Flames Training Camp Preview: Timing right for youngsters to step into lineup

Calgary Flames' Craig Conroy speaks about the tasks he needs to do in his first year as the general manager, and if the team is being slept on with the talent they have.

CALGARY — Training camp hasn’t even opened for the Calgary Flames and Matt Coronato is already the talk of the town.

A successful showing at the team’s Young Stars tourney in Penticton, B.C., from the Harvard scorer was exactly the sort of momentum-builder the player (and the organization) was looking for heading into the main camp.

A goal and two helpers from Coronato in three games gave the coaches and management added confidence in their belief that the time is right for youngsters to step into the lineup.

Unlike past years when the team has called on aging veterans to fill in gaps, GM Craig Conroy has said all summer long he’ll resist adding PTOs, leaving spots open for young guns to earn a roster spot in camp.

Adam Klapka, Lucas Ciona and Coronato all stood out in the South Okanagan, setting the stage for youngsters to continue pressing for opening-day assignments.

For Coronato, it’s his job to lose, as the team’s 13th pick overall in 2021 has been penciled in on the right side of the second line by almost every armchair GM.

With 60 Wranglers games under his belt, the six-foot-foot Klapka is also a leading candidate to challenge for an NHL job.

Ciona is a sixth-round pick who is entering his first year as a pro, but his assertiveness, leadership and size helped the six-foot-two, 216-pound winger stand out amongst all others as the former Seattle Thunderbirds captain scored and added a fight.

All three will be given ample opportunity to show how they fit in with the big boys, making this a camp unlike so many others in Calgary of late.  

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Salary cap space: minus-$213,333
GM: Craig Conroy
Head coach: Ryan Huska
Assistant coaches: Marc Savard, Cail McLain, Danny Lambert
Unsigned players: None
Key new additions: Yegor Sharangovich, Jordan Oesterle
PTOs: None


The promise is to leave roster spots open for youngsters.

The question is whether any of those youngsters will be a surprise.

Barring a disastrous pre-season, Coronato, Jakob Pelletier and Walker Duehr are all likely to open the season with the club.

Management has vowed to try endless combinations in camp to see what sticks.

A look at where the prime suspects are fighting to be slotted, and who might join them:


Coronato plays the right side, where the finisher is expected to play on Nazem Kadri’s second line.

Can Pelletier have a strong enough camp to play on the left side of that line or is that too much youth on one line, with too much pressure to score?

Adam Ruzicka will certainly get a chance in camp to play on that second line as a winger, as he posted almost a point a game during his brief stretch as a top-sixer last season. Management is keen to give him ample opportunity to thrive offensively.    

Will third-line staple Andrew Mangiapane get the chance to return to his 35-goal form in a starring role? After all, Huska certainly saw what he was capable of as a top-liner in the AHL.

Is newcomer Sharangovich a lock on the right side of the top line, as many expect?

Is Jonathan Huberdeau better alongside Elias Lindholm on the top line or is Kadri a better match?

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If Mangiapane returns to one of the league’s most reliable checking trios, it will be done alongside Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman.

Or will Pelletier or a youngster such as Ciona break through with a chance to meld with those veterans?

Duehr is a lock on the right side of the fourth line, but will Ruzicka be his centre or will Klapka, veteran Kevin Rooney or farmhand Connor Zary shine enough in camp to earn that job?

The Flames would love it if 2023 first-rounder Samuel Honzek would be able to push for a pro gig, but he’s a long shot, as they’d love the six-foot-foot, 186-pound winger to continue building confidence in the WHL this season.


Jacob Markstrom will get the lion’s share of starts with an eye on returning to the form that made him a Vezina Trophy finalist two years ago.

But all eyes are on how the organization will roll AHL MVP Dustin Wolf into the mix.

The commitment is there to have him play games in the NHL this season, but Huska said how the youngster and backup Dan Vladar perform in camp, and during the season, will determine their workload. 


Can this team rebound, or is a retool on the horizon?

A great start is crucial for the confidence of the players, including the long list of pending UFAs who are still debating whether they’d like to re-sign in Calgary.

If core players Lindholm, Backlund, Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev believe the organization is moving in the right direction, management is confident they can come to terms on extensions.

If things start poorly, and the team’s playoff prospects are in doubt as Christmas approaches, Conroy will likely be forced to start shopping the four Flames staples.

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The hockey world will be watching with fascination, as the Flames try to rebound from a horrifically frustrating season in which they were amongst league leaders in one-goal losses, goal posts and overtime pratfalls.

Yet, despite all that, and serious dressing room drama, they finished just three points out of the playoffs, one point ahead of the eventual Stanley Cup finalists, Florida.

The removal of coach Darryl Sutter — the source of dressing room angst — has breathed new life into the players, and the hiring of Conroy and Huska has the organization energized.

How that translates onto the ice is the big question, as the team is almost identical to the one iced last season, outside of a swap that saw leading scorer Tyler Toffoli traded to the New Jersey Devils for Sharangovich.

Optimists point to the fact the team won the division two years ago and almost every player outside Backlund had stats drop dramatically last season. 

Pessimists worry the club lost its heartbeat and offensive swagger when Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau departed last summer.

If other core members are swapped out before the trade deadline, it’s likely a sign the organization hasn’t bounced back and significant change is required.

Stay tuned. 


Huberdeau – Lindholm – Sharangovich
Ruzicka – Kadri – Coronato
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Pelletier – Dube – Duehr 

Opening-night extra – Klapka  

Weegar – Andersson
Hanifin – Tanev
Kylington – Zadorov 


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