Thanks to a shortened season, we’re already 1⁄4 of the way into 2020-21. With the Flames sitting at a pretty mediocre 7-6-1 and fifth in the North Division, it’s time for our first round of report cards. This time we will just include a simple A+ through F on the players which is a combination of fan and writer grades. There was a five game minimum for skaters to be eligible for this list.
#10 - Derek Ryan (10 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 Pt, 4 PIM, +1, 47.83 CF%, 48.05 xGF%)
Prior to being injured, Ryan was the absolute definition of fine. He’s the fourth line center and plays decent all around hockey and is good in the faceoffs, however it’s disappointing to see his point totals to fall back like they have although it’s not unexpected.
#11 - Mikael Backlund (14 GP, 3 G, 5 A, 8 Pts, 8 PIM, -2, 57.59 CF%, 61.42 xGF%)
Backlund did have a pretty lackluster start to his campaign as he looked like he was struggling to adjust to being the third line center, however prior to his injury against Vancouver, he was really looking like the guy who dominated towards the end of last regular season. Hopefully his injury isn’t major.
#13 - Johnny Gaudreau (14 GP, 8 G, 7 A, 15 Pts, 0 PIM, +2, 50.00 CF%, 53.16 xGF%)
It’s safe to say that Johnny Gaudreau is playing a lot better in 2020-21 than he did in 2019-20. He seems to have the same jump as two years ago, and he’s scoring at a rate we really haven’t seen yet in his career. While his shooting numbers will regress at some point, he is playing strong all around hockey, and has at least a point in 12 of the Flames first 14 games.
#17 - Milan Lucic (14 GP, 3 G, 3 A, 6 Pts, 10 PIM, -1, 55.47 CF%, 58.72 xGF%)
If you’re able to move past the amount of money being paid to him (something that isn’t changing) you will see that Lucic has actually been quite effective this season. While his first seven games weren’t great which featured some bad penalties, he has stepped things up of late and looked particularly good in the Flames home ice wins over Winnipeg and Edmonton.
#19 - Matthew Tkachuk (14 GP, 5 G, 5 A, 10 Pts, 13 PIM, +3, 52.69 CF%, 55.06 xGF%)
In almost the reverse of Lucic, Tkachuk got out to a strong start this season but hasn’t really seemed like himself as of late. Ever since the puck flip incident in the Toronto game, things just haven’t come as smoothly for Tkachuk and something seems to be off. We can only speculate but for me, I’m just counting the days until he can get a shot at revenge and hopefully get this off his mind (next game vs Toronto is on Feb 22).
#20 - Joakim Nordstrom (12 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 4 PIM, -4, 43.62 CF%, 39.88 xGF)
In fairness, we knew what Nordstrom would be when the Flames signed him. A guy who is a solid penalty killer, but a black hole at even strength. So far he has done exactly that. For me, again he’s fine, but if a better player came along, I would replace him no questions asked.
#23 - Sean Monahan (14 GP, 2 G, 9 A, 11 Pts, 6 PIM, +1, 50.32 CF%, 53.25 xGF%)
It feels almost like Gaudreau and Monahan have swapped their respective roles this year with Monahan playing more of a set up role while Gaudreau scores. Overall though it has been an extremely quiet start for Monahan who can usually be counted on for a 25-35 goal pace over the course of the season. If he’s not scoring, he’s typically not doing much so he’ll need to step things up as the season continues because right now he’s almost an afterthought in the Flames offense.
#27 - Josh Leivo (13 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 Pts, 4 PIM, -5, 52.85 CF%, 56.30 xGF%)
So far Leivo has been okay, but hasn’t had the impact we were quite hoping for after an impressive half season in Vancouver last year. He has seen his ice time vary greatly depending on the game, as Geoff Ward hasn’t been afraid to bump him up or down in the lineup.
#28 - Elias Lindholm (14 GP, 4 G, 10 A, 14 Pts, 10 PIM, +3, 50.77 CF%, 52.85% xGF%)
Lindholm has adjusted very well to playing a center role and being a key contributor in all facets of the team’s game. He has been a huge right handed threat on the top powerplay unit, and has also been a very strong penalty killer through the first 14 games of the season. His development continues to be extremely exciting for Flames fans, but his line will need to get back in form as they’ve slumped a bit at even strength as of late.
#29 - Dillon Dube (11 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 5 Pts, 6 PIM +/- 0, 49.36 CF%, 45.96 xGF%)
An injury that caused him to miss three games chopped up his first quarter of the season, but for the most part Dube has been alright, but has been knocked down the lineup in a few games as well. We’ve seen increasingly more glimpses of the good player he is becoming, but there is still learning to be done for him. It still feels like only a matter of time until he really gets going though.
#81 - Dominik Simon (6 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 0 PIM, +1, 43.56 CF%, 50.52 xGF%)
It’s safe to say that his acquisition at this point has been pretty underwhelming. After being gifted a shot at the top line alongside Gaudreau and Monahan, Simon really struggled to produce anything and then found himself knocked down and then right out of the lineup. However given the Flames not so good performances lately, he might find himself back in soon.
#88 - Andrew Mangiapane (14 GP, 4 G, 3 A, 7 Pts, 8 PIM, +1, 56.96 CF%, 66.10 xGF%)
While Mangiapane is still being vastly under-rewarded in the points categories, he has been an elite driver of play this season for the Flames and one of their brightest spots. His xGF% ranks among the highest in the league which means he’s consistently creating far more dangerous chances offensively than allowing while on the ice. It’s only a matter of time until the points start coming in bunches as we’ve seen in recent games.
#93 - Sam Bennett (13 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 Pts, 4 PIM, -5, 45.82 CF%, 42.98 xGF%)
Change of scenery Sam earns a respectable but unspectacular C grade for his first quarter of the season. He really wasn’t doing much of anything in the bottom six this year, but has looked alright in the cushy spot on the top line RW. Granted almost anyone would. Whether this is a ploy to try and keep Sam here, or simply raise his trade value, it doesn’t really scream a fit that will work long term.
#4 - Rasmus Andersson (14 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 7 Pts, 8 PIM, -2, 46.44 CF%, 48.00 xGF%)
Andersson has done pretty well for the most part in moving his way up to the de facto top pairing alongside Giordano, while also fitting in extremely well on the top powerplay unit. He also seems to be taking a leadership role on the team, talking with media after bad games and not giving the traditional boring answers we’ve become accustomed to with this team. I expect him to only get better as the season progresses.
#5 - Mark Giordano (14 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 7 Pts, 4 PIM, +1, 47.84 CF%, 47.83 xGF%)
It’s pretty clear at this point that we are starting to witness the expected regression of Mark Giordano, to no real fault of his own. Father time is undefeated but as the Flames have reduced his minutes, he has still managed to look pretty good on the ice. Balancing his ice time along with giving the younger defenders more responsibility will be critical to the Flames success down the stretch.
#6 - Juuso Valimaki (14 GP, 0 G, 5 A, 5 Pts, 6 PIM, -4, 50.91 CF%, 51.88 xGF%)
I think we have really seen Valimaki take some steps forward this year in what is still technically his rookie season. He has formed a strong third pairing and should probably see increased ice time over the course of the season. Of course he hasn’t been without his blemishes as is the case with any young player, however it’s quite a compliment to see the coaching staff trust him with fellow rookie Connor Mackey making his debut last night.
#8 - Chris Tanev (14 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 Pts, 2 PIM, +5, 54.46 CF%, 59.69 xGF%)
It’s pretty safe to say at this point that Tanev has absolutely blown any previous expectations of him out of the water through the first 14 games of this season. Personally I wasn’t super comfortable with his signing, but he has been an absolute defensive rock on the back end and elevated the play of the team around him, especially his linemate who I will discuss more in a second. He’s a stud on the PK and just straight up doesn’t seem to make bad decisions with the puck at even strength.
#55 - Noah Hanifin (14 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 Pts, 6 PIM, +5, 53.62 CF%, 57.91 xGF%)
At this point it’s pretty obvious that Hanifin is playing the best hockey we’ve seen him play in a Flames uniform to date, perhaps even the best hockey of his career. While his point totals are pedestrian, his overall game has taken a massive leap forward this year, and while playing with Tanev has to be a big part of it, he also seems to be making smarter decisions with the puck and positioning himself a lot better at both ends of the ice. Considering he’s now the #1 LD based on ice time, it’s an encouraging jump for a player that many were ready to write off, including the Flames who reportedly had him in trade packages around the last deadline.
#89 - Nikita Nesterov (13 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 4 PIM, -3, 50.97 CF%, 53.35 xGF%)
Not a ton to say about Nesterov. He’s been a solid #6D on this team and has given the third pairing an element of calmness we haven’t seen in years. Despite being scratched last night, I still think he will see the majority of ice time going forward at that spot.
#25 - Jacob Markstrom (7-4-1, .925 SV%, 2.33 GAA, 2 SO)
ELITE. That’s all you can really say about Markstrom. He has single handedly kept the Flames above water on a number of occasions this year and probably stolen at least five or six standings points so far. I’m so glad he’s a Flame. Team MVP, no questions asked.C
#33 - David Rittich (0-2-0, .857 SV%, 3.56 GAA, 0 SO)
The Flames played pretty poorly in Rittich’s first start in Montreal, and he had a not-great game in his second start in Winnipeg. This is unquestionably Markstrom’s team and I would be shocked if Rittich starts any more than 15 games this year. We’ll always have the Big Save Dave days of 2018-19 and 2019-20 though.