Camp Numbers Dwindle Who’s Left?

September 28th, 2010 | Posted in Commentary
By: D'Arcy McGrath

Three years ago John Armstrong surprised many by hanging on to the bitter end at a Calgary Flames camp, essentially being the last sent down to the Flames AHL affiliate.

His career was made right? Last cut at a NHL camp had to mean nothing but an easy choice to crack the roster the very next season if not by Christmas. Yet that wasn’t the way it worked out. The player is still on the horizon, but injuries and roster changes have altered his path to the Flames third line.

Every camp has twists and turns, surprise cuts, and players that hang around longer than anyone would have expected; the 2010 camp is no different.

Goaltenders

Players Still in the Mix: Henrik Karlsson, Leland Irving
Farmed Out: Matt Keetley

Should one make something out of Leland Irving’s getting to stay in Calgary while Matt Keetley was farmed out yesterday? The camp has long been set as Henrik Karlsson’s NHL coming out party with very little chance of either Calgary youngster backing up Miikka Kiprusoff; and that is clearly still the case. Probably boils down to the fact that Keetley has played 40 minutes of preseason action to Irving’s 20, something likely to be rectified as early as tonight.

Prediction: Irving plays 20 more minutes and joins his buddy in Abbotsford.

Defensemen

Players Still in the Mix: Staffan Kronwall, T.J. Brodie, Matt Pelech
Farmed Out: John Negrin, Keith Seabrook

The defense corps set up as an interesting battle heading into camp with eight veterans on one way contracts and an expected push from prospect Matt Pelech.

With only a few flips of the calendar left in September, the Flames sit in a situation that is a lot more interesting than anyone would have guessed.

The eight vets are still in Calgary, including Swede Staffan Kronwall who is destined for Abbotsford should they fail to find him a home in Europe, but it’s been the continual advancement of puck rusher T.J. Brodie that has headlines for Flames camp. Brodie was a standout at the prospect camp in Penticton; his play dictating some preseason action in Calgary on merit. What he’s done with said honour badge has been a little surprising however. Kudos for a great effort in a split squad game in Vancouver from Coach Sutter, the 20 year old Barrie Colt graduate got into a home game against Tampa on Saturday night and didn’t look out of place against Tampa’s top six. To drive that point home he scored twice in the first period to pace the experience starved roster. Now the Flames are whispering comparables like Duncan Keith, and fans are screaming for the youngster to make the team ahead of slower footed vets.

Matt Pelech’s camp has been steady, but the player has been fighting a minor injury, limiting him to only one appearance and 13 minutes of ice time. The fact that he didn’t have to attend the prospect camp and subsequent tournament may have hurt him, with Brodie grabbing the limelight.

Side notes had John Negrin unable to put a strong foot forward in this camp because of his recovery from injuries sustained last season; he’s already been assigned. Gord Baldwin was a quiet surprise in lasting in camp longer than many would have projected.

What does it mean?

Kronwall will go down, meaning Pelech and Brodie are essentially defensemen eight and nine in the mix of what could turn into eight jobs to start the season. Injuries up front may give Darryl Sutter more time to work potential deals in an attempt to clear space should he want to go with two youngsters at the NHL level. A betting man would suggest they will consider it too dangerous to risk Pelech clearing waivers , but Brodie will start his pro career in the minors. However, should Brodie continue to adapt to NHL speed and look the part of a veteran it will get more and more intriguing into October.

Prediction: Brodie assigned, Pelech retained, Steve Staios traded to the Islanders for a 5th round pick, and Calgarypuck tests Ivrnet’s server capabilities.

Forwards

Players Still in the Mix: John Armstrong, Cam Cunning, Stefan Meyer, Greg Nemisz, Jon Rheault, Brett Sutter
Farmed Out: Mitch Wahl, Kris Chucko, Lance Bouma

Injuries up front have thrown all assumptions and logic out the window in this camp, as bubble players have become 2nd line players, and so on trickling through the roster. The camp set up as a potential coming out party for Mikael Backlund, and perhaps the end of the road for veteran Craig Conroy. However injuries to Daymond Langkow and Matt Stajan have moved both up the roster, plus converted winger David Moss into a center. Additional nagging injuries to Niklas Hagman and Rene Bourque have further clouded the issue as the group pushes into October.

John Armstrong took a puck in the eye and has missed key time in his bid to make the club, and is joined by some surprise forwards that are still with the team.

Energy players Cam Cunning and Stefan Meyer have not looked out of place as bottom roster players and are getting a longer look than many would have expected. Jon Rheault took a scene stealing turn for the farm club in the playoffs last spring and has turned that into a solid prospect tournament and more time in Calgary. Brett Sutter was always expected to be in the mix and has done nothing to hurt those chances, but clearly hasn’t stood out enough to make his fate in Calgary clear cut.

Players that have already been assigned, perhaps a little earlier than I would have expected include 2nd round pick Mitch Wahl and former Vancouver Giant captain Lance Bouma. Wahl was the team’s best forward in Penticton and put up two assists in his only preseason game in Vancouver. He showed some solid poise and the ability to play with NHL players in preseason games. Bouma is all try all the time and brings some of the sandpaper the Flames need in the bottom half of their roster; I thought he’d get a longer look with the likes of Conroy and Sutter for potential fourth line deployment.

Another minor surprise in camp is the prolonged stay of first round pick Greg Nemisz. A solid up and down player that does many of the “little things” very well, Nemisz doesn’t stand out to the average, and likely even above average hockey fan. Yet here he is late in September with other players in a similar situation already sent to Abbotsford. He’s not making the Flames this season, but Brent Sutter must like what he sees, or think a longer NHL exposure is a better springboard to his first AHL season.

Prediction: Both Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay are waived, then bought out. Got your attention? But seriously John Armstrong is assigned when he’s healthy along with Meyer, Nemisz, Cunning and Rheault leaving Backlund and Sutter to start the season in Calgary (13 healthy forwards). If another injury (Bourque) necessitates an additional player look for Stefan Meyer to start the season in the Jason Jaffray role.

Prospect Summary

It’s always interesting to have a look at past drafts when discussions like the one above are tossed around at training camps. Who are these players? Where are they in development and how has the team done at the draft table?

All the players mentioned above have come out of four entry drafts encompassing the years 2005 through 2008.

The 2005 draft has Pelech looking to stay with the big club along with Sutter and both Gord Baldwin and Matt Keetley hung around longer than I expected; ending yesterday.

The 2006 draft has Irving still in town along with the injured John Armstrong; the most inferior of the four draft classes in representation.

2007′s Mikael Backlund is a sure thing to make the big club and could someday be joined by John Negrin on the roster.

But it’s 2008 and T.J. Brodie’s emergence that has tongues flapping in Calgary. Brodie, a fourth rounder is joined by Wahl, Nemisz and Bouma as players that I felt worth mentioning, plus Ryley Grantham as a potential scrapper.

Could 2008 rival 1981 and 1984 in Flames history? We may start finding out in the next week to ten days.


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