So now what? What can the Calgary Flames do over their final four games to add some semblance of meaning to the process?
It starts and ends with inserting as many prospects into the lineup as possible to evaluate and reward them while aiding their progression.
As an added bonus, by taking veterans out of the lineup, it gives the team a better chance at falling in the standings and earning a better draft position than the No. 10 spot it currently sits in.
If the club is fortuitous enough to get swept by the Canucks over their last four games, there’s a chance the Flames could improve their draft standing to as high as sixth.
Flames fans can only hope.
They can start the youth movement by re-inserting Juuso Valimaki into the lineup and giving him more meaningful minutes. Darryl Sutter has been particularly hard on the Flames’ first-rounder, suggesting he’s too slow with everything he does on the ice.
Scratched last game in favour of Oliver Kylington, it’s important for Valimaki to continue getting the reps needed to try to prove he is indeed destined to be a top-four defenceman in this organization.
After starting the season with Calder Trophy hopes, the seeds of doubt have certainly been planted in the 22-year-old’s head, which is something he can only work his way through by playing.
Play him now and play him lots.
The only player who should be getting more minutes than Valimaki down this sordid stretch is Kylington.
The 23-year-old’s journey has been anything but a straight line, to the point he’s certainly wondering if he has a future in Calgary.
The restricted free agent is certainly a candidate to be plucked by Seattle in the expansion draft this summer if the Flames opt to buck up with compensation to protect Mark Giordano. Either way, now is the time to give Kylington a heavy workload and continue working out the inconsistencies in his game that have plagued his ascension to the lineup with any regularity.
Connor Mackey was the team’s prized free-agent signing out of college last spring and the organization wasn’t averse to seeing him jump into the lineup his first year as a pro. He did indeed play three games with the Flames, but understandably required some seasoning in the AHL where he led all Heat defenders with three goals and 16 points in 27 games.
He’s a no-brainer to summon from the taxi squad immediately, as the 24-year-old lefty is a restricted free agent who the Flames will re-sign this summer with an eye on him battling for a roster spot next season. Start that process now with NHL starts.
Up front, the Flames got a jump on the most obvious of promotions last game when they started Glenn Gawdin as their fourth-line centre. The 24-year-old, with just six NHL starts this year, was rewarded with his first NHL point.
Gawdin led the Flames AHL affiliate in scoring last year and seemed poised to take a crack at an opening-night gig this year before the abbreviated season crushed his chances by putting a premium on having experienced backups on the taxi squad.
By scratching several veterans for the balance of the slate Gawdin should get significant minutes and roles down the stretch, which should include penalty killing.
Flames management have long wondered how effectively Adam Ruzicka would be able to throw his six-foot-four, 203-pound frame around in the NHL, and now they have their chance. Plagued by a reputation for inconsistency, the 22-year-old who had four-straight three-point games early in the Heat’s season deserves a looksee with the big boys.
He led the Heat in scoring this season and had a solid pre-season with the Flames, which makes him one of the top forward prospects in the system. Let’s get a glimpse of how his skill set fits in with the world’s best.
This is also the perfect time to get Matthew Phillips in for his first NHL game. The five-foot-seven, 140-pound playmaker has been called up before but has yet to realize his NHL dream.
It’s the perfect time to get a glimpse of whether the diminutive forward, who had similar numbers to Andrew Mangiapane’s in junior, can find a way to defy the odds and mesh with NHL giants. It would also serve as a reward for being a good soldier in the minors the last three years.
If management believes Artyom Zagidulin has progressed enough in his two abbreviated seasons with the Heat, the former KHL netminder should also get at least one start to see how comfortable he is.