CALGARY — It’s a pairing Flames fans plan on getting used to.
Two feisty, corner-dwellers with finish — a duo that could potentially lead the league in sparking post-whistle scrums.
After nursing a lower body “tweak” by skating on his own the first four days of camp, Mangiapane finally joined his teammates Monday when he was promptly positioned alongside the team’s prized free agent signing of the summer.
Funny, as what could be the start of something fantastically frustrating for the rest of the league could theoretically have started months earlier, when the two happened to be participating in the same summertime, 3-on-3 skating sessions in the Toronto-area.
“No, he was the captain of his gym there and he didn’t pick me,” deadpanned Mangiapane when asked if they’d ever teamed up before or after Kadri signed his seven-year, $49 million deal in Calgary.
“I’m still a little ticked off.”
Once he gets to know how dogged and determined Mangiapane is on the puck, you can bet Kadri will be glad his new left-hand man is by his side.
Fact is, had Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk returned, not only would there have been no cap room for a signing of Kadri’s magnitude, there’s also a good chance Mangiapane’s three-year, $17.4 million contract extension couldn’t have been squeezed in.
“That definitely is a possibility there — if those guys stayed, maybe I wouldn’t be here,” said the 26-year-old winger.
“Maybe they would have to create space and all that. Obviously, they had to deal with Johnny and Chucky there and had to go through all that. I was secondary to that, but my plan was always to stay in Calgary.
“I’m happy to be here and to be part of this team and hopefully we can do good things this year.”
That certainly seems like a possibility for the man who scored 35 goals last season the hard way, without a single minute on the top line or top power play.
Surely, after the departure of Tkachuk and Gaudreau, Mangiapane will be saddled with a heavier workload and a far more offensive-minded centre than Mikael Backlund.
Expectations will rise, as will the temperature of most games, with him and Kadri pestering the opposition.
“He obviously plays with that grit, and will get in there and muck it up and cause havoc,” said the 5-foot-10 Mangiapane, who plays like he’s a foot taller.
“He’s also a skilled player who scores goals, and he’s smart away from the puck. He’s kind of the whole package.”
The perfect man to help Mangiapane with a career progression that landed him 25th in league goal scoring, following an MVP performance at the 2021 IIHF World Hockey Championship.
“Ya, I think he could work well with a lot of guys on our team,” said Mangiapane, a left-shooting winger, who will almost certainly play behind fellow lefty Jonathan Huberdeau on the depth chart.
“I think he’s that type of player, when you play with him he makes others around him better.”
But, as Mangiapne and other Flames players are careful to point out in Darryl Sutter’s world, “you don’t want to read too much into (the lines).”
Huberdeau scored in the team’s first pre-season game Sunday while playing alongside Day 1 campmates, Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli.
While there is always the chance Mangiapane could move to the right side of the top unit, the most obvious fit would seem to be on his natural wing on the second line with Kadri — and whoever grabs the most sought-after opening in camp this year on the right side.
It would appear that gig is Sonny Milano’s to lose, although plenty will ride on the PTOs’ showing over the next handful of pre-season competitions.
Goals are expected to be at much more of a premium in Calgary this winter, as Gaudreau and Tkachuk accounted for 82 of the team’s goals last season.
Huberdeau (30 goals) and Kadri (28) should do well to help make up for that, but it goes without saying there’s pressure on Mangiapane to post another career season.
Sutter has said as much with his insistence the key to success will be on players aged 23-28 in his lineup to take that next step.
Mangiapane’s $5.8 million cap hit also ups expectations for the sixth-round draft pick who is the team’s third-highest paid skater this season.
“I think I’m planning to play the same way I have been, that’s my mentality going into camp, keep growing as a player and as an individual and helping the team wherever I can,” said the fan favourite.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the lines, but it’s exciting times. We’ll see what happens.
“I’m happy he’s on our team now.”