Dean McAmmond topping the Calgary Flames depth charts at left wing once again.
Oleg Saprykin shooting up to second on the portside.
Early last season, neither scenario seemed very likely – especially after Saprykin bolted from Saint John due to unhappiness with his direction in the organization. But after a successful stint in Calgary in December, he was with the big club to stay. His efforts earned him a one-way contract this summer.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the 2003-04 edition of the Flames' left wing depth chart is the turnover in the bottom half. Gone from past years are the likes of Jamie Wright, Ronald Petrovicky, Mathias Johansson, Dave Lowry and Jeff Cowan.
The club seems to be moving more towards a quality-over-quantity approach, with Josh Green and enforcer Krzysztof Oliwa penciled in to share fourth-line duties. Robert Dome will also be on stand-by in Lowell as a short-term replacement in case of an injury on one of the top two lines.
The following is a synopsis of each player and reasoning for their placing on the depth chart:
McAmmond – Back at the top of the depth chart despite his absence last season. By virtue of his established chemistry with Conroy and Iginla he'll at least get the opportunity to reclaim some of that magic but could be toppled by Saprykin or Gelinas if he falters. Despite being the top left winger on the team, he may find himself playing with Steve Reinprecht anyway to try and avoid putting Saprykin and Kobasew on the same line. McAmmond did seem to click with Reinprecht in Colorado last year so maybe it's something Sutter should try anyway.
Saprykin – He's been up and down like a Yo-Yo on the depth chart the past few seasons. Before the start of 2001-02, Calgarypuck writers placed him either first or second on the depth chart, but prior to 2002-03 he was rated sixth or seventh by the resident scribes. Saprykin's performance plummeted two years ago to the point where a number of Flames fans were writing him off as the next Jesper Mattsson but his recovery last season was a pleasant surprise. Even nicer would be to see him progress even further in 2003-04.
Gelinas – Martin Gelinas as a third-line winger is perhaps the best possible situation for the Flames. He showed last year that he can play effectively on the top line with Conroy and Iginla but can also play equally as effectively on the checking line with Yelle. He'll likely end up logging plenty of minutes either on the third line or higher up, depending if McAmmond or Saprykin struggles.
Green – Brings an element to the Flames that has been non-existent in recent seasons. Green's size and skating ability will be a welcome addition to the club's fourth line.
Oliwa – Laraque, Johnson, Worrell and Langdon. Four reasons why the Flames felt the need to acquire an enforcer who could intimidate the opposition. Oliwa will not play every game but rest assured barring injury he'll be in the line-up every time Calgary squares off against a Northwest Division opponent. He needs to work on his consistency which is why he'll generally see limited action and won't draw into every game.
Dome – Did all that was asked of him last season in Saint John, as he led the team in scoring (27 goals, 56 points) despite only playing in 56 games. Dome's biggest weakness is that he can sometimes play a one-dimensional game but he seemed to rise above adversity last season and finished up with a strong campaign. Due to the AHL's veteran rule where only six players with 260 or more games of professional experience can suit up per team in a game, Dome was a healthy scratch a number of times. If he has a strong camp, he should be the first call-up from Lowell any time an injury occurs to the forward ranks.
Sonnenberg – Has to be classified as a disappointing signing by Craig Button last summer. The expectations were never particularly high for Martin Sonnenberg in terms of NHL aspirations, but the thought was he would help stabilize an inexperienced Saint John squad and perhaps be able to help out Calgary for a handful of games. Sonnenberg took up one of the six coveted "veteran" spaces on the Baby Flames' roster but rarely played up to that expectation. With Dome also a veteran, it's likely Sonnenberg gets loaned to another AHL team instead of going to Lowell.
Spence – Played in Johnstown since 1999-00 with the occasional call-up to Saint John. He took part in 35 games with the Baby Flames last season, racking up 104 penalty minutes. Spence would be hard-pressed to ever see any playing time in Calgary but Lowell will probably be a long shot for him as well. The biggest weakness in his game is his skating but for an enforcer he doesn't fight all that well either.