Flames believe new guy Bahl is cast from ‘similar mould’ as Zadorov

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Kevin Bahl would presumably understand that, as the Calgary Flames’ faithful rushed to Google his name, they weren’t blown away by his career stat-line.  

Bahl has buried four goals and amassed 25 points in 148 appearances at the NHL level.

Perhaps, however, the left-handed blue-liner has some fan-favourite qualities to him. 

That’s what Flames general manager Craig Conroy seemed to be hinting at after he welcomed the 23-year-old Bahl — along with a protected first-round selection in the 2025 NHL Draft — in Wednesday’s long-speculated swap with the New Jersey Devils. 

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Stalwart netminder Jacob Markstrom, rumoured to be a top target for the Devils since before the trade deadline, will now be tending the twine in Newark, with the Flames retaining 31.25 percent of his remaining salary. 

“We just see growth coming,” Conroy replied when asked about Bahl, who is listed at 6-foot-6 and tips the scales at 230 lb. “A big man like this, sometimes it just takes them a little more time, and you’ve seen him continually get better. We think as he gets to 24, 25, 26, 27, you know, on the penalty-kill and be able to play those hard minutes … I see him as a shutdown guy with that size and reach and he’s using his body better as he’s gotten a little older, so I think he’s only going to continue to get better. That’s exciting for us.

“You lose a guy like (Nikita) Zadorov, he’s hard to replace. But we think Kevin is in a similar mould and maybe even ahead at this age.”

Like Zadorov, you say?  

Can we can we call him ‘Big B’?

“Zadorov is a great, great physical defenceman, and he brings some offence too,” Bahl said, embracing this comparison. “So I think that would definitely be a guy that I would look up to. I actually watched a lot of the games from Vancouver (in the playoffs) and learned a lot of things, watching him especially. So that’s definitely a guy I can learn some stuff from, like when to engage more physically, finishing hits at certain moments.”  

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Played all 82 games last season

Bahl must have been feeling like he was blindsided a big hit Wednesday.

But as he digested the change of address, his emotion turned to excitement to “get out there and prove myself.”

He was the only Devils defenceman to dress for all 82 contests during the 2023-24 campaign, something he was deservedly proud of. He finished second on the team in both hits (151) and blocked shots (103) and was a regular on the penalty-kill. He could challenge for a top-four job in Calgary, with Rasmus Andersson and MacKenzie Weegar as the only sure-things for those workhorse roles.

A scout for an Eastern Conference club provided this assessment of Bahl, suggesting he doesn’t have as much of a nasty streak as Zadorov: “Obviously his size, tools and age are the most desirable parts of his game. He moves well, has some transition puck game and length to his defending. Big, but not aggressive or mean. He has a long fuse. Not sure he knows what he is as a player yet.”

Bahl might not dispute that last part, because he’s just establishing his identity as an every-nighter in the best league in the world.

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This was the first winter that he didn’t spend any time in the minors. In parts of four seasons with the Devils, his games-played totals have grown from seven to 17 to 42 to 82.

“I just want to keep on getting better and just strive for excellence,” said Bahl, who arrives with a salary-cap hit of US$1.05 million and is set to become a restricted free agent in 2025. “This is a big summer for me in terms of development, especially after my first real year in the NHL. I learned a lot last year, especially what I can continue to get better at this summer and bring it to the camp next year.

“Physicality is a big thing I want to bring. Reach. Playing a steady, heavy defensive game. Puck-moving … There are a lot of things that I want to work on and want to bring over from last year. I’m just excited, because it’s a new team obviously and a new opportunity. You get to show yourself and just keep getting better and build off what you were doing before. Going into my second full year in the NHL, I just feel like I got so much better last year and the year before and I feel like I can build on that and make a jump forward. That’s what I talk about when I say I’m excited for the opportunity.”

With that comes a chance to build excitement as he introduces himself to the C of Red.

This was Wednesday’s big question in Calgary — did Conroy get enough in return for a proven No. 1 netminder and past Vezina Trophy finalist? 

Bahl is determined to do his part to ensure the answer is ‘Yes.’ The identity of that first-round pick — if the Devils are drafting in the top 10 in 2025, the Flames will have to wait until the following summer — will also be a major factor.

“I’m real excited for the opportunity,” Bahl said. “It’s exciting times for me personally.”

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