can’t wait to see how this plays out during camp and potentially into the regular season.
A prospect pressing for playing time?
The Young Stars Classic is set for 2022 and now we see if any of the team’s prospects can carry Penticton’s momentum into the main camp. Jakob Pelletier, Cole Schwindt and perhaps Walker Duehr seem to have the best chance to push for a spot, but it won’t be easy.
After a lukewarm start, I thought Pelletier had his best game to finish off the Young Stars on Monday. Schwindt and Duehr, on the other hand, were quietly effective in all three of their games. But with Milano and Cody Eakin coming to camp on PTO and a rumored signing of Brett Ritchie as well, the competition for NHL roster spots will be heated.
One guy I’m watching: 2020 first-round pick Connor Zary. I don’t think there’s a path for Zary to get the big team out of camp, but I thought he was the Flames’ top prospect over the weekend in Penticton. Zary seems to have made a step for this season and if he can get that into the main camp, maybe we’ll get a good look at him before he inevitably starts the season with the AHL Wranglers.