Flames training camp preview

By Jared Ramsden

While the rookies already took to the ice late last week, the Calgary Flames main training camp begins Sept. 14 at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

After a fantastic regular season which saw the Flames surpass 100 points and win the Northwest Division crown, the playoffs ended on a sour note as the Flames fell in a hard fought seven-game series in the opening round of the playoffs to the hands of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. As some had predicted, the Flames lack of offense was their undoing as they scored only one goal in the final two games of the series.

This season, it will be quite difficult for any rookies to make a significant impact with the Flames, as the roster does not have many openings other than the seventh defenseman spot. Unless an injury occurs, there is virtually no room among the Flames starting 12 forwards, but there are a few rookies that hope to change that mindset with a strong training camp and preseason.

Arrivals and departures

Over the course of the offseason, the Flames signed a handful of prospects to their first pro contracts including Calgary’s No. 1 prospect at Hockey’s Future, centerDustin Boyd. After a season that saw Boyd finish fourth overall in WHL scoring with 90 points (including 48 goals) and win a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Juniors, Boyd enters training camp in tough battle to win a roster spot on a Flames squad that is deep up front. Arguably the most offensively-talented prospect in the Flames system, Boyd possesses something most Flames prospects do not: a goal scorer’s mentality.

Joining Boyd out of the WHL is center Aki Seitsonen and right winger Adam Cracknell. Seitsonen had a rather pedestrian final season in junior with a Prince Albert squad that struggled often throughout the season. He still managed to pot 20 goals. Cracknell, on the other hand, capped his WHL career off in style finishing second overall in WHL scoring with 42 goals and 51 assists for 93 points with the Kootenay Ice. Though his skating is somewhat suspect, he has shown the ability to put the puck in the net. Both Seitsonen and Cracknell are likely destined for Omaha, as both still need to round out the rough edges in their games.

The Flames also signed a couple of their NCAA prospects, 2005 top pick Kris Chucko and Boston University winger David Van der Gulik to professional contracts. The signing of Chucko came as somewhat of a surprise after only two years of collegiate hockey at the University of Minnesota. He had a disappointing season offensively in 2005-06, scoring only four goals and nine assists in 33 games, but was hampered by injuries to his shoulder and ankle. Chucko is physically ready for the NHL, but could definitely use a year or two of pro seasoning in the AHL with the Knights. Van der Gulik is a little undersized, but showed good offensive ability in his time at BU, but like Chucko will likely need some seasoning in the AHL.

After spending the last couple of seasons in his native Switzerland after a year in the QMJHL, the Flames got defenseman Tim Ramholt under contract and are eager to see him perform at the pro level in North America. Ramholt is a mobile, well-rounded defender who can contribute at both ends of the rink. He will likely have to settle for a regular spot in the AHL with Omaha, as the Flames are loaded on defense, but he definitely has a future in Calgary with the Flames.

A very late addition to the roster was made in early September when the Flames finally were able to sign Russian center Andrei Taratukhinand bring the former 2001 second rounder to North America. The Flames have been trying for the past couple of seasons to get Taratukhin signed, and because of the lack of a transfer agreement with the NHL and Russia, Taratukhin put in his two weeks notice with his Russian club team to get the wheels in motion to get his professional career in North America started. Taratukhin had somewhat of a breakthrough last season with his club team Lokomotiv and also suited up for Russia at the Olympics in February, quite an accomplishment for an NHL prospect.

There were no notable prospect departures from the team.

Available roster spots

As stated, the Flames have accumulated an abundance of depth both at forward and on the blueline, which will make it difficult for many prospects in the system to make a significant impact this season. While the Flames could choose to keep a rookie as an extra forward, whomever that player may be would likely be better served playing regular minutes in the AHL with the Knights.

The most tightly contested battle in camp is likely to be staged between fellow rookie blueliners Mark Giordano and Richie Regehr, both of whom saw a handful of games with the Flames, to win the role of seventh defenseman. They likely won’t be battling on their own, as NHL vet Brad Ference was signed during the summer to also compete for that role. Both have followed similar career paths, as both were undrafted CHL’ers. However, they bring much different games to the table. Giordano, is an offensively gifted and mobile puckmoving defenseman who lead the Knights in scoring with 16 goals and 42 assists with 58 points in 73 games, while Regehr, is a strong, rugged, stay at home type of defender, much like his older brother and Flames defensive lynchpin Robyn. Giordano likely has more long-term upside at this point, but Regehr could easily carve out an NHL career as a role-playing fifth or sixth defender. It’s about 50/50 at this point whom new Flames bench boss Jim Playfair will select for the role.

A couple of former Michigan Wolverines hope to make enough of an impact during camp to crack the Flames roster. On many other teams, Eric Nystromwould likely stand an above average chance of making the opening night line-up. However, this Flames team is so deep up front that Nystrom will have to fight harder than ever to make himself noticed and make the team. Nystrom is not a flashy prospect by any means, but he solidly built at 6’1, 210 lbs, brings a lot of intangible qualities to the table and is sound defensively. Nystrom will likely have to begin the year in Omaha, but should be the first forward on call should injuries strike the big club. His former Wolverine teammate David Moss, coming of a 21-goal, 48-point pro debut in Omaha has come a long way since being selected 220th overall in 2001. Moss, like Nystrom, would likely put up a good fight for an NHL job in another organization, but will likely have to return to Omaha for another year of seasoning in the AHL.

Andrei Taratuhkin could force some line-up shuffling with a strong training camp. Already 23 years of age, and having played in the Russian Super League for the past four seasons, Taratuhkin is much more mature than some of his fellow Flame prospects hoping to make the big club and will likely not need much minor pro seasoning. He’s big, strong and reliable at both ends of the ice. While Flames GM Darryl Sutter has stated that big off-season acquisition Alex Tanguay may line up at center ice, Taratuhkin could keep him on the left side with a strong training camp and preseason and his presence should keep youngsters Matthew Lombardi and Jamie Lundmark on their toes.

Two potential dark horses to watch in camp are left winger Brandon Prust and the previously mentioned Boyd. To this date, Prust has been one of the best performers at the rookie camp and his physical, abrasive and antagonistic style definitely fits the Flames style of play. He’s not afraid to drop the gloves and while he won’t light up the scoresheet, he can chip with the odd goal every now and then. He could very well be Darren McCarty’s replacement in the not too distant future. Boyd has more of an uphill battle to make the roster due the Flames depth at center ice, but as was noted earlier, he brings an element of goal scoring ability to the table and could be given a long look in camp should he perform as the club hopes.

Preseason schedule

Sun. Sept. 17th FLORIDA 6:00 p.m.
Tues. Sept. 19th VANCOUVER 7:00 p.m.
Thu. Sept. 21st EDMONTON 7:00 p.m.
Sat. Sept. 23rd @ Edmonton 8:00 p.m.
Wed. Sept. 27th SAN JOSE 7:00 p.m
Fri. Sept. 29th @ Vancouver 8:00 p.m.
Sat. Sept. 30th @ San Jose 8:30 p.m.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.