The Calgary Flames brass has made it clear for some time now — there will be roster spots up for grabs this season at training camp. One year removed from a roster that was virtually locked down midway through the summer, this new scenario is sure to breathe new life into the many hopeful rookies attending. Players who made their NHL debuts last season, such as Dustin Boyd, Brandon Prust, and Tomi Maki all have legitimate shots to start the season in the NHL. Others have a chance to make their debuts this season in Kris Chucko and David Van der Gulik. The biggest battle though, will be between the pipes, where it’s almost certain one of Brent Krahn or Curtis McElhinney will lock down the backup position behind Mikka Kiprusoff.
Eleven forwards on one-way contracts. The core is certainly set for the Flames, but that leaves two, maybe three spots open for a bevy of prospects looking to make their mark.
David Moss, who was the fifth-rated prospect in the system by HF this fall, was signed to his first one-way deal during the off-season, and is destined for a third or fourth-line role.
Legitimately in the hunt for one of those open spots are no less than seven rookies, some of which moonlighted with the big club last season. First and foremost is top prospect Dustin Boyd. After tying for the Omaha club lead in scoring during his first pro season, Boyd is about as ready as anyone to make the jump. In a 13-game call-up last season, he scored four points and didn’t look out of place. The question on Boyd is whether the Flames want to play him in a fourth-line role, or send him back to the AHL. If he is sent back, he will probably be the first player called up.
More fitting for a possible fourth line role may be one of the long list of "energy players" that frequent the Calgary system. Brandon Prust got into 10 NHL games last season, and could end up being a very effective NHL pest very soon. Having undergone hip surgery in August, Prust may be a little behind in terms of conditioning, but he expects to be ready to go in the preseason.
David Van der Gulik has yet to see NHL ice, but impressed in his first AHL season with Omaha, finishing fourth in team scoring. He’s undersized, but plays an aggressive two-way game. Van der Gulik could get a very long look at camp if he brings the style of game management has come to expect.
It’s certainly a make or break year for rugged Eric Nystrom. The Flames first-round pick in 2002, Nystrom has played just two NHL games (in 2005-06) but has battled shoulder problems ever since. By signing Nystrom to a new deal this off-season, the Flames are confident the injury troubles are behind him. If that’s the case, Nystrom could be the front runner for one of those open forward positions. He has NHL size, skates well, and thinks the game like a pro.
Latest first-round pick Mikael Backlund will be at camp, but will most likely head back to Sweden in 2007-08. Two other long shots include sparkplug Carsen Germyn, who has played four NHL games over the past two seasons, and 2004 first-rounder Kris Chucko. While Chucko is in the long-term plans for the Flames, another year of AHL seasoning will undoubtedly be the best route.
Look for Boyd, Prust, and Nystrom to have a leg-up on the competition, but they’ll have to battle with tough guy Eric Godard and newcomer Grant Stevenson for spots.
The Flames go into camp with a veteran-laden defense corps, and as such, there isn’t much room for rookies to find their way onto the roster come opening night. With the additions of Adrian Aucoin, Corey Sarich, Anders Eriksson, and the re-signing of David Hale, there are seven experienced NHL defensemen under contract. These seven will most likely start the season with the Flames, barring a trade or injury.
But if health problems continue to plague Rhett Warrener, or consensus No. 7 David Hale disappoints early, Calgary could give a shot to one of their youngsters. The front-runner for that position was slated to be Mark Giordano. The 24-year-old rookie made big strides last season, playing 48 games and registering 15 points. However, he, like Taratukhin, balked at the possibility of playing in the AHL, and surprised by signing in Russia. Beyond Giordano, the list of rearguards ready to make the jump is thin.
Swiss blue-liner Tim Ramholt may be the most intriguing of the group, but after just one season in the North American pro ranks, he still has plenty of work ahead of him. Management will keep close tabs on Ramholt throughout training camp, and if he impresses, he may see some time with the club should the injury bug hit.
The rest of the rookie defense corps are all young and inexperienced, and first need to cut their teeth at the AHL level. Gord Baldwin, Matt Pelech, Brett Palin, and the newly-signed Brad Cole will hopefully take the training camp and preseason experiences and run with them in 2007-08.
With a backup spot up for grabs, this race will be the most interesting to watch throughout camp and the NHL pre-season. Brent Krahn, Calgary’s first round pick in 2000, is entering his eighth Flames camp, and finally has a true opportunity to claim the backup role. However, there was more bad news for Krahn at the outset of camp, as he suffered yet another knee injury, a problem that has plagued him over the course of his pro career. The early prognosis for his return was about ten days, so while again behind the eight ball, Krahn could still state his case with a strong preseason. If not, it may have been his last chance to stake out a role in the organization.
Suddenly the leading candidate for the backup gig is 24-year-old Curtis McElhinney. The Flames sixth-round pick in 2002, McElhinney was an AHL all-star in 2006-07, registering 35 wins, seven shutouts, and a goals against of 2.13. A Colorado college alumnus, he moved past Krahn into the starter’s role in Omaha last season, but that won’t matter if he is outplayed on the biggest stage. At times, the battle for the backup role was said to be 50/50. With this latest setback to Krahn, peg McElhinney as a 60-40 favorite.
Also looking to impress at camp will be WHL standout Matt Keetley, who won a league championship with Medicine Hat in 2006-07, and Kevin Lalande, a veteran of the OHL‘s Belleville Bulls. One of these two will start the season with Quad City in the AHL. 2006 first-round pick Leland Irving will also be in camp, and while tagged as the goaltender of the future, he will head back to the Everett Silvertips of the WHL for another season.
Flames preseason schedule
SEPT 16 vs. Florida Panthers (home)
SEPT 18 vs. Florida Panthers (Saskatoon, SK.)
SEPT 19 vs. Vancouver Canucks (road)
SEPT 22 vs. Edmonton Oilers (home)
SEPT 25 vs. San Jose Sharks (home)
SEPT 26 vs. Edmonton Oilers (road)
SEPT 28 vs. Vancouver Canucks (home)
SEPT 29 vs. San Jose Sharks (road)
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