Outside of Calgary’s top line, the 2022-2023 season didn’t see many other players take steps forward. In order for the Flames to make a deep playoff run, they need their players to take the next step.
The Calgary Flames are primed for another Stanley Cup run. Unprecedented roster turnover had left the Flames in a less-than-enviable position, with top players leaving via free agency and trade. What they did gain, however, was ultimately more valuable. To compensate for the loss of their superstars, they added true centre depth for the first time in decades, along with many skilled players.
No team can succeed without a strong supporting cast, and the Flames have a few players who have shown signs of being ready to step up. Here are my top four Flames players who will have breakout seasons in 2022-2023.
Dillon Dube can be one of the most irritating Calgary Flames to watch. He shows flashes of brilliance, such as his playoff performance against Dallas in 2020 or his final quarter of the 2021-2022 season. At times, it appears that he does not fit into the Flames’ playstyle and makes errors that end up in the Flames’ net.
However, there was a lot to like about Dube’s game that showed he was taking steps. For starters, he set a career-high with 32 points in 79 games, including 18 goals. Despite his 18 goals, he had the worst EV shooting percentage of his career at 6.8%, having shot closer to 8.5% in previous years.
Dillon Dube ties the game. Great shot from Dube in tight. pic.twitter.com/ZVGqYZv2Dz
— Ring of Fire CGY (@RingOfFireCGY) October 1, 2022
With a little bit of luck and a strong top 9, Dube could explode this year if he continues to build off last year’s results.
Take a guess at who had the most ixG (individual expected goals) for the Calgary Flames last year behind Matthew Tkachuk. It wasn’t Elias Lindholm or Johnny Gaudreau. It was Blake Coleman. The difference? The top line had a shooting percentage of closer to 14% whereas Coleman had a 7.5% in all situations and a 6.9% (nice) at 5on5, the worst of his career thus far. So in short, he generates an insane amount of high-danger chances, but couldn’t finish last year being slightly unlucky (992 PDO).
This year, Coleman will likely start the year on a line with Backlund and Dube as the Flame’s third line. Facing weaker competition, I expect Coleman to rip it up as one of the league’s best shutdown lines.
I’ve written before about how I thought Jacob Markstrom played too much and how I wanted to see Vladar play more games. Vladar played 23 games last year, totaling a.906 save percentage after being acquired with a third-round pick. Looking deeper into the numbers reveals a more positive picture. A four-game stretch in the third quarter of the season lowered his save percentage significantly. He almost broke even in terms of Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA), which is all that can be asked of a backup goaltender. His EV strength saves percentage was .919, which ranked 31st among NHL goalies who have played more than 900 minutes.
This preseason, he’s looked nearly unstoppable. This includes his performance in a 2-1 loss to an Oilers roster composed of mostly NHL talent. Vladar is poised to turn what was Jacob Markstrom’s crease into a tandem if he can take another step.
Another outstanding game from Dan Vladar in Edmonton tonight.
He’s been great in all three of his preseason starts, which is a really positive sign. 83 stops on 87 shots for a 0.954 SV% in eight periods of work. #Flames
— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) October 1, 2022
This one may come as a surprise, given that many people already know Weegar is an excellent defender. It is less about stats and more about recognition. I believe Weegar will finally be recognized for what he is: an elite NHL defenseman among the league’s best. As one of the league’s best two-way blueliners who can also run an effective transition game, he’ll only see his game improve under a Darryl Sutter system.
This is an example of the little things that MacKenzie Weegar does so well. He has one of the most active sticks in the NHL breaking up plays like this at his own blueline. pic.twitter.com/drc6y8XRWX
— Ring of Fire CGY (@RingOfFireCGY) September 29, 2022
His elite ability to stop players on the rush and deny zone entries is one area where he will help. Stopping the rush is critical to neutralizing high-skill players like Connor McDavid. Ultimately, this has the outcome of limiting dangerous chances, as we saw in the Calgary Flames’ playoff series against the Oilers.
Weegar will finally get the recognition he deserves now that he is in the Canadian market.