When the Flames brought in James Neal and Elias Lindholm in the summer of 2018, it looked like they would slot in very well alongside the previous duos of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund. One of those happened with Lindholm sliding in on the top line, however Neal never did work out, and now Calgary is still somewhat searching for one more consistent top six forward on the second line.
For most of the last couple years that other winger has been Michael Frolik, but he saw his ice time dwindle last year and definitely wasn’t one of Bill Peters’ favorite players. This year we’ve already seen him drop to the fourth line, so it’s apparent that they’re still looking to find a solution at that spot. Here are X players that could fill that role:
The Case For: He was the player that got pushed up the lineup in the Flames 3-0 win over Vancouver. After taking some time to get settled in last year, Mangiapane had a strong finish to the season and started to show some scoring prowess. He could do well with a pair of forwards that have offensive skill, but also a really good defensive game too.
The Case Against: Has Mangiapane really shown enough yet? In his brief time against the Canucks, he didn’t blow anyone away and he didn’t really do anything to confirm he was a Top 6 forward in the pre-season. With Calgary being contenders now, can they afford to give Mangiapane time to adjust to a top six role if it might cost them games?
The Case For: Bennett earned some time with Tkachuk and Backlund last year, and did alright with his time there. He plays a physical game that meshes well with the pounding style that Tkachuk and Backlund already like to play. Putting Bennett with two players who can routinely generate offense despite often starting in a defensive role could really suit his new role with the club.
The Case Against: If there’s one concern about Bennett playing in the top six, it’s his lack of point production for pretty much his entire career. Bennett has stagnated between 26 and 27 points the last three years, and it doesn’t look like his ceiling will be much higher than 40 points in his career. With Tkachuk coming off a 77 point year and Backlund being a high 40’s-low 50’s point scorer consistently, would Bennett slow them down at all on offense?
The Case For: Defensively speaking, this has been one of the league’s best trios in recent years and they’ve done well offensively to boot. Frolik meshes really well with the other two in limiting opposition scoring chances and has played extensively with them for about three years now. That kind of familiarity would be hard to find with a new linemate for a bit.
The Case Against: Besides seemingly haven fallen out of favor both last year and early this year with Bill Peters, it looks like Frolik also doesn’t seem to quite have what it takes to hang with the other two right now in the offensive zone. In the latter stages of games, Frolik could make a lot of sense to swing onto this line, but if the Flames need a goal it’s hard to say if Frolik would be the answer.
The Case For: The Chaos. Just imagine the chaos of Matthew Tkachuk and Milan Lucic on the ice at the same time.
The Case Against: Pretty much everything else. As the Oilers showed, Lucic isn’t a Top 6 calibre forward in the NHL anymore and that’s not a knock on him. He seems to be finding a role in the bottom six and if he can find a role then the Flames are already doing better than they were with Neal. Maybe he’ll get a few brief stints up there, but I don’t think it would work super well.
The Case For: He’s right handed shooting, but when that’s probably the best reason then his chances aren’t great. He has shown flashes of offensive potential in the pre-season, but has struggled to make any headway in the regular season during his first year in Calgary. Perhaps playing alongside two quality forwards could help elevate Czarnik’s game.
The Case Against: If he can’t generate much in the bottom six, could he do much better in the top six? Czarnik has struggled to find a role during his time in Calgary, and may have more value as a trade chip to bring in another winger over anything else.
The Case For: I knew if I didn’t include him, everyone would say “What about Dube?”. I think he could have a fit in the top six as he’s flashed his offensive potential during his rookie year in Stockton when he had top minutes. If the Flames wanted to ease one of their top organizational prospects into a full-time NHL role, putting him alongside Tkachuk and Backlund would be a fantastic place to do so.
The Case Against: Dube was kind of in Peters’ doghouse to end the preseason as he criticized Dube’s defensive play. He also struggled to make an impact in a smaller role with the Flames last year before being sent to Stockton. Giving Dube one more year of AHL development with top minutes could end up being a valuable investment in the long run. Can’t be like the folks up north rushing their prospects all the time, especially with the depth currently here.
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