Flames value MacKenzie Weegar’s versatility on blue line

Flames value MacKenzie Weegar’s versatility on blue line

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LOS ANGELES — MacKenzie Weegar isn’t going to argue with the boss.

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Weegar’s versatility was so important to the Calgary Flames. Offseason trade acquisition is comfortable — and capable — on either the right or left side of a defensive pair, a flexibility Darryl Sutter likens to being able to switch back and forth between second base and shortstop.

“I guess that would be a good analogy,” Weegar said, nodding in agreement.

He pauses for a moment and then smiles.

“But to be honest, I don’t know much about baseball. So I wouldn’t know the biggest difference between a shortstop and a second baseman.

Sutter is a huge baseball fan, and he seems to think that right-handed Weegar would make a great useful infielder.

That is a compliment.

In a perfect world, the Flames coach would like his blue-line brigade to be evenly split, but he’s only decked two left-handers in defense most nights this season.

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MacKenzie Weegar throws his weight around on Nov. 14 against the LA Kings.
MacKenzie Weegar throws his weight around on Nov. 14 against the LA Kings. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

If that’s the case, Weegar will end up spending a lot of time on his backhand.

While Chris Tanev was injured, the 28-year-old was back to his natural side partnering Nikita Zadorov. When Tanev returned to action in San Jose on Tuesday, No. 52 was back working on the left flank.

“It’s like guys playing their off-wing. Some guys can, some can’t,” said Sutter, whose side continued a four-game road trip with late Thursday’s deadline against the Kings in Los Angeles. “It’s really hard. The biggest difference? It’s not about handling the puck or anything like that, and MacKenzie is really good at that. It’s just how you see your reads and your coverage, things like that. The best way to do it It’s easy to think of a second baseman or shortstop, the difference in that. It’s a completely different look, isn’t it?”

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Why is Weegar one of those guys who can make it?

“Because he has a really good head for the game, he’s a really good competitor and I think he’s a really good partner,” Sutter said. “So if he has the right partner … he and Tanny are a really good match because their hockey IQ is so good.”

Weegar has done this side-to-side shuffling throughout his big league career.

When he first tried to land a job with the Florida Panthers, they had a number of reliable righties.

“If I wanted to stay in the NHL, I had to play well at left flank,” he shrugged. “That’s how it was or watch from the stands.”

He eventually emerged as the top pairing guy in the Sunshine State and proved to be a good complement to his close friend Aaron Ekblad. Both have the same bend on their staff blades.

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“If Ekky was out, I would jump right with (Gustav) Forsling. And when Ekky was back, I went left again,” Weegar said. “That’s how I’ve done it in the past and it’s no different here. You just adapt. Two definitely different playstyles between Z and Tanny, but two great partners. And I just try to be a good partner to both of them.”

When the Flames landed Weegar in this summer blockbuster, his versatility was a big part of the appeal.

While acknowledging that “the vision on the left is very different than on the right,” he emphasized that other key components of his work — gap control, communication, etc. — remain the same.

Switching from one side to the other, he stressed, is not a big problem.

His Blue Line buddies don’t necessarily agree.

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“It’s not easy to play offside. You are put in positions that you are not comfortable in,” Tanev said. “I mean he’s done it for a lot of his career, which helps. The more you do it, the better you’ll be at it. If you haven’t in a while, it’s almost like you’re playing a different position.

“I mean, you basically do everything from the other side. So going back and forth and playing at a high level like he does is very impressive. He obviously brings a lot to our team and helps us in many ways.”

“It’s not easy – especially for a right-handed player. Growing up, there were always more lefties than righties, so you played your strong side 99 percent,” added Rasmus Andersson, a workhorse at the top of half the Flames’ defensive depth list. “But he’s such a smart player so he has no problem figuring it out. You have to have the brains and the vision, and obviously he has. He was really good for us.”

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