The Calgary Flames want Walker Duehr to be disruptive.
They want him to add a little more physicality to his game. They want him to cause a little chaos in the offensive zone.
And Duehr, by all accounts, is up for that.
After sitting out 10 of the Flames’ last 12 games, Duehr was back in the lineup for Tuesday night’s 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.
Head coach Ryan Huska credited the 26-year-old forward for the work he put in against the Wild in a game where just about everybody in a Flames uniform was a little underwhelming.
Now, the question is what Duehr can do to stay in the lineup.
“His biggest strength that allows him to be an NHL player is his speed,” Huska explained. “He’s a bigger guy with a great skill set with regards to his speed, where he can challenge just about any defenceman wide with the puck.
“Where he has to be consistent is he’s not naturally the most physical player, so kind of getting out of his comfort zone a little bit and focusing on finishing hits on the forecheck. But maybe most importantly, being a guy that disrupts and causes a lot of loose pucks in the offensive zone so we can stay and play on. That’s a really big thing for him.”
Duehr has had a stop-start beginning to the 2023-24 campaign. After breaking into the Flames lineup in a major way last season and putting up seven goals and four assists in 27 games, he’s managed one goal and three assists through 15 contests so far this campaign.
He also saw that extended stretch in the press box, which is obviously not what any player wants.
But you’ll never hear a complaint around the Saddledome about Duehr’s attitude or approach to training, and he did exactly what the coaches wanted him to do during his time out of the lineup. He put his head down and got to work.
“While I’ve been out, I’ve just been working hard in the gym and doing my extra ice and staying prepared and just being ready for when my name is called,” Duehr said. “It’s just about going out there and making sure I’m bringing a lot of energy and that’s something the coaching staff has always reiterated to me, just bring a lot of energy and bring my simple, impactful game.”
That work got Duehr an opportunity to play again on Tuesday, and while it was a largely tough game for the Flames, he did have some moments that caught the eye. Playing alongside the impressive A.J. Greer and Adam Ruzicka on the fourth line, Duehr knows the Flames need him to be hard on the forecheck and responsible defensively along the wall.
It can sometimes be hard to show coaches that you’re committed to the physical side of the game in practice, but Duehr did enough to earn an opportunity.
“It’s not so much about him running someone through the wall, but it’s using his speed to his advantage, his stick first then his body to kill the play and then it allows everybody else to get where they need to be from that point,” Huska said. “It’s hard to finish hits against teammates in practice sometimes, but it’s something he’s going to continue to focus on.”
At Wednesday’s practice, Duehr was rotating with Dillon Dube on the fourth line, so it’s not clear whether he’ll be in the lineup for a second straight game when the Flames take on the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday evening at the Saddledome (7 p.m. MT, Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan).
But based on what he showed against the Wild, it’s clear he’s been internalizing what the coaches are asking of him and trying to add a little physicality to his game.
“I thought it got more confident as the game went on,” Duehr said. “That’s something I want to continue to try to do, just create some chances and be disruptive on the forecheck and be physical out there, that’s something I want to build on.”