Flames season preview: Markstrom looks to lead Cup run

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The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin on Jan. 13. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Calgary Flames, who will play in the North Division.

 

Coach: Geoff Ward (second season) 

Last season: 36-27-7 (.564 points percentage); eighth place in Western Conference, lost to Dallas Stars in Western Conference First Round

 

3 KEYS

1. Markstrom-Tanev connection

Goalie Jacob Markstrom and defenseman Christopher Tanev each left the Vancouver Canucks to sign with the Flames (Markstrom to a six-year contract on Oct. 9; Tanev for four years on Oct. 10) this offseason. Tanev, who played on Vancouver’s top defense pair with rookie Quinn Hughes, could help Markstrom carry over his success from last season, when he had an NHL career-high .918 save percentage, was named an NHL all-star for the first time, and made his first appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

2. Gaudreau’s ability to bounce back

Calgary’s top line remains intact with left wing Johnny Gaudreau, center Sean Monahan and right wing Elias Lindholm. But Gaudreau, who scored an NHL career-high 99 points (36 goals, 63 assists) in 2018-19, took a step back last season, scoring 58 points (18 goals, 40 assists) in 70 games. Ward, who replaced Bill Peters as coach on Nov. 29, 2019, will be tasked with helping Gaudreau return to form.

Video: Gaudreau, Werenski make the Top 50 Players list

 

3. Depth signings

The Flames signed four players to a one-year contract this offseason, and each is a candidate to be a regular in their lineup. Forward Joakim Nordstrom, who has played 36 postseason games over the past two seasons with the Boston Bruins, including in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, signed on Oct. 19, and forward Dominik Simon, who saw significant playing time on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top line with Sidney Crosby in recent seasons, signed on Oct. 22. Nordstrom and Simon, along with forward Josh Leivo, who signed on Oct. 24 following two seasons in Vancouver, are options for the bottom six. Defenseman Nikita Nesterov, who signed on Oct. 23 after playing the past three seasons for CSKA Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League, is a viable option for their third pair.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN 

Making the cut 

In addition to Nesterov, the Flames have prospect Juuso Valimaki, a left-shot defenseman who scored 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 19 games playing on the right side for Ilves in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, while on loan from Calgary. The 22-year-old, who was selected with the No. 16 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, should earn a roster spot after missing all of last season because of a torn ACL in his right knee, but it’s possible he could play on the left side with either prospect Connor Mackey (Minnesota State University, Mankato), Colton Poolman (University of North Dakota) or Oliver Kylington (87 games in three NHL seasons) on the right.

 

Most intriguing addition 

Markstrom ranked fourth in save percentage last season among the 22 NHL goalies who played at least 40 games. He played 60 games in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and also excelled in his first postseason appearance, going 8-6 with a .919 save percentage and one shutout in 14 starts before being unfit to play in Vancouver’s final three games. He could help the Flames win multiple playoff series for the first time since they reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2004.

Video: Markstrom places 9th on the Top 10 Goalies List

 

Biggest potential surprise

If the Flames shift Lindholm to center, which he played earlier in his NHL career with the Carolina Hurricanes, instead of right wing, where he played the past two seasons with Calgary, it could open up a spot for forward Dillon Dube on the top line with Gaudreau and Monahan. Dube, who scored 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 45 regular-season games and five points (four goals, one assist) in 10 postseason games, could thrive if given an expanded role at even strength and/or on the first power play.

 

Ready to break through 

Defenseman Rasmus Andersson has the same scoring totals as Gaudreau over the past two postseasons (four goals, four assists in 15 games) and has room for a bigger role. The 24-year-old could see an uptick in ice time (19:56 per game last season, fifth among Flames defensemen) following the departure of TJ Brodie (signed with Toronto Maple Leafs) and Travis Hamonic (unsigned free agent) and shatter his point totals from his first two full NHL seasons (22 in 2019-20; 19 in 2018-19).

Video: DAL@CGY, Gm6: Andersson buries wrister from circle

 

Fantasy sleeper

Forward Andrew Mangiapane (LW/RW; undrafted on average in fantasy) has sneaky appeal with even-strength exposure to elite wing Matthew Tkachuk (31st in NHL.com’s fantasy rankings), who led the Flames in scoring last season with 61 points in 69 games. Mangiapane scored 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in his final 19 regular-season games last season, and over that span, he was tied for second on the Flames in goals and even-strength points (16) behind his other linemate, center Mikael Backlund (10 goals, 17 EVP). — Pete Jensen

 

Projected lineup 

Johnny Gaudreau — Sean Monahan — Elias Lindholm

Matthew Tkachuk — Mikael Backlund — Andrew Mangiapane

Milan LucicSam Bennett — Dillon Dube

Joakim Nordstrom — Derek Ryan — Dominik Simon

Mark Giordano — Christopher Tanev

Noah Hanifin — Rasmus Andersson

Nikita Nesterov — Juuso Valimaki

Jacob Markstrom

David Rittich

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