However, my gut says we may have also witnessed something else of significance last night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Going back to the second period specifically, I would not be surprised if the top two lines as deployed by coach Bob Hartley over that 20 minutes isn't the same top six and in the same configuration that we see when Calgary opens the season against the Canucks on Wednesday, October 7.
Now Hartley is still very much in experimental mode. Through the first four preseason games, he's been methodically changing his forward line combinations and defence pairings every period, seeing what works and seeing what doesn't.
To refresh your memory, what worked in the middle period Friday night were these two trios:
When Hartley made it known in early September that he planned to use Sam Bennett at centre, it created a top-six opening at winger. From what we've seen to this point, I'd suggest Ferland has put himself into the lead of all the candidates for that job.
There's certainly no denying that Hartley loves the kid.
"He is a force out there," Hartley said after Friday's game. "This kid is so strong and such a great skater and what we're missing with Ferly is he has unbelievable hockey sense. His reads are great, his hands are great. This kid can make plays."
Brings Useful Muscle to the Top Six
While enormously gifted, there is no physical side whatsoever to last year's No. 1 trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler. Monahan has the size to have that element in his game but we've yet to see a hint of a mean streak from him. The only 'fight' we saw out of those three last season was over the Lady Byng Trophy with the three racking up 14, 12 and 14 penalty minutes respectively.
While you can't argue their effectiveness, you'd expect the rest of the league to start defending them with a little more ferocity this season. More whacks on the wrists with sticks, more cross-checks, a variety of nastiness intended to intimidate and get them off their game.
At 6-foot-1 and a thick 210 pounds, Ferland inserted on right-wing for Hudler would be a nice influx of muscle beside the team's two prized kids and would help serve as a deterrent. The attractive part is Ferland's also got the skill to play with those two. His set-up to Monahan on that two-on-one to spree him for the Flames third goal was first-rate.
Remember this isn't the first time this camp we've seen these three together either. They were together last weekend during their two scrimmages also. You started to see the chemistry then and it's already growing.
New Line but Similar Role for Hudler
While moving Hudler off the top line might look like a demotion, that's not necessarily so. Slotting the veteran alongside Bennett and with his fellow countryman Michael Frolik on the opposite wing, that line would have the potential to be a very effective unit.
Hartley has raved about Frolik's versatility and ability to play in different roles and take on different responsibilities. This could be an ideal fit for the newcomer, who has looked very good in his first two games. Sound defensively, the 27-year-old's presence makes this a line that can be trusted at both ends of the ice.
Meanwhile, Frolik would still have plenty of opportunity to leverage the skill we've seen from him in his first two games in which he's picked up two goals, earned a penalty shot, and also chipped in an assist. Last night's goal was a thing of beauty as the Czech neatly kicked the puck up from his skate to his stick and fired it past Jacob Markstrom in the same motion.
Hudler was lauded last year for the valuable mentor-like role he played for Gaudreau and Monahan and he'd get that same opportunity once again with Bennett, who just turned 19.
Meanwhile, we know Hudler is a UFA at year's end and if his contract demands end up too rich for the Flames and he departs and signs elsewhere, at least he's bought enough time for the organization that with a second season in the AHL, maybe Emile Poirier is ready to slide into a top six spot if such a vacancy arises.
Fret Not Backlund Supporters
While media and fans love to number a team's lines and rank them from one to four in order of hierarchy, the truth is that Flames GM Brad Treliving doesn't see it that way. Treliving has spoken in the past about how he envisions Calgary's forward configuration not as a top six and bottom six but more so as a top nine complemented by a functional fourth line.
Sometimes the depth on a team up front doesn't cater to this but Calgary is certainly moving in the direction where there is credence to dividing the forwards in this fashion and separating out a clear top nine.
In this instance, rounding out your top three lines as I see it would be this trio:
Saddled with additional defensive responsibilities from the other two lines, that doesn't automatically mean they will get less minutes. On some nights against certain opponents, this could be the team's No. 1 line if you insist on putting them in an order.
We're all familiar with how far Backlund's game has developed the last couple years. He has become a very good two-way player. Bouma and Jones are two power forwards that can be tenacious with a heavy forecheck, are solid in their own end, but can also contribute offensively.
Making Sense of the Fourth Line
If I'm on the right track with what the team is thinking in regards to the top nine, this brings some clarity to what we're looking at with the remaining forwards and the much-discussed logjam that we've been dissecting all summer and into training camp.
Now it's simple. There is veteran Matt Stajan locked into centre on the fourth line and the Flames are looking for four others to surround him. Two will open the season as his wingers and the other two will make the season-opening roster but will observe the game from the press box.
As we reach the halfway point in training camp, here are the four that I suggest make it:
- Josh Jooris - Scored a great goal Thursday in Denver. They love his speed. He does a lot of things well including killing penalties. Has the flexibility to be deployed in different roles when injuries arise. After a breakthrough season last year, his trajectory is pointing up as we don't know yet what his ceiling is. Also, the team doesn't switch him to jersey No. 16 in the summer if he wasn't a big part of their plans.
- Joe Colborne - A first round draft pick, he continues to add muscle to his big frame that should make him even more effective when it comes to controlling the puck. A great playmaker, who has gotten better each year, he has the size to be an effective fourth line player even if he doesn't have an ornery side to go with it. A good guy to have around as he can elevate to a top nine role if needed.
- Paul Byron - The NHL game is about speed and Byron packs plenty of that. Able to play multiple positions, he is an ideal depth player to have on the roster. He can be used to kill penalties, his blinding speed makes him a nice ace up the sleeve for Hartley come 3-on-3 overtime. This is no longer an era of fourth line thugs. Byron, an advanced stats darling, can give you an effective 10-12 minutes.
- Brandon Bollig - He's one of the favorite targets of disdain for fans but the team loves his presence in the dressing room, he's worn an 'A' at times in the preseason to give you a hint of what Hartley thinks of him. Plus, he is someone who plays his best against big physical teams like the LA Kings with his effectiveness growing significantly in meaningful games like the playoffs. Considering Calgary plans to get back to the post-season, they'll want his presence around.
- Mason Raymond - Ferland's emergence is bad news for Raymond. If the Flames construct their top nine as I've suggested, that reduces Raymond's role to fourth liner and that isn't a great fit for him. The physicality, ability to kill penalties, be heavy on the fore-check, the elements the club wants to see from its fourth line isn't Raymond's forte. He's more built to be on a scoring line and I don't see an opening. You wonder about Raymond's relationship with Hartley too, which last year appeared strained. Doubtful you can trade him at his price tag, it would not surprise me if he is placed on waivers, goes unclaimed and ends up in Stockton.
- Drew Shore - Had a tremendous night at the face-off dot Friday night going 9-1 but there isn't an opening at centre and I don't think he beats out any of the four players above. Perhaps Treliving is able to trade him for a fifth or sixth round pick. If not, expect him to be assigned to Stockton where he may or may not get claimed when he travels through waivers. My gut says he would make it through, especially at this time of year when all teams have their own Drew Shore's. However, even if he is claimed, Derek Grant has had a nice camp and would give Calgary that similarly aged experienced call-up option that can play centre or wing.
- Markus Granlund - It's a different situation for Granlund, 22, who is someone I still envision having a successful NHL career. He's a smart player defensively and has some nice offensive tools too. It's his contract situation that could cost him this October as the team likely leverages their ability to demote him to the minors without exposing him to waivers. However, I fully expect Granlund to be the first guy called up when injuries set in.
How the Goalie Conundrum Impacts This
By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.
- Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Random Thoughts After One Week of Training Camp - Topics covered include TJ Brodie's injury history, the sudden hiring spree on the blue-line, how 'Goaltender Idol' is shaping up and the newly inked Nick Schneider. (Sept. 24, 2015)
- Preseason is Upon Us: Six Observations From the Flames 3-1 loss to Edmonton - Hockey is finally back and while not the same intensity as when we left off in May, it's a start. Here's what I took notice of Monday including same old, same old from Giordano. (Sept. 22, 2015)
- Six Reasons to be Skeptical that Brodie will end up being Paired with Engelland - It created quite a stir as training camp got underway. TJ Brodie paired up with Deryk Engelland. Will it continue? My opinion is no way and I lay out six reasons why. (Sept. 19, 2015)
- Camp Begins: Breaking Down the 2015-16 Flames Training Camp Roster - So who are all these guys? In this helpful overview, I break down who's who in the zoo by going through the 64 players and categorizing them to help you better understand the options the team has, possibilities the players have and the decisions that need to be made. (Sept. 17, 2015)
- Rising Fast: Andersson's Journey from Swedish Kid to a Top Flames Prospect - Before departing Penticton, I sat down with Rasmus Andersson to talk about what it was like playing pro hockey in Sweden at age 15, and how quickly his career has taken off. (Sept. 15, 2015)