Northwest: Baertschi making the most of his NHL debut

By Blake Benzel

Photo: The Calgary Flames top pick at last year’s NHL Draft, Sven Baertschi, has made a favorable impression in his NHL debut (courtesy of Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

The plan for Sven Baertschi was always to have him play in the NHL – just not until next season, at the earliest.

Thanks to a rash of injuries throughout the Flames’ organization, however, the timetable for Baertschi’s NHL debut was moved up slightly.

For sure, it’s a surprise,” the 19-year-old Swiss winger told reporters after his first practice with the Flames. “It’s a dream. Since I got the call, it’s just empty in my head.”

On an emergency recall from his WHL organization, the Portland Winterhawks, Baertschi has played two games for the Flames and has looked surprisingly at home in a Flames jersey, logging 32 shifts over his first two games and scoring his first NHL goal in Calgary’s 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.

Well, it felt awesome,” he told reporters after the game. “Some guys take longer, some guys not…It’s a great feeling to get that out of the way and keep moving forward.”

Baertschi’s successes haven’t been limited to the goal column, however, and that is giving hope to an aging organization whose prospect pool has been quite shallow over the past few seasons.

After losing Tim Erixon to the New York Rangers in a trade and a less than stellar start to the NHL career of Mikael Backlund, the Flames’ organization has been in desperate need of a prospect to come in and impress – and that’s exactly what the diminutive winger has done.

Showing great hockey sense and a surprising level of grit for a player his size, Baertschi has carved himself a place within the Flames’ locker room in just a couple games and, as many young players can attest, that’s an achievement in and of itself. What’s more is that Baertschi is showing a great deal of humility over the process – something that will likely endear him to his teammates even more during his stint with the team this season.

With the amount of hype surrounding his debut up in Calgary, it would be easy for Baertschi to get some misconceptions about the time he is spending with the Flames this season, or even about his role on the team. He got the call for the NHL in the midst of a tremendous season in the WHL – Baertschi has 33 goals and 94 points in just 47 games for the Winterhawks this season – and he’s coming to an aging team in the midst of an intense playoff push. The fact that he was the one to get the nod could have given him an inflated sense of importance.

For Baertschi, however, he recognizes that his situation this season is fairly unique.

I live day-by-day here,” he told the Calgary Sun. “I can’t tell if I’m going to play tomorrow or if I’m flying home tomorrow. It’s all about the guys in there. If two forwards come back from injuries, it means I have to leave.”

One thing is for sure, though – however limited Baertschi’s time with the Flames might be, he’s making the best of it and making an impression on the organization and its fans, both on and off the ice.

Northwest Division Notes

Flames rookie defenseman, T.J. Brodie, has been listed as day-to-day with an “upper-body injury.” There is no timetable set for his return as of yet. … Avalanche rookie forward, Gabriel Landeskog, is battling flu-like symptoms, but doesn’t appear in jeopardy of missing any games. Landeskog overcame the symptoms to score the game-winner in Colorado’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday. … Despite the Minnesota Wild’s dismal season, head coach Mike Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher are not on the hot seat – at least, not yet. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the organization feels confident about their ability to contend in the West when healthy, meaning that Yeo and Fletcher are not likely to be replaced anytime soon.