I’ve done this type of piece for a couple offseasons now and I find it has been pretty accurate each season. Each of these players have something to prove this year whether its joining the Calgary Flames, or coming off a tough season. Here are the five players that I think need to have a strong 2017-18 campaign.
1. RW Troy Brouwer
It’s no secret that Brouwer’s 2016-17 was awful. After what was actually a decent start to the season, he suffered a finger injury and was never the same player afterwards. Brouwer’s play dragged down many of the others who played on his line to point where he was stuck on the fourth line for the end of the season.
After signing a four year deal with an average cap hit of $4.5 million, both the Flames and Brouwer would look pretty bad if they bought him out after one season. So there’s a lot of pressure on both sides for Brouwer to at least be a serviceable bottom six forward next season. If he doesn’t work out again, a buyout becomes more palatable but if he wants to avoid that, then he needs to step things up.
Brouwer was brought in to complement the core as the team entered win-now mode, but he only made things worse. 2017-18 could be his last shot in Calgary.
2. G Mike Smith
The next selection in the Flames goaltending carousel is Mike Smith. After years of toiling in the desert on many hapless Coyotes teams, Smith is finally getting his opportunity to be on a team that can make some noise. Thus there is a lot of pressure on Smith to perform this year.
He’s the unquestioned #1 goalie going into this season and if he can just provide reliable/steady goaltending, then Calgary will have a chance to make a push this year. Smith’s statistics don’t look great but when adjusted at even strength, he actually has the 8th best save percentage in the NHL over the last two years.
Bringing him made sense as a short-term stopgap for Jon Gillies & Tyler Parsons, but he needs to perform this season now that he has his chance.
3. C Sam Bennett
Sam Bennett had a tough 2016-17 campaign which could be attributed to the infamous sophomore slump. A bigger reason in my opinion is that he was alongside Troy Brouwer for most of the season. Bennett really upped his physical play during the year but his point totals fell from 36 to 26.
He still has a very high potential but sometimes it takes time for a player to grow ex) Mikael Backlund. I’ve said this before but I think we’ve been spoiled in Calgary by rookies who have come in and made an immediate impact. Bennett has the tools to be successful but now it’s about using them consistently.
It’s all about patience for Bennett, but you’d like to see him take a few more steps forward in 2017-18.
4. D Travis Hamonic
Much like Mike Smith, it wasn’t that he had a bad year last year but as the Flames biggest acquisition of the offseason there is pressure on him to perform.
It’s important to have patience in the early-going this season as Hamonic adjusts to the Flames and builds chemistry with whoever he plays alongside. This could be a very similar situation to when Dougie Hamilton arrived in Calgary and took some time to blend in before becoming a top pairing defenseman.
The biggest thing for Hamonic is avoiding injury after missing 33 games last season. If he can provide solid play as a fourth defender, then this team can go a long way.
5. C/RW Curtis Lazar
After being acquired for a second round pick at the trade deadline, Lazar only made it into five games last season with the Flames. It’s no secret that the Flames organization is very high on this kid as he was protected in the expansion draft last month.
In the five games he played he looked to have some promise but he still be stuck trying to play his way into the lineup this season on a clogged bottom six. He does have the pieces but he has to put them together this season.
Perhaps the Flames may give him a shot at the top line right wing spot at some point, but the ball is in Lazar’s court and he has to prove that the organization’s belief in him is well placed.