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The Flames at centre next season

The Flames probably aren't going to be very good next season, but one position they shouldn't have to worry about is centre.

Mikael Backlund is very much the Flames' best centre at the moment.
Mikael Backlund is very much the Flames' best centre at the moment.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Centre is the most important position in hockey, and for a long time, the Flames had next to nothing in that area. There was Matt Stajan. There was Olli Jokinen for a few years. There was, "Hey, Mike Cammalleri, you played centre in junior, right? Could you... uh... go back there?" and the exact same thing happened with Alex Tanguay.

The Flames notably did not fare particularly well those years, going on a long playoff drought, and eventually being forced to trade away Jarome Iginla, for whom a number one centre was so long requested.

The Flames probably aren't going to be good this upcoming season, either, but a key difference between this year and those years past is they actually have natural centremen to fill that role.

There are three guys who should make it by default: Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan, and the aforementioned Stajan. Backlund's the best of the three at the moment, Monahan needs playing time, and Stajan is a solid veteran presence that will help the Flames from being killed.

Then there are a bunch of other guys who could step in to fill that fourth spot, like Lance Bouma, Max Reinhart, Corban Knight, or Bill Arnold.

Then there are even more guys: Joe Colborne, who now plays on the right wing, but could probably switch back to centre if necessary. Markus Granlund, whose game isn't suited for a fourth line role, but should be the first call up if one of the main three goes down. And Sam Bennett, who shouldn't be in the NHL this upcoming season - both because he's very young and not as well-built as Monahan was after getting drafted, and because he needs to play more than fourth line minutes would allow him - but is likely going to contribute to formidable centre depth for the Flames in the near future.

But for next season, the Flames appear to be very well-set down the middle, without any need to worry. The best part is that Stajan, 30, is the oldest by a fair amount; Backlund is 25, Monahan will be 20, and the remaining non-Bennett prospects are in between those two in age.

Backlund should be the Flames' top-line centre this season. He set career highs and scored the most of the Calgary's centres with 18 goals and 39 points over 76 games, all while facing off against the team's toughest competition. And here's a very fun fact: his CF% rel was third in the league out of all centres. Backlund's +7.3% was behind only Selke-winner Patrice Bergeron and Mikko Koivu. And who came after Backlund? Uh, just some guy you've probably never heard of, Sidney Crosby.

Backlund had a ridiculous performance last season, and the Flames were significantly better when he was on the ice. He's only just starting to break out now, and while he'll probably never be a major scorer (although I could point out that his fellow Swede, Henrik Sedin, didn't really start to break out until he was 25, either; which isn't to say Backlund is Sedin, and the circumstances are definitely different, but, you know, don't give up on a young player with promise), he should be able to put up a modest tally, all the while consistently being one of the best Flames on the ice.

Look further down on that CF% rel list and you'll find Matt Stajan, clocking in at a respectable 41st with a +1.6%, meaning the Flames tended to fare decently when he was on the ice. He wasn't as good as Backlund, but should the Swede - who has yet to play a full season in his career - go down, the Flames aren't left with a group of rookies. Stajan provides stability, and can chip in on offence as well, as he scored 14 goals and 33 points over 63 games last season.

Then there's Sean Monahan, who was much more sheltered than his fellow centres last season, and performed much worse when it came to CF% rel, clocking in at 112 out of 133 on the list at -4.1%. The good news is he should obviously improve, having had the chance to grow over his rookie season, and coming back knowing what to expect in the NHL. He had moments last season when he didn't look like he belonged - most notably after he returned from a fractured foot, so that wasn't entirely his fault - and moments when he did - 22 goals and 34 points over 76 games as a rookie is still pretty good.

The Flames' top three centres should be set for next season, and they're a good mix: two veterans who help keep the puck away from the Flames' net (and one who does it exceptionally, ridiculously well), and a sophomore with a lot of potential to build on what was a mixed rookie campaign. And with five prospects, some of whom could take a standard NHL shift right now, waiting down the line, centre likely isn't going to be a problem in Calgary for a long time.