CALGARY — Don’t be fooled by the fact Blake Coleman was signed as a third-line ace out of Tampa.
As Calgary Flames fans will quickly find out, he’s got the game to play top-line minutes.
He did it in New Jersey where he eclipsed the 20-goal mark in consecutive seasons. And he’s done it the first two days of training camp in Calgary alongside Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk.
The Flames’ big free agent signing was brought in to bolster the right side with a versatile, 200-foot game, which he’ll unquestionably do on either of the top two lines.
For those suggesting such a role is asking too much of the 29-year-old American, look back just two years ago when the former 22-goal scorer was well ahead of a 30-goal pace before being traded to Tampa Bay. And while his gig there revolved largely around shutting down the opposition, he’s got the skill-set to add more offence as part of his duties.
“I don’t think I change anything – I think that’s where players get into trouble,” said Coleman, who was on a 20-goal pace last season as well. “They try to do things that haven’t made them successful in the past. In Tampa, on paper we were the third line — we played 17, 18 and up to 19 minutes a game in the playoffs. Five on five we were one of the most used lines on our team.
“I’m not going to jump onto the first power play and score 15 power-play goals probably. My role is not going to change. I’m going to be a good penalty killer and a good five-on-five player. My game is driven and based around compete and forechecking, and smarts in the game. I’m not going to be making backhand, toe-drag plays or anything like that. I’ve been up and down lineups my whole career. I’ve played first line and I’ve played fourth line, which I think is one of my best assets, being versatile.”
It’s the type of attitude and style coach Darryl Sutter wishes every player employed.
“Such a versatile guy, you can play him anywhere,” said the coach, who now has six solid scorers on his first two lines. “He can play both sides. We wanted to try him out with Lindy and Matthew and get a really good look at him. It’s a really good fit there.”
Should be, given Lindholm also plays at both ends of the ice, allowing Tkachuk even more leeway to strike offensively.
“I know enough about these guys — they both are very talented and bring different elements to the game that really help the team,” said Coleman, fresh off winning back-to-back Stanley Cups. “Any time you get two really skilled players that want to win and want to compete, that’s what you’re looking for. We’ll get some reps in the games and see if we can build chemistry.”
Coleman smiled when asked just how much he knows about Tkachuk while toiling in the Eastern Conference.
“He reminds me of myself in some ways — he’s a competitor,” said Coleman, who signed a six-year, $29.4 million deal with Calgary. “He’s a guy that you leave a game and you’re not really happy with typically, and don’t really enjoy playing against. I’m sure he takes pride in it the same way I do. You want to be a hard player to play against.
“But it’s not all his game is — he produces offensively and has a good hockey mindset and sees the game well. I haven’t seen a ton of him face-to-face, but I follow him and his team and know what he’s about. Happy we’re on the same side.”
Same line too, although there’s always the chance he could swap spots with Andrew Mangiapane and see time on the second unit alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
Turns out the Flames weren’t the only ones in this new relationship that did plenty of digging before committing six years to one another.
“I did my homework before coming here and the coach is a part of that,” the third-round pick said when asked about Sutter. “I talked to a lot of guys and it just seemed like a good fit for my personality, the way I like to play the game and the way he likes to coach. So far he’s just been very direct. He’s very black and white, and as a player I appreciate that style.”
Quite a departure from Jon Cooper, who counted on Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow to play most of the last five minutes of every game. It is there, as a Bolt, he learned how to be a winner – something Sutter and GM Brad Treliving sought while also adding Trevor Lewis and Brad Richardson.
“I’ve been around some of the best players in the world, quite frankly – for two years we did a lot of winning there,” said the 5-foot-11, 207-pound lefty, who has played 48 playoff games over the last two years.
“I did a lot of learning from guys that have been in the league a long time and understand the right way to prepare and the right way to treat the regular season.”
And the right way to approach a game he can play any which way you want.