Salim Valji: Door open for Milano to make Flames

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This is not how Sonny Milano thought his free agency would go.

Coming off a career-high 34 point season with the Anaheim Ducks, the 2014 first-round pick (Columbus) was surprisingly unsigned until mid-September, when the reigning Pacific Division-champion Calgary Flames reached out with an opportunity.

He signed a professional tryout agreement and is now at camp.

“Obviously I was hoping for a contract, but that’s where we are at right now,” Milano said on Thursday after the team’s first on-ice session. The winger is coming off a two-year, $3.4 million deal with the Ducks. “[Calgary] seemed happy about me coming and telling me there’s a spot open and I’ve just got to get it.”

The 26-year-old left wing was skating on a line with fellow newcomers Cody Eakin and Nazem Kadri.

Eakin is a likely placeholder for Andrew Mangiapane, who tweaked something during informal skates and will not participate in the early part of the training camp. At five-on-five with the Ducks last season, Milano was fifth with 24 points while playing mostly with Trevor Zegras and Rickard Rakell.

“You just want to be yourself,” he said. “Play your game and show your best and how you can help the team.”

With four games in the opening seven nights of preseason, Milano will have to win over head coach Darryl Sutter in a hurry.

“The kid will have an opportunity to take advantage of,” Sutter said.

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Fellow newcomer Jonathan Huberdeau is adjusting well to his life as the face of a Canadian franchise. The off-season addition from the Panthers sold his fleet of sports cars in Florida, bought a pickup truck, and on Thursday skated with Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli.

“Think they’re two good players and I don’t think I’ve ever played with two righties,” Huberdeau said. “It’s cool to have that. We’re going to build chemistry throughout the camp. I’m excited to play with these guys.”

Kadri got to know his new colleagues at a recent golfing trip in Banff.

“Everyone’s having fun with each other, but getting down to business,” he said. “This time of year, you can feel the intensity build throughout practices. You know when you step out on the ice you’ve got to take care of business, first and foremost.”

Like many Flames fans, Sutter has moved on from the departed stars Johnny Gaudreauwho left as a free agent, and Matthew Tkachuk, who told the team he would not re-sign long-term. Tkachuk was then dealt for Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegarprospect Cole Schwindtand a conditional first-round pick in 2025.

“What’s the big deal?” Sutter said. “Not like we broke up the band. One guy’s unrestricted, the other guy was going to be unrestricted. It’s the way it works. They had career years, that’s what happens.”

SPARKS OFF THE FIRE

Full lines from Day 1:

Huberdeau-Lindholm-Toffoli
Eakin-Kadri-Milano
Dube-Backlund-Coleman
Lucic-Rooney-Ritchie
Pospisil-Ruzicka-Lewis

Weegar-Tanev
Hanifin-Andersson
Zadorov-Meloche
Valimaki-Stone

Markstrom
Vladar

-One surprise early on is that highly touted prospect Jakob Pelletier is skating with AHLers, while Martin Pospisil is with the NHL group. Given the opportunity to crack the Flames’ top nine, it’s interesting that Pelletier isn’t skating with the roster players. Pospisil’s skillset as a heavier, more physical, energy player would be better suited to a fourth-line role. Blueliner Nicolas Meloche is with the main group as well, while Connor Mackey, who needs to clear waivers, is skating with AHLers. There could still be movement between the groups.

-Both Chris Tanev and Kadri are coming off injuries. Sutter hinted that, given the four preseason games in seven days to start camp, the veterans will likely not see game action early on.

Oliver Kylington is dealing with a family matter and remains away from camp.

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