Flames Positional Analysis: Left Wing
Calgarypuck.com takes a look at the wings.

Calgarypuck.com Staff

September 4, 2001

Training camp varies in intrigue from season to season.

Some camps feature numerous individual battles for spots, and a roster largely up in the air until late September. In other years the team appears to be pretty much set, with camp more an exercise in finding a team's rhythm.

Camp for the Flames in 2001 will be a meet and greet with as many as six new faces expected to be in the lineup on opening night against the Oilers.

With training camp around the corner, Calgarypuck takes a look at the Calgary Flames, position by position.

Power Outage

By Aaron McCracken

As a team, the Flames have a young, talented defense corps and four very competent centers. With the addition of Roman Turek, the team has the makings of one of the better defensive teams in hockey. However as most critics are quick to point out, scoring is a big issue for this team, especially on the left wing.

The Flames have five NHL-caliber left wingers ranging in age from 20 to 36 years old, plus a couple of guys on the farm that have seen limited NHL action. While depth isn't an issue, Greg Gilbert will have a tough decision to make when he fills out his line-up card each night. Someone has got to flank the top line alongside Marc Savard and Jarome Iginla, and that job is still wide open.

Statistics won't help Gilbert much in his decision. The two players that did manage double-digits in goals last year (McAmmond and Lowry) are experienced checking line players. The two players with the greatest offensive potential (Saprykin and Petrovicky) managed a combined 13 goals last season and have 83 games of NHL experience to their credit. The other main candidate, Jeff Cowan, has some fairly impressive numbers in his limited NHL experience, but he could never manage more than 15 goals in an AHL season.

Barring an unforeseen trade, these five players, along with a couple of darkhorses, will compete not only for roster spots but also for positioning on the depth chart. When the puck drops on October 3rd, I expect that Ronald Petrovicky to win the job as the starting left-winger.

Petrovicky has 30 games of NHL experience, but his biggest moment as a Flame may have come before he even played a NHL game. The feisty Slovak scored a unanimous decision over then Oiler captain Doug Weight in a pre-season game. Although Petrovicky was injured for the first half of the season, he did see some time on the first line after his return and seemed to fit in well. While 'Petro' does not yet have first line numbers, he's a good skater and works the boards very well. If he stays healthy, he has the potential to be a 50 point NHL player, which is a nice bonus from a 9th round pick.

Oleg Saprykin will look to improve upon an up & down rookie season. The Flames expect the 20-year-old to be first line material, but he still is learning the NHL game and could probably benefit from a season in the AHL. However barring a major training camp collapse, he should be number two on the depth chart come opening day. If Oleg can live up to expectations, he should be the team's best left-winger in 2002-03.

Veteran Dave Lowry was a major surprise last year with an 18 goal, 35-point season. It will be tough for the aging Lowry to repeat that performance this season, but the Flames would be content with a 12 to 15 goal effort combined with his solid leadership. Right now, he's third on the depth chart, but this may drop as the season progresses.

Dean McAmmond is 4th on the depth chart, but he's likely to see time on several lines this year. The eight-year veteran has six consecutive 10-goal seasons, and was once a 50-point player with the Oilers.

Jeff Cowan has worked his way to Calgary from the ECHL. While he's not known as a scorer, he does have 13 career NHL goals in 64 games. Cowan is one of those bubble players that may or may not be protected during the waiver draft, so training camp will be very important in determining his role on the team.

Two players that will also be interesting to watch in training camp are Ryan Christie and Miika Elomo. Christie was signed from the Dallas organization after back-to-back 20 goal seasons in the IHL. He's put on close to 30 pounds since turning pro, and if he can light the lamp in preseason, the Flames might give him a chance in the NHL. Elomo is coming off a disappointing season in the AHL and recently signed a contract in his native Finland. It is rumoured that he is giving the NHL one last shot this September.

Jamie Wright is the only other minor leaguer with NHL experience. The 25 year-old has 57 games of experience with Dallas, and he could see time if the Flames need help on the checking line. Blair Stayzer should also be in Saint John this season, but after struggling in the ECHL last year, he's a non-factor at this point.

Depth Chart

  1. Petrovicky
  2. Saprykin
  3. Lowry
  4. McAmmond
  5. Cowan
  6. Christie
  7. Wright
  8. Elomo
  9. Maki
  10. Moen
  11. Stayzer
  12. Moss

Organizational Grade: C

It's not a bad group of players, but considering that the five NHL incumbents had a combined 51 goals last season, there is a lot of room for improvement. On a better team, none of these players would be more than a 3rd liner right now. For the Flames to make the playoffs, they need career years from each player and a combined 65-70 goals.

Portside Blues

By D'Arcy McGrath

In order to get you need to give.

Nothing could be more obvious when glancing at the Calgary Flames roster for the 2001-02 season.

In order to add strength down the middle and an upgrade in goal the Flames had to make some sacrifices. Nowhere are those sacrifices more obvious than on the wings.

Without big years from Roman Turek, and the group patrolling center ice the Flames are in some serious trouble. However, if some unexpected offence can't be found on the Flames will be in tough to find enough goals to compete.

The Big Club

The left side of the Flames forward brigade consists of two polar degrees of experience. There are five players expecting to see ice in Calgary this season, two veterans, and three very young first or second year professionals.

Oleg Saprykin - Oleg Saprykin sits at the top of the depth chart on the left side more due to his potential impact this season than his overall game. Players like Dave Lowry and Dean McAmmond will be more consistent, and efficient in their own zone, but the offensive upside in Saprykin could explode as early as this season. Last season, Saprykin looked ready in the preseason. He went to the net, found rebounds, and showed a "shades of Niewendyk" ability to deflect pucks past startled goaltenders. When the real season started he had trouble in traffic with his slight playing weight. He'll need to get stronger to take that next step.

Dean McAmmond - Craig Button made some very splashy moves at this summer's NHL entry draft. Lost in the dry ice and smoke was a deft acquisition of a quality third-line winger, Dean McAmmond. Blessed with the gift of speed, there were high hopes that McAmmond could become an impact player when he was drafted by Chicago in the first round of the 1991 draft. Ten years later he's settled into a checking role, using his high end speed to get on the opposition, but still chip in with 10 to 15 goals a season. He may not have the production of a Saprykin or even possibly a Ron Petrovicky this season, but McAmmond will likely play a key role on the team's checking line along side Craig Conroy.

Dave Lowry - Dave Lowry was added to the fold last August, signing a free agent contract with the Flames. Few would have predicted that such an insignificant signing would have such a measurable effect on the team. Lowry finished up fifth on the team with goals last year with 18, and took over the mantle of captain after Steve Smith was forced to retire. Another year older, Lowry shouldn't be expected to come close to 20 again this season, as his ice time will likely be cut into by McAmmond and Petrovicky, but he's still a key player on both sides of the puck.

Ron Petrovicky - Few players in the Flame's organization have seen their stock soar as quickly as Ron Petrovicky's has in the last 12 months. The young Slovak agitator leapt up the depth chart to make the Flames out of camp last October. Unfortunately he was injured in his first NHL game and missed half the schedule before joining the team for the last few months of the season. Petrovicky is an agitator and a corner man, but with surprisingly agile hands. These hands hold a question mark as to his development this season, and for future seasons down the road. He could play a first or second line role with the Flames this season.

Jeff Cowan - Jeff Cowan has good size, is a decent skater and holds an uncanny ability to undress NHL defencemen for highlight reel goals. That's when he's on. When he's off he's practically invisible, leaving the coaching staff scratching their collective heads. The team needs offence from unlikely sources, and players like Jeff Cowan could literally seize the opportunity and make a career for themselves in a season such as this.

On the Farm

Like most of the team's development system, the left side has seen some rather abrupt changes over the past summer.

Saint John regulars like Sergei Varlamov and Dave Roche have been replaced by new free agent signings like Ryan Christie and Jamie Wright.

Wright and Christie are the two farmhands most likely to see time in Calgary this fall, as both have produced at the pro level in their previous stops.

Christie is only 23 years old, and is coming off of back to back twenty plus goal seasons in the IHL, with in the Dallas Stars organization.

Jamie Wright, 25, also former Dallas property, had similar numbers last year as Christie's teammate.

Both players are very familiar with the Saint John Flames' coach, Jim Playfair as he too is a Star refugee.

Depth Chart

  1. Saprykin
  2. McAmmond
  3. Lowry
  4. Petrovicky
  5. Cowan
  6. Christie
  7. Wright
  8. Elomo
  9. Maki
  10. Moen
  11. Stayzer
  12. Moss

Organizational Grade: C-

The left side holds some promise, and some experience, but as a group it shapes up to a huge void in the Flames' roster. There are no bankable stars, and with that many a question mark when it comes to production. One of Oleg Saprykin or Ron Petrovicky need to establish themselves.

Diapers and Fossils

By Rick Charlton

On a team littered with question marks, left wing may turn into a veritable black hole of worry for coach Greg Gilbert. 

Without converting a natural centre and a right winger, both barely out of diapers, it would be easy to give the Flames an unqualified F for their offerings at left wing. As it is, the Flames are hoping Ronald Petrovicky and Oleg Saprykin, relative babes in the woods, can give the team some offensive strength on the port side, overcoming their relative inexperience with numbers beyond their years. 

As my ancient yet wizened mentor once reminded me many years ago - "Remember kid, you'll starve to death waiting for potential." 

Let's face it - on a team that has moved from waiting for the future to the ferocious demands of the present, placing the top two left wing spots in the hands of a pair of wannabe's is risky business at best. 

It figures that Ronald Petrovicky, spelled on occasion by Dave Lowry, will get a chance to fill the first line left wing role with Marc Savard and Jarome Iginla. The Slovak has two things going for him that even his critics shouldn't doubt - moxie and more than a modicum of skill. Only injuries last year prevented Petrovicky from racking up yet another 100+ penalty minute season, breaking a streak that stretches well back into his junior career. He's also been a fair scorer at every level he's played at, hinting he should be able to keep up with his high rent linemates. On the downside are his limited experience and the fact that ninth round draft picks have usually disappeared into the Colonial League by now. If he makes it, he will have defied the odds in a big way. 

Saprykin comes from the relative other side of the tracks, a high-end draft pick just coming out of diapers, a boy playing among men last year and showing it at times with his being ritually flattened in front of the opposition net on nearly every shift. Like Petrovicky, however, Saprykin is a gamer and freed of the negative influence of moody Val Bure the talented Russian will be given every opportunity to prove himself an asset to this club on a line with Rob Niedermayer and newcomer Jukka Hentunen. At only 20 years of age,  there are some out there who suspect a half season in the minors might be equally beneficial to his development. The desperation of the Flames, however, is such that Saprykin will have to play himself out of this lineup in order for that to happen. 

Although Dean McAmmond figures to get some ice time periodically on the top two lines, probably later in games, a pairing with third line checking centre Conroy is his likely destination. McAmmond has never lived up to the offensive billing he earned in junior but, as he approaches the mid-point in his career, is settling into the role of capable third-liner and a quality penalty killer. If used in that context, the Flames with McAmmond, Conroy and likely Chris Clark, can put out one of the faster checking lines in the league, anchored by a former Selke finalist. On a team built for defence, that would be a huge step up from last year. 

Both Dave Lowry and Jeff Cowan figure to fill in the holes, with the wily veteran Lowry to spell on the top two lines in situations the youngsters Petrovicky and Saprykin can't handle. Lowry had a career season last year but no one should be expecting the same, particularly since Button has flat out stated the youngsters would be given every opportunity to fill the top two roles. Cowan in turn, showed the Flames an intriguing rookie campaign, stepping up with some highlight reel goals but also going through long stretches of confused, but not indifferent, play. Should one of Petrovicky or Saprykin falter, Cowan may well get a chance to step up, but don't bet the farm on that happening. 

The entire left wing ensemble on this team might best be described as a collection of wannabe's, not enough's and used to be's. 

There's seems little beyond spot help available on the farm. Newcomers Jamie Wright and Ryan Christie have seen periodic call-ups with Dallas the last two years, while both put up some offensive numbers and some penalty minutes in the minors. Both are listed at 175 pounds, undersized by NHL standards. Mikko Elomo is rumoured to be changing his mind about returning to Europe and may in fact be at camp. The remaining prospects, barring a spectacular surprise or an equally spectacular run of injuries, are unlikely to see the light of day in Calgary. 

So we return to our original thought. Can a team that needs to win now entrust so many key offensive positions to potential? 

My mentor would say no. 

 Depth Chart

  1. Saprykin
  2. Petrovicky
  3. McAmmond
  4. Lowry
  5. Cowan
  6. Elomo
  7. Christie
  8. Wright
  9. Stayzer
  10. Maki
  11. Moen
  12. Moss

Organizational Grade: D

Since we are in the business of rating the here and the now rather than the potential in the future, this group barely rates a D grade. Will the Flames be fortunate enough to have Petrovicky and Saprykin, two emerging talents, bring this group up a notch? On a team with many question marks, that could be the key question of the season.




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