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Looks good on paper, but can Flames deliver on the ice?

With the better parts of three lines in place, plus what is projected to be one of the top defensive corps in the National Hockey League, the Calgary Flames could really hit the ground running when the 2017-18 campaign kicks off.

Could, of course, is the key word.

This is the time of the year where everything looks perfect on paper, but ask head coach Glen Gulutzan in two months if it was beneficial to have some of their key pieces already drawn on their whiteboard.

“No question, compared to a year ago, we feel we’re settled and a lot of things are established here,” Gulutzan said. “The foundation is established. A culture. A level of play. I know we’re ahead from a year ago.”

While there were some jumbling of the lines in Monday’s preseason opener against the Oilers (both in Edmonton and Calgary), the Flames have been fairly vocal about keeping some of the same faces together.

To start the season, at least.

First off, the top line will begin with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland. Then, the second line is the trio of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, a wildly successful group who was one of the most consistent point-producing lines last season.

The third line could see Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett paired together again, most realistically with Troy Brouwer unless Spencer Foo, Curtis Lazar or Emile Poirier do some amazing things in the pre-season. To start the season, you can use a Sharpie to mark down Matt Stajan (read: to start the season) but a strong training camp from Mark Jankowski could change things too.

After acquiring Travis Hamonic this off-season, Calgary’s defence has been trumpeted as one of the NHL’s best — again, on paper. When they were finally put together last November, Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton built a consistent sense of chemistry and TJ Brodie should start with Hamonic, leaving the battle open on defence to earn a spot next to Michael Stone.

Right now, though…

“This pre-season for us, it’ll be about giving quality looks to some rookies we feel are really close to playing for us,” Gulutzan said. “But, later on in the last few games, it’ll be about getting ready for the season and play who we’re going to be playing. You might see some lines that are mixed up in the next day or two.

“But by the end, by the last two or three games, you’re not going to see much mix and matching.”

Remember, it’s still September.

Call them in January.

“One loss, one win and it’s a totally new lineup,” Backlund acknowledged. “If we go on a good streak, you might play with someone else. We’ll see what happens during camp but we had a good year together last year and we’ll get a crack at starting together again. But you never know what’s going to happen.

“It’s a whole new year this year. We’ve gotta prove ourselves again and find a way to play good.”

At least, a few pieces of the puzzle are in place. At this time a year ago, Backlund and Frolik were at the World Cup of Hockey, the Flames were dealing with a hurt Monahan, they weren’t sure if Tkachuk was even going to play in the NHL while general manager Brad Treliving was busy working with Gaudreau’s agent Lewis Gross to try and negotiate a deal.

“We had guys hurt, guys at the World Cup, guys that signed late, Steeger (Kris Versteeg) came the day before,” Backlund said. “It was a little bit over the map but hopefully it’s a bit more structured.

“Other guys that have played together will hopefully have a healthy camp. Stuff like that will hopefully help us have a better start.”

On top of it all, Gulutzan and his partners Paul Jerrard and Dave Cameron were busy trying to install his new systems as a first-year head coach.

This year, all players are present and healthy — and know the way things are done around the Scotiabank Saddledome.

“The expectations are already there,” Gulutzan said. “From all sides, it’s a lot easier this season. We found some good chemistry with Dougie and Gio, Backlund’s line, Ferly … we found some chemistry last year but we’re not going to try and re-invent anything right now.”

kodland@postmedia.com

Twitter/Kristen_Odland

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