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Folks, we’re almost done with 2020! It’s November and there are just eight weeks remaining before we switch the calendar over and then burn the tape.

In the meantime? Let’s talk hockey! To the mailbag!

In terms of upside, it’s hard not to get a bit excited about Daniil Chechelev. He’s been brilliant in Russian junior and minor pro – he hasn’t lost a start yet – and he’s even been called up to the KHL before his 20th birthday. If he can turn this small sample size into a full season of excellence, the Flames could have a great player on their hands.

Could.

But Ilya Nikolayev has a playing style that arguably has less upside but a higher floor than Chechelev. Nikolayev, if he came over, could turn into a pretty good bottom six centre. Chechelev is going to be feast or famine, as many young goaltenders often are.

Honestly, it might be the opposite. Think of it this way: Jakob Pelletier is a damn fine hockey player. But if the Flames are going to burn the first year of his entry level deal, they’d probably prefer to do it over a full 82-game season and not in a weird, shortened season.

The cap is also the true master for the next few seasons, and veteran players with lean cap hits are easier to fit under the $81.5 million ceiling.

In 2016-17 and 2017-18, Kylington was basically a 0.50 point per game defenseman. In 2018-19, he was just shy of a point per game. In the AHL, he was a top pairing guy and played on the power play. He’s got good offensive instincts and is a superb skater. But in the Flames system he’s stuck behind Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin, Juuso Valimaki and probably Connor Mackey on the left side. The likelihood of him getting the same usage in Calgary that he thrived under in Stockton is low and he’s a perfectly fine, but not amazing, two-way player. Defensive zone usage doesn’t really play to his strengths, but that’s where he’s at in the Flames system right now.

That’s a long way of saying that he’s a third pairing guy in Calgary right now, but his skating and smarts give him upside beyond that.

My dark horse in camp is Glenn Gawdin. He’s a right shot forward who can play centre or the wing. He plays a very effective two-way game. He was an AHL All-Star last season. And he makes $700,000 this season and can easily be fit under the cap.

I’ll say one, and the one is Derek Ryan.

David Rittich? I imagine he’ll want to check out the free agent market for a team that has a pathway where he could be an NHL starter, which won’t happen with Jacob Markstrom in Calgary.

Sam Bennett? Unless things really change in the regular season and he plays out of his mind, Bennett might not merit a protection spot for the expansion draft. If he’s exposed, he’ll be a Kraken.

Ryan? He probably won’t make the same money as he’s making now, but he’s been a great fit in Calgary and I could easily see him re-signing on a short term deal.

Valimaki is still eligible for the Calder Trophy in 2020-21. He played 24 regular season games in 2018-19 and the cut-off to remain eligible in future seasons is playing more than 25 games. (The two playoff games he played that season don’t count towards the total.)

Well, the answer is “No, unless…” or “Yes, but…”

If a few of the Flames’ under-25 main roster pieces – Matthew Tkachuk, Dillon Dube, Andrew Mangiapane, Sam Bennett, Noah Hanifin, Juuso Valimaki, Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington – take big steps, the Flames will be a better team than they were in 2019-20. If most of them take steps, they’ll be a really good team. And if the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano bounce back from disappointing 2019-20 seasons as well, then maybe they can be a supremely good team.

But that’s a lot of ifs, isn’t it? Barring big leaps or bounce-backs, they’re in the playoff pack but lack much in the way of separation.


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