Justin Kirkland, along with his better-half Madison, moved to Calgary mid-summer so he could train with the Flames’ strength and conditioning coaches.
They’d love to make this a more permanent home, and they’re going to get that chance.
Kirkland, a 24-year-old forward, re-upped Monday with the Flames, scribbling his signature on another one-year, two-way contract after spending all of last winter with the farm team in Stockton, Calif.
“At the end of the season, I kind of poked around the idea with them — ‘If I was to come to Calgary, could I get in there and train with those guys?’ ” said Kirkland, who was set to become a restricted free agent. “Obviously, not having a contract, it was maybe a bit of a tougher question. But they, right from Day 1, said that I’m more than welcome to be there and train.
“So for us, it was kind of a no-brainer to come here and get in front of as many eyes as I can. And now, I’m excited to just put all my attention into training and make a push.”
Kirkland initially signed with the Flames organization last July and toiled during the truncated season with the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat, totalling six goals, 22 assists and 44 penalty minutes in 53 appearances.
Over the past while, the up-and-comer from Camrose, Alta., has been hanging around with the likes of Mark Giordano, Milan Lucic and Dillon Dube — his junior teammate and roommate with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets and still a close pal — for regular sweats at the Saddledome.
“For me, to have the opportunity to train and skate with some of the guys on the Flames, I don’t think there is a better spot for me to be,” Kirkland said. “When you see those guys in there working, you have to work twice as hard to try to earn a spot.”
Because the end goal, of course, is to join those gents on the big-league roster.
Kirkland has so far logged 251 games in the minors and although he has yet to skate at hockey’s highest level, he is an intriguing depth piece thanks to his size — the left-hander is listed at 6-foot-3 and 203 lb. — and a dangerous shot.
“Personally, I feel like I’m ready,” Kirkland said. “I’m hoping to get my feet wet this year, work to get my first call-up and obviously try to make an impact if that does happen. Being a big body that can play centre or wing, I feel like that can help a team. It seems like everybody is looking for a big centreman. So I’m excited to be back for another year.
“Now, it’s nice to just solely focus on being ready for training camp, whenever that may be, and coming in and trying to make a name for myself.”
Ah yes, whenever that may be.
As the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs wrap up, there remains uncertainty about when official preparations will begin for the 2020-21 campaign and whether the AHL will start up around the same time.
“I’ve talked about that with my wife and parents a lot — just that uncertainty and just how it affects normal things, like how long are you going to have a lease for while you’re renting here?” Kirkland said. “Yeah, there’s a lot of uncertainty. But at the end of the day, there are a lot of people in a lot worse situations than we are. We’re definitely the fortunate ones.
“To secure this deal, with all the uncertainty, was just a huge relief. Not knowing when the season is starting, not knowing what is going on with the American League, everything like that, at least now I know that I’m going to be with this organization for another year. That took a big concern out of the picture.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be back for another year.”
ICE CHIPS : The Flames have assigned forward prospect Dmitry Zavgorodniy to SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. Zavgorodniy, 20, piled up 67 points in just 40 outings this past season with the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic.
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