2002 Flames Positional Analysis:  Right Wing

Calgarypuck.com Staff
August 29th, 2002

August represents the dog days of the hockey year.

The playoffs have been completed.

The NHL draft has come and gone.

Free agents have largely been signed, rosters set, and each team begins to look ahead to training camp full of enthusiasm and hope.

Grade Summary: LW
Writer '01 '02
Aaron McCracken D+ B-
D'Arcy McGrath C- C+
Rick Charlton C- B
Marc Ciampa -- D+

Mid August also marks the end of Calgarypuck.com's creative hibernation, and a kick start into a new season with our first major feature of the season.

Today we kick off part one of a five part series that looks at the Calgary Flames team this year (as it stands) position by position.

Each Thursday, look for the next chapter in the series.

We'll look at the position's strengths and weaknesses, look at changes from this year to last, and provide an organizational depth chart.

Today's focus? Right Wing. 


Can Kobasew Make the Cut?
Aaron McCracken

Can Kobasew Make the Cut?

No one knows what the right wing will look like once the season opens in 42 days. The current depth chart has an unsigned restricted free agent who is looking for a 300% raise in the 1st line slot, and a green rookie who has yet to make his NHL debut in the 2nd line slot. Right now, it doesn't look promising, but there's still a month and a half before the season starts and anything can happen. Assuming the best case scenario, here's a look at the players that will patrol Calgary's right wing in 2002-03.

There are no on-ice questions about Jarome Iginla, but there are some serious concerns that the 2001-02 Art Ross winner will not have a contract come training camp or even by the start of the regular season. It's a difficult situation for the Flames they have no chance of making the playoffs without Iginla, but cannot afford to pay him his asking price without assurances of increased revenues. Needless to say, the signing of Iginla will make or break the Flames' season. If he's in Calgary to start the season, the Flames can put 40-50 goals and 80-100 points in the bank.

For the second consecutive year, the Flames will look to a rookie to play on the 2nd line. 20-year old Chuck Kobasew is finally under contract with the Flames, and will be counted on to be a solid contributor at both ends of the ice. Kobasew proved that he could play with the big boys in last season's training camp, but it's likely unrealistic to expect much more than 15 goals and 35 points.

The only other sure bet to make the opening night line-up is Chris Clark. The 26 year-old is coming off a solid 10-goal season and should be able to repeat that total if he can stay healthy and remain on the 3rd line for the entire season. Clark was actually the 5th leading scorer on the Flames last season, although that's not something that of which Calgary is proud.

Steve Begin and Blake Sloan are the two incumbents that will challenge for the 4th line spot. The tenacious Begin had a decent, but unspectacular first full season in the NHL. He did manage to show some occasional offensive talent (7 goals in 51 games), but needs to become more consistent to remain a full-time NHLer. Sloan, a defensive specialist, saw limited action after being acquired at the trade deadline and will need to prove himself to Greg Gilbert if he hopes to remain in Calgary. He'll likely face a challenge from newcomer Mattias Johansson for the job as the team's resident penalty-killing specialist.

Former 1st round pick Robert Dome is a darkhorse to make the team. He's been an offensive force in the minor leagues in the past, but still needs to prove that his conditioning and heart are up to speed. Dome will likely start the season in the AHL, but could see time in Calgary if he's able to find his game in Saint John.

There's not much help in the organization in the near future. Garrett Bembridge and Shaun Sutter are marginal AHLers, while Tomi Maki is still two or three years from making the jump to North America.

Depth Chart

  1. Jarome Iginla
  2. Chuck Kobasew
  3. Chris Clark
  4. Steve Begin
  5. Blake Sloan
  6. Robert Dome
  7. Garett Bembridge
  8. Tomi Maki
  9. Shaun Sutter

Organizational Grade: B-. If Iginla is signed, the only real question mark is the 2nd line right-wing position. If Kobasew isn't ready for NHL action, it will be the same-old offensively challenged Flames. But if Kobasew can make an impact, the Flames just might be able to sneak into the playoffs. It's asking a lot of 20 year-old rookie, but then again, the Flames are due for a first round draft pick to pan out eventually.

 


With Iggy We Trust
Rick Charlton

The right side of the Flames forward corp consists of a MVP runner-up then a bunch of guys barely out of junior or hanging onto NHL jobs for lack of better depth.

But it could be worse.

The MVP runner-up might not be there at all at the start of the year.

Grading Calgary's right wingers is difficult this campaign if only because a few things going right could make this a real strength for the team - but the vice versa could also occur just as quickly.

Should Calgary get Iginla's signature on a contract they'll be starting the year with a guy likely to be in the 45-goal area if not higher.

Throw in a potential Calder Trophy campaign from promising 20 year-old rookie Chuck Kobasew, the probable second line man behind Iginla, then add in Chris Clark, a prototypical third liner entering his second full NHL season, and the Flames might actually be fairly set on the right side.

Picture Iginla in a holdout though, Kobasew faltering and shunted down in the minors for seasoning and suddenly Clark is a first-line winger and Jeff Shantz, normally a centre, is probably his back-up.

Now that's ugly.

The lynchpin, of course, is Iginla, the only NHL'er to score more than 50 goals last season and the league leader in points. A total package of speed, skill, brute strength and, finally after a long wait, passion, just entering his own at the tender age of 25.

For Flames fans last year Iginla's performance wasn't so much about numbers as the spectacle of a boy having fun at the game of hockey maturing into a man coming to terms with the fact others were looking upon him to lead.

To expect a regression this coming season would be to offer charity, to give the emerging star an out. Don't expect Iginla to take it. Instead, look for more of the same in the coming years.

Having had one providential break in the bust-out campaign of Iginla, impoverished Flames fans could be looking to Kobasew to provide badly needed scoring depth behind their All-Star winger. Expecting a 20 year-old to make an impact in the NHL is more often than not a fool's game fraught with peril, but last year's tantalizing pre-season followed by an excellent World Junior Tourney has left many observers wondering if Kobasew might be one of the exceptions.

Kobasew reminds one of a young Brett Hull or, some say, Joey Mullen, a pure sniper able to instinctively to place himself in an opening just ahead of the puck. There should be no doubt as to what Kobasew could become or what he expects of himself given his contract impasse centered around bonuses for goals scored, a factor the Flames eventually relented on to get his name in ink.

Add in a healthy dash of major league speed as well as a defensive awareness beyond his years and Kobasew could become a special player and a perfect complement to Iginla.

But will it be this year? Or at all? Therein lies the gamble. But right now he's probably pencilled in on the second line.

Clark is next down the depth chart, not good enough to be a second liner but possessing excellent speed and sufficiently modest offensive skills to be a decent checking winger. Entering his second full season, the Flames should expect more from Clark.

Fourth line duties could include a number of part-timers, including Blake Sloan, Steve Begin and potentially Robert Dome. Any one of Shantz, Ronald Petrovicky and Scott Nichol, all listed at centre or left wing in our earlier analysis, can also play right wing and just might through the year.

In the absence of Iginla, Shantz is likely to get a bump up the ladder, potentially to the first line on the right side as a veteran utility presence, capable of filling in a pinch. If Iginla signs, however, Shantz and his fairly hefty salary could be a target to be traded.

Sloan is likely to play a fairly prominent role in trying to help remedy Calgary's atrocious penalty-kill while Begin, who began to round into form in the second half last year, will probably play the role of utility forward, filling in where needed.

Through time the AHL has been littered with clones of Robert Dome, players who have the speed and skills to be front line NHL players but lack the drive to put it all together. There's not a lot of downside in the Flames giving him a spin around the block. They may get lucky and be surprised with a real gem on their hands, someone who could supplant Clark on the third line. But its all up to Dome. So far in his young career, he's been a massive disappointment.

Next to Dome, Jason Morgan is probably the first guy in line to be called up from the farm in Saint John.

Depth Chart

  1. Jarome Iginla
  2. Chuck Kobasew
  3. Chris Clark
  4. Blake Sloan
  5. Scott Nichol
  6. Steve Begin
  7. Robert Dome
  8. Jason Morgan
  9. Garrett Bembridge
  10. Matt Doman

OVERALL GRADE - B - Iginla alone warrants the grade of B, but a decent rookie campaign from Kobasew could give the Flames the best depth at this position they've had in years. Take both those guys out, however, and F isn't out of the question. There are a lot of unknowns . . . . .

S'Up Chuck?
D'Arcy McGrath

The Calgary Flames have a well designed right wing for three of their four big club lines.

The problem lies in the gaping hole on the second unit.

Chris Clark has the speed and size to be an ideal third line winger, a much more suitable role than the second line task he had to endure last year.

Any of Steve Begin, Blake Sloan or Scott Nichol have the feisty nature to fill in admirably on the fourth line.

A signed Jarome Iginla is clearly handling the work load on the top line.

But the letter grade assigned to the right side all comes down to the rookie.

 The Big Club

Can Chuck Kobasew fulfill his predestined role of a second line scoring winger? And to what degree?

If the Osoyoos native can hit for 15 or more big ones the Flames are likely off to the races with a balanced scoring attack.

If not and ... well Mr. Clark, please slip on these very big shoes.

Jarome Iginla - Let's give the Jarome Iginla contract talk a rest and for the sake of this analysis assume he's on the opening night roster. There may not be a better right wing in hockey; Iginla combines above average speed, with a deadly accurate shot and a tank mentality. He may not reach last season's lofty point totals, but he'll be in the ball park again for the Flames this season.

Chuck Kobasew - It's only natural to see fans getting carried away with the potential of a rookie. But Chuck-mania has gone a step further than that. The media are giving him the second line, and even team officials have hinted at the expectation level for the fleet footed Kelowna Rocket product. Does anyone else see a problem here? Didn't Oleg Saprykin light up the preseason two seasons in a row? Didn't Oleg Saprykin make waves in the WHL? Kobasew possesses great leg speed, and a goal scorer's instinct and uncanny sense of timing. He will be a player one day. The Flames are hoping that day is now.

Chris Clark - Calgary Fans aren't very high on Chris Clark; they've likely missed their mark. Clark laboured under the unjust expectations that come along with a second line role last season, he's just not a top six talent. This season Clark will line up on the third line with either Rob Niedermayer or Marc Savard, and possibly Swedish import Mattias Johansson. The role is a much better fit for Clark. Like his linemates Clark has the speed and tenacity to provide a two way presence, and hopefully surprise with a quiet, but consistent offensive contribution.

Blake Sloan - With all the new faces in town, it's easy to over look the relatively untested addition of Blake Sloan late last season. Sloan won't dazzle you with his stick handling or bring you out of your seat with his offensive antics, he was acquired for one specific purpose. Kill penalties! The Flames are hoping Sloan teamed with Mattias Johansson, Martin Gelinas and Craig Conroy can make a signficant gain on special teams this season, pushing the Flames closer to the playoffs. 

Steve Begin - Other than #12, Mr. Begin was the last roster player signed by the Calgary Flames this summer. The haggle surrounded Begin's aim to get his two way pact converted to a one way deal supplying the abrasive winger with some job security. He had the right idea. With no less than seven viable NHL left wingers in camp, it's easy to see why Begin was a little nervous in the service. 

Scott Nichol - Can Scott Nichol put another chapter in his story book rise to NHL status in his home town? He has as a shot. The coach likes him, that's a good start, but the battle for forward positions will be quite intense, and Mr. Nichol comes up short in the size department, especially for a fourth line role. However, one shouldn't count the gutsy player out of the mix. 

Should a player like Begin or Nichol fall out of favour in camp, look for a converted left winger like Martin Sonenberg, Robert Dome, Oleg Saprykin or Ron Petrovicky to fill in as the clubs's 13th forward.

On the Farm

Most of the off-season activity on the farm took place at center and on the port side.

Quite likely, any recalls for injuries on the right side will feature converted left wingers and centers filling in for fallen right wings.

However, should the team opt for a natural position player the club's two best bets are Matt Doman, a college graduate that joined Saint John late last season, and Garett Bembridge, playing his second season in New Brunswick.

 Depth Chart

  1. Jarome Iginla
  2. Chuck Kobasew
  3. Chris Clark
  4. Blake Sloan
  5. Scott Nichol
  6. Steve Begin
  7. Matt Doman*
  8. Garett Bembridge*
  9. Tomi Maki

* ranked higher for likelihood of seeing Calgary

Organizational Grade: C Like I say ... a lot comes down to the relative success of first year winger, Chuck Kobasew. If Kobasew can come through with 15 or more goals the Flames right side may just shift from a huge weakness to a team strength (read B+). If Kobasew ends up in Saint John before Christmas then the world will once again rest on Jarome Iginla's shoulders (read D-). Should Iginla not sign before the season opener ... oh yeah we promised not to discuss that.


Pressure Falls to Rookie
Marc Ciampa

Is Chuck Kobasew this season's Jukka Hentunen?

A ludicrous statement on first examination, but think about it a little bit. As a Flames fan, who did you have pencilled in as second on your depth chart at this time last year? With little variation, that answer would be Jukka Hentunen. Most had expected he would chip in for 15 to 20 goals. The optimists were saying he could score as many as 25, while the pessimists were banking on 10 as a more likely number. So, how many did he score?

Two.

Two goals was all Hentunen scored for the Calgary Flames, a man the team was counting on to add some scoring depth to their second line. The disappointment started with a sub-par training camp that saw him demoted to Saint John to open the season.

That brings us back to Kobasew. If the Flames have any hope of detracting attention from their expected top line of McAmmond-Conroy-Iginla, they're going to need Kobasew to score and score often. Very few rookies come into the league with that kind of pressure, but it's something Kobasew is used to. How soon we forget that it was Chuck Kobasew who helped lead Boston College to the NCAA Championship in 2000-01. It was also Chuck Kobasew who scored two goals in the Gold Medal game at the most recent World Junior Championships.

Like Hentunen, training camp will tell the tale for Kobasew. If he comes in and makes an impact right away then 15, 20 and maybe even 25 goals would be a possibility. If he goes into hiding like Saprykin last year he just might be ticketed for Saint John with a long season ahead for both him and the Flames. Considering he did lead the Flames in preseason scoring in 2001, all the groundwork is in place for Calgary to have an impact rookie for the first time since Iginla.

And speaking of Iginla, clearly the right wing position lives and dies by his success. With 52 goals and 96 points last season, he provided the Flames with a legitimate scoring threat on the wing and single-handedly carried the team on his back during an extended winning stretch early in the year.

Chris Clark enjoyed his most successful season in the NHL last year, with ten goals and 17 points in 64 games. Despite his progress, and obvious signs of him becoming a solid two-way forward, if he plays on the second line on a regular basis the Flames will have problems. Clark is an effective third liner who will chip in with the odd goal but in an offensive role, he comes up short. If he stays healthy and Rob Niedermayer bounces back, Clark could have a chance to get up to 14 or 15 goals.

Having Blake Sloan on the fourth line gives the Flames more depth than they've had in past seasons and provides the club with options. In past years, fringe NHLers such as Jamie Allison and Rico Fata have been slotted here. Sloan's penalty killing expertise will also come in handy as the club tries to improve upon their 2001-02 special teams misfortunes.

Scott Nichol, as the fifth right-winger, provides a way to keep the incumbents on their toes. Any time Nichol is inserted into a game it's a given that he'll play with enough energy and work ethic to lift the Flames' spirits. He works well as an extra roster player due to his versatility as well.

Perhaps the biggest wildcard involving the 2002-03 Flames from the right side is Robert Dome. Dome is arguably one of the most talented hockey players in the world, but he's struggled to combine his talent with the professional game. The Flames are a good opportunity for him, as he could easily supplant Chuck Kobasew for the second line position with a very strong training camp. However, in all likelihood, Saint John will be his destination and if he does well he will be one of the first players recalled in the event of injury troubles due to the lack of NHL-calibre talent below him.

Depth Chart

  1. Jarome Iginla
  2. Chuck Kobasew
  3. Chris Clark
  4. Blake Sloan
  5. Scott Nichol
  6. Robert Dome
  7. Garrett Bembridge
  8. Shaun Sutter
  9. Jeff Mitchell

Organizational Grade: D+ Right wing does boast the best forward in the NHL from last season in Iginla, but what about after that? Kobasew, Clark, Sloan and Nichol provide not much more than a whole lot of question marks at this point in time. If the Iginla contract situation starts looking like it will last into the season the team needs to look into acquiring a top-six right-winger if they're not already.