Flames Positional Analysis: Right Wing
Calgarypuck.com takes a look at the wings.
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.
Iginla, Then What?
Last week, we had the tough task of trying to choose a #1 left-winger from a well rounded, but unexceptional group of players. This week, we won't have the same problem, considering that the Flames have exactly one right-winger with more than one season of NHL experience.
To put this inexperience in perspective based on last season's numbers Jarome Iginla accounted for 86% of goals by all right-wingers on the current Flames' roster. What's even worse, based on career numbers, this group has 128 career goals, and 122 of them belong to Iginla. Not exactly an encouraging statistic…
Iginla is arguably Calgary's best player, and at 24 years old, he's one of the best young players in the NHL. He's also the longest serving Flame and the only player on the team that was here for Calgary's last playoff appearance. Iginla will be expected to put up big point totals this season, and with the chance of an Olympic invitation, he could have a career year.
Despite having never played a NHL game, Jukka Hentunen should be the 2nd line right-winger in Calgary this season. Hentunen is not your typical European rookie.
He's 27 years old and plays a rather physical style of hockey. Hentunen is a late-bloomer, and has worked his way through the ranks of Finnish hockey to become one of the league's elite players. Despite the impressive scouting report, the jury is still out on whether Hentunen will become the next Teemu Selanne or the next Miika Elomo. Regardless, the job is his to lose.
At 21 years old, Rico Fata has had three tours of duty in the NHL, but has yet to show Calgary fans why he was drafted 6th overall in 1998. Fata is coming off an up & down year in Saint John in which struggled throughout most of the first half of the season. Although his numbers suffered, Fata did become a more complete player last season and did an admirable job on the checking line throughout the Flames' Calder Cup run. It's become apparent that he won't be an offensive star in the NHL, but he does has the speed, size, and skill to become a solid two-way winger capable of notching 30-40 points per season. The time has come for Rico to perform, however. If he doesn't impress in camp, he'll likely be on a one-way waiver train to the nearest expansion club.
After being drafted in 1994, Chris Clark is finally ready to become a full-time NHL player. In the AHL, he was one of the better power forwards in the league, and was rewarded in the off-season with a one-way NHL contract. Although Clark is likely to be a career checking line player in the NHL, he does have to potential to score 10-15 goals a season.
Pound-for-pound, Steve Begin is the toughest hockey player that I've ever seen play. Begin should be a lock for a roster spot, as he's able to play both wings and at center.
While he may not have great offensive numbers, Begin is a fearless checker and a consummate team player. He's the perfect fourth line player in the NHL, able to win face-offs and be a physical presence. In his limited action last season, Begin led the Flames with an average of one hit per each three minutes of ice-time.
The one 'wildcard' in training camp will be Chuck Kobasew, the Flames' #1 pick in this June's draft. Because he has goal scoring talent, he'll be given a long look to see if he's ready to compete at this level. I expect that he'll spend the season in the WHL, but he will be interesting to watch in training camp.
Garrett Bembridge and Shaun Sutter are both long-term prospects that will spend the season in Saint John. Both are coming off solid seasons in junior hockey but are at least a season or two away from competing for a job in the NHL.
Organizational Grade: D+.
Without Iginla, this group is an 'F'. Hentunen is still a big question mark, while Fata still hasn't proven that he belongs in this league. Clark and Begin are developing into solid role players, but neither have peaked as of yet. Iginla should be a given for 30 goals, but the Flames will need at least another 30 to 40 goals from the remaining right-wingers in order to even think about the playoffs. The future has promise, but right now this group has a whole lot to prove.
"Iggy and the Nobodies"
No matter how you add it up, the number one weakness of the Calgary Flames can be seen on the wings.
The left side has more experience, but lacks a bonafide sniper. The right side has the sniper in Jarome Iginla, but then the experience and production gauges fall off the map as question marks appear in abundance.
Like the left side, production has to come from unexpected sources, or the Calgary Flames will struggle to score enough goals to get by this season.
The Big Club
The right wing position has always been strength in Calgary. From Joe Mullen and Hakan Loob, to Sergei Makarov and Theo Fleury, the Flames have always had superstar depth down the right side. Fast forward to today and the Flames have another big name right wing on board in Jarome Iginla. However unlike past editions, this is where the depth on the right side stops.
Jarome Iginla - Iginla will likely lead the team in goals and points again this year. If he can increase his production a good measure it might go a long way to make up the hole left by the departure of Val Bure. In the past Iginla has come out of the gates poorly, only to catch form and dominate down the stretch.
This season the Flames will need Iginla to be there from the first drop of the puck, a possibility with the young winger's inclusion in Team Canada's camp earlier this month.
Jukka Hentunen - The fact the Flames depth chart will list an unproven Finish hockey player in the second spot is a very bad sign for the Calgary Flames. Hentunen at age 27 is battle tested in international hockey, but will see his first NHL action this fall. His contributions or lack thereof could play a significant role in the success of the Flames. Hentunen is a good mixture of talent and jam, an essential element for European hockey players when they make the jump. The Flames have their fingers crossed that Hentunen can fill in on the second line scoring between 15 and 20 goals this season.
Chris Clark - Chris Clark saw his stock in the Flames organization rise greatly when Greg Gilbert took over the team from the departed Don Hay. Clark finished the season in Calgary, and contributed five goals to the margin down the stretch. He further added to his standing by playing a key role in the Saint John Flames Calder Cup Championship. Clark is a player that Craig Button has mentioned on few occasions as a player that can pick up the offensive slack in Calgary. He may flank Craig Conroy on the third line this season, chipping in 10 or so goals.
Steve Begin - The fourth right wing spot on the Flames roster may come from the most heated battle in training camp this season. Steve Begin may have a leg up on the race however. Begin has always been a hard nosed, never say die hockey player, but this past spring he took that image to a new level in securing the playoff MVP award with the Flames top farm club. He leads by example and can rally a team through a multitude of ways including; a big hit, a big goal, or by returning from an injury to play when many a player would have called it a night.
Rico Fata - The former number one pick may be facing a make or break season with the Flames. His age dictates that he can no longer return to the AHL without passing waivers, so Fata will have to make the team or be dealt to avoid being lost to another organization. Fata has all world speed, and has spent the last couple of seasons trying to learn hockey away from the puck. If the homework has been done there might be a spot in Calgary this fall.
Dwayne Hay - Hay was claimed off waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightening last September, and played almost 60 games in Calgary last season. The big winger consistently through his weight around, and used his speed on the fourth line. A push from the farm may force Hay back onto waivers, or even down to Saint John this season.
On the Farm
With most of the Saint John Flames top forwards traded or penciled in for the NHL Flames, the cast down in Saint John has a different look this season.
Acquisitions over the summer include Garrett Bembridge and Jeff Mitchell, adding to former Flames coach Brian Sutter's son, Shaun.
Attending his first camp will be winger Chuck Kobasew, the Flames first round draft pick this past summer. Kobasew is bolting Boston College for the Kelowa Rockets of the WHL this season, but at 19 he has an outside chance of making the Flames. Likely however, Kobasew is a couple years away from helping Iginla on the right side.
Organizational Grade: C-
The right side has an advantage over the port side with more star power in Jarome Iginla. However, they also have a marked disadvantage in terms of consistency and experience. The result? Same grade, a C- for the group. Like Saprykin on the left side, a big season from Jukka Hentunen could move the grade into the B range.
Diapers and Fossils
The Flames haven't had much luck with mysterious middle-aged Europeans since German Titov surprised in 1995-96 with 28 goals and 67 points.
Yet the team is pinning large hopes on Jukka Hentunen, a 27 year-old rookie who needs to plug a glaring gap as Calgary's second line right winger.
Emerging star Jarome Iginla and third and fourth liners Chris Clark and Steve Begin are virtual locks on the right side for Calgary this coming season.
It's that all-important second line spot - which can relieve so much pressure on Iginla and those below him - that remains a gamble of large proportions.
If Hentunen can come through with a Titov like season, adding 20 or more goals and play both ends of the ice, then the rest of the pieces on the right side should fall nicely in place.
But that's one gigantic "if."
In fairness, Hentunen isn't a 20 year-old rookie coming in and being asked to do a big job. He's an older professional and well experienced internationally. His downside is obvious, an undersized 5'10 in height but balanced with a fireplug like weight of 194.
Hentunen has had only one large season in his career and that happened to be last year. Before that he was a middle of the road pro in Finland, with unremarkable stats.
In other words, just like Titov.
Iginla is as close to a sure thing as the Flames have in their lineup. Most impressive about Iginla last year as opposed to years past was the fact he was generating points no matter whom he was playing with, suggesting long-awaited leadership abilities have finally arrived.
Now 24 years old, Iginla is entering the prime of his career, five years of pro experience under his belt, the qualities of strength and maturity that can only come with age finally showing through.
The Flames desperately need Iginla to deliver an all-star calibre performance this year, 40 goals and while we're at it, a berth with Team Canada at the Olympics. Is that asking too much? There's the rub. He's capable of all of that. Like the Flames as a whole, however, the time for wishing and talking is over.
Only results matter now.
While the success or failure of Hentunen will play a large role in what happens with the Flames this year, an indifferent season from Iginla would be far more devastating.
It's his team now. Time to show it through 82 games.
Look for speedy Chris Clark to lock down the third line job alongside Craig Conroy. Clark has some decent hands and has shown some scoring ability at every level he's played. At age 25, it's time for him to find his niche, probably as a quality third liner with an aggressive streak.
Feisty Steve Begin will probably get the nod over Rico Fata on the fourth line, if for no other reason than his MVP performance in the AHL playoffs with St. John last season.
Begin has put in spot duty with the Flames before but his time has now arrived, the heat seeking missile of earlier years (remember him playing on a line with Sandy McCarthy) replaced by the controlled aggressiveness of a seasoned pro.
When Fata was first drafted I would have bet much of the farm on him beating most of his draft class to the NHL if only for the fact his speed and chunky size gave him a veritable free ticket. But the knock on Fata at the draft table – million-dollar wheels and five-cent head – has turned out to be particularly prophetic. As the season wound down last year and St. John went deep into the playoffs, however, Fata seemed to finally understand that his world class speed would only get him a job in Calgary if it was used within a team oriented system. Fata will be one of the mystery men of the Flames camp, fully capable talent wise of grabbing a spot but probably needing one more year in the minors to refine his game. He should have a long career in the NHL but it may not start this year, and if it does, it will probably be as a utility man on the third and fourth lines. And lest we forget, Fata is only 21.
Much of Calgary's young depth has now surfaced with the big club, meaning St. John is unlikely to provide much help should the Flames run into injury problems. Shaun Sutter, Garrett Bembridge and Jeff Mitchell are unlikely to see time in Calgary this season. Spreading his wings in the WHL will be number one pick Chuck Kobasew, a player who figures to make an impact in a few years but unlikely to be any help anytime soon.
Organizational Grade: C- -
Any team with Jarome Iginla as a key right winger can't be all that bad. Clark and Begin are prototypical emerging third and fourth liners and shouldn't be relied upon to be any more than that. In turn, their limitations make the emergence of Hentunen the key to this group. Should the latter come through in Titov like fashion, then right wing for the Flames would rate higher than a C Minus, perhaps even a B. But right now, Hentunen, Clark and Begin have little in the way of a track record between them.