2002 Flames Positional Analysis:  Left Wing

Calgarypuck.com Staff
August 22nd, 2002

August represents the dog days of the hockey year.

The playoffs have been completed.

The NHL draft has come and gone.

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

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

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's feature is part two 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? Left Wing

Solid, Steady, but Flashy?
D'Arcy McGrath

When a National Hockey League franchise hovers near the bottom of the league in goal scoring, it isn't a bold statement to suggest they may lack some pop in their lineup.

Nowhere is that more true, then on the left side.

The Calgary Flames, once again, will not have a bankable offensive talent on the left side, but at least this season they can boast a more reliable set of proven two way players.

The emergence last season of Dean McAmmond and the free agent signing of Martin Gelinas give the Flames a one-two punch of high octane defence first wingers to compliment the club's other offensive weapons.

But can they score?

They'll have to.

McAmmond's 20 plus goal, 50 plus point season was a pleasant surprise in Calgary last winter, but he'll need to repeat for the Flames to make any serious noise this season.

Similarly, Gelinas will have to bounce back to his 20 goal career average, and not hover around the 13 he managed last season in Carolina.

Both players will be given every opportunity.

The Big Club

What the Flames lack in offensive numbers they surely make up in body count, especially on the left side.

No fewer than nine different players have a shot at making the grade on the left side, leading one to think buy outs, waiver transactions or trades must be in the near future.

Dean McAmmond: Dean McAmmond had a story book season last year - a triumphant return to his home province, and a likely end to his lily pad hopping career path of recent years. Now the pressure mounts with added expectations. Can he repeat? He'll be given every opportunity to do so, and will likely find numbers in a similar range again this season.

Martin Gelinas: When gold is found in a long thought empty mine it only makes sense to go back and look for more. This is precisely what GM Craig Button has done by adding a virtual McAmmond clone in Martin Gelinas. Both players have good speed, both players play both ways, and both players have had seasons in the past that suggest that offence is in them there hills!

Mattias Johansson: One of the more quiet off season moves made by the Flames was the coaxing over Mattias Johansson to cross the pond. Johansson arrives with very little fan fare, having not put up outstanding numbers in the Swedish Elite League, but is highly regarded as an excellent defensive forward for his nation (one of three non-NHL players to crack Sweden's Olympic roster). Johansson should add stability to the team's third line, and make an impact killing penalties.

Jamie Wright: The frequent flyer champion stands a good chance of making the club out of camp this season, despite a huge glut of wingers looking to take his job away. Quite simply, Wright is just too good at a lot of the little things to be over looked.

Ron Petrovicky: Ron Petrovicky is a rough and tumble, take no prisoners hockey player, when he's healthy. Unfortunately his healthy minutes have been few and far between. His junior career was flush with goal scoring exploits suggesting the talent may lie within the burly frame, but at the NHL level he has been unable to show his stuff.

Dave Lowry: The Flames former captain sits on the pre-season depth chart due to his experience, and salary levels. That may all change, however. His diminishing play and loss of captaincy last season suggest that a parting of ways is likely in order. More than 32 games played this season sets Lowry up for another year on his contract, which should mean a buy out is in order.

The Farm

While the Flames may lack offensive prowess on the big club, they certainly have offensive potential in spades in Saint John.

Former first round pick Oleg Saprykin will be fighting for a spot with the big club in Calgary, but unless he's found himself over the off season, he's likely ticketed to Saint John.

The Flames signed another enigmatic winger in Pittsburgh's Robert Dome in the off season, testing the "change of scenery" theory on a once highly touted prospect.

Their raid of the Pittsburgh system didn't stop there, as later in the month they pulled in another winger, Martin Sonnenberg to bolster the system. Sonnenberg has had a steady pro career, but lacks the offensive glitz of his counterparts.

Additional farm hands that could make the grade include Ryan Christie, Dwayne Hay and possibly roughian Paul Shmyr.

Depth Chart

  1. Dean McAmmond
  2. Marting Gelinas
  3. Mattias Johansson
  4. Jamie Wright
  5. Ron Petrovicky
  6. Dave Lowry
  7. Oleg Saprykin
  8. Robert Dome
  9. Martin Sonnenberg
  10. Dwayne Hay*
  11. Ryan Christie*
  12. Eric Nystrom
  13. Egor Shastin
  14. Jason Payne
  15. Ryan Shmyr

* ranked higher for likelihood of seeing Calgary

Organizational Grade: C+ My left wing grade moves from a C- in 2001 to a C+ this season. They haven't found a true number one or number two winger, but have clearly bolstered the depth of NHL ready two way forwards, capable of making a difference in the trenches. A repeat year from Dean McAmmond and a return to past glory by Martin Gelinas could help the club along significantly. Left wing does hold some intriguing dark horse possibilities as either of Robert Dome or Oleg Saprykin are capable of making a NHL sized splash.

A little needs to go a long way
Aaron McCracken

Depth Scoring.

It's been a black cloud over the Flames for last half-decade. In the past, temporary off-season solutions like Niklas Andersson, Andres Johansson, and Jukka Hentunen have been nothing more than cheap band-aids on a gaping wound.

This season is a bit of an exception. The Flames acquired a proven free-agent winger in Martin Gelinas, a proven 30 point, two-way guy. However, Calgary is still without a true top line left-winger and will be forced once again to challenge players to step into roles to which they may not be suited.

Dean McAmmond may be a prime example of this. The 29 year-old is coming off the best season of his NHL career and will be expected to play alongside Iginla and Conroy on the top line this season. Although he's not a typical first line player, McAmmond's superior skating ability will allow him to create opportunities on one of the fastest lines in the league. Another 50 point season is not out of the question.

Calgary is hoping that Gelinas will be able to give the Flames a solid one-two punch at left-wing. The 32 year-old is one year removed from a 23-goal, 52 point season, but may be more suited to a 3rd line checking / penalty-killing role at this point in his career. However, Greg Gilbert will likely use Gelinas alongside younger players like Chuck Kobasew and Marc Savard, in the hopes that yet another left-winger (first Lowry, then McAmmond) can have a career first year with the Flames.

After McAmmond and Gelinas, nothing is certain. Journeyman Jamie Wright enjoyed a very successful half-season in Calgary, but still needs to prove that he can make a NHL club out of training camp. Veteran Dave Lowry is coming off a disappointing season in which he was stripped of his captaincy in a controversial late-season move. It's likely the Flames will dangle him at the waiver draft to see if there's any interest in him from other teams. The final incumbent, Ronald Petrovicky, wasn't overly impressive on the checking line last season and will likely need to re-earn his spot in September by playing the role of the agitator while still chipping in on offense. While all three players are capable of making important contributions to the team, there's no guarantee that any of the three will start the season in Calgary.

The one wildcard in the Flames' organization is 21 year-old Oleg Saprykin, who is coming off a dismal season in the AHL, but is still capable of becoming a solid NHL player. Saprykin's heart and health were both questionable last season, and he should be looking to make amends this Fall.

Four other AHL players will also be in the fight for a left-wing roster spot in Calgary. They include Martin Sonnenberg, a talented late-bloomer from the Pittsburgh organization; Darcy Verot, a fearless agitator also from the Penguins; Dwayne Hay, a tenacious checker with NHL experience; and Ryan Christie, a minor-league goal scorer with good size.

The bottom line is that the Flames need a surprise or two from this group of players. Can Oleg Saprykin find the consistency to become a NHL player? Can Dave Lowry find his scoring touch of a year ago? Can Jamie Wright contribute for entire season? Can someone from the AHL, possibly Sonnenberg or Verot, make the team as a dark horse?

There are a lot of questions and a lot of wishful thinking for the Flames' at left-wing. The acquisition of another top-liner could make a huge difference, but it's looking less and less likely to happen at this point. And in the end, that may be the difference between 8th and 9th place in the Western Conference.

Depth Chart

  1. Dean McAmmond
  2. Martin Gelinas
  3. Jamie Wright
  4. Dave Lowry
  5. Ron Petrovicky
  6. Oleg Saprykin
  7. Martin Sonnenberg
  8. Darcy Verot
  9. Dwayne Hay
  10. Ryan Christie
  11. Eric Nystorm
  12. Blair Blair Stayzer

Grade: C. No certainties with this group. There aren't many teams in the league that would have McAmmond and Gelinas as #1 and #2 left-wingers. The rest of the cast have their strengths, but it's difficult to say whether they can fill the role as required. Once again, the Flames are hoping for career years from several wingers… and that's not a good sign.


Depth, and More Depth
Marc Ciampa

When questioning whether or not the Calgary Flames have made strides to improve themselves since last season, an examination of left wing over the past year and a half shows precisely how much more depth the team has gained.

Last season, most Flames fans had enigmatic rookie Oleg Saprykin pencilled in on one of the top two lines and crossed their fingers that he might score 15 goals. Many others had Ronald Petrovicky slated for a scoring line as well. This year things are different.

For one, Dean McAmmond has shown that he can flourish under the Flames' new system to the tune of 20+ goals per season. In addition, Martin Gelinas was brought in this past off-season to provide leadership as well as some offensive flair. He shouldn't have any problems netting 15 to 20 goals on the second line.

Mathias Johansson, a Flames draft pick from 1992, was also brought in this summer. Johansson, who played for the 2002 Swedish Olympic Team, should solidify the third line and improve the penalty killing as well. His presence on the team differs from that of Jukka Hentunen last year. While Hentunen was brought in with expectations of 15 to 20 goals, Johansson should find a spot in the line-up if he plays strong defensively and is effective on the penalty kill. This acquisition adds depth and someone strongly suited to play in a defensive role.

One player whose expectations have lowered coming into the 2002-03 season is Ronald Petrovicky. Delusions of having him on a scoring line are no more as he seems to have settled in as a fourth line winger. Petrovicky plays very aggressive for his size and for this reason he's ideal as a checking forward. A 113-point scorer in junior, he may yet find a scoring touch at the NHL level but the fact he's slotted nowhere near the top lines is a good sign for Flames fans.

Jamie Wright took advantage of every opportunity he was given last season and turned it into a roster spot on the Canadian national team at the World Championships. His ability to play on the second, third or fourth line makes him a valuable commodity and moves him up the depth chart as a result. Wright is a good bet to be the 13th forward coming out of camp, competing with the likes of Steve Begin and Scott Nichol. While unlike the other two Wright is mostly suited for left wing, his offensive abilities make him worth keeping around.

After a terrible 2001-02 season that saw him stripped of the captain's "C" and finish with one of the worst plus/minus ratings in the league, Dave Lowry has nowhere to go but up. Unfortunately for him, the Flames are much deeper at left wing than they were a year ago and Lowry is going to find himself fighting for a job amongst the other rookies this September. An added disadvantage is his $925,000 salary this upcoming season. With that kind of contract—plus the added stipulation that if he plays more than 30 games his contract will be extended for another year—Lowry will be impossible to trade. If he clears waivers he will likely end up in Saint John, much like Marc Bureau did several years ago.

I'm not saying that Oleg Saprykin is a bust but he has a long road ahead of him if he hopes to make it back to the NHL on a regular basis. The fact that his point total last season was essentially equal to the season before when he played the entire season with the Flames speaks volumes. Most players who regress in the minor leagues early on in their careers end up hitting a flatline in their development. While last season he came into camp with the opportunity to play on one of the top two lines, this year the team has built up depth in front of him and he will likely have to bide his time in Saint John waiting for an injury to open up a spot. If he leads the team in scoring in the preseason the team would try and find a spot so he can play, but anything less than that sees him on the plane to New Brunswick.

Other players who could see spot duty in Calgary include Martin Sonnenberg and Ryan Christie. Dwayne Hay's hopes of seeing the Saddledome again past training camp are slim-to-none. The fact that he played regularly in 2000-01 speaks volumes about the improved depth for the Calgary Flames heading into 2002-03.

Depth Chart

  1. Dean McAmmond
  2. Martin Gelinas
  3. Mathias Johansson
  4. Ronald Petrovicky
  5. Jamie Wright
  6. Dave Lowry
  7. Oleg Saprykin
  8. Martin Sonnenberg
  9. Eric Nystrom
  10. Ryan Christie
  11. Dwayne Hay
  12. Tomi Maki

Organizational Grade: C- Left wing is one position that the Flames have improved greatly since last season and the potential is there for it to become even better. The consistency of newcomers Martin Gelinas and Mathias Johansson will go a long way in determining the mid-season grade of the portside.

Black Hole
Rick Charlton

It's a black hole.

Left wing for the Calgary Flames will continue to be plagued by a lack of credible star power this year, Dean McAmmond's surprising 21-goal campaign of last season likely dependent on his continuing association with the NHL's runner-up MVP, Jarome Iginla, and Selke finalist Craig Conroy.

It's also not hard to see why Martin Gelinas had his eye on the Flames this off-season. Not only is his wife from the Stampede City but he only needs to leapfrog McAmmond on Calgary's depth chart to form up with the gravy train of Conroy and Iginla.

Both McAmmond and Gelinas would likely be third line wingers on most teams but such is life in Calgary that they'll duel for first and second line duty with McAmmond getting the nod at the top of the chart for his stellar work last season.

They're not bad players - both are serviceable NHL veterans - but they are still a grade or two below what the Flames could use.

McAmmond surprised many last year by finally cracking the 20 goal barrier a mere 11 years after Chicago had made him a first round draft pick. McAmmond, fast, skilled and aggressive, complemented the talents of his linemates well and seems to have found a home for the first time in his career. Coach Greg Gilbert's primary concern with McAmmond seemed to be his penchant for untimely penalties, a result of being overly aggressive at inopportune times, as well as a lack of consistency.

The signing of Gelinas gives the Flames some quality depth and, along with Chuck Kobasew on the right side, might actually help the Flames finally generate a second scoring line to take pressure off the Iginla/Conroy combination. Gelinas is a former 30-goal man but most would be expecting roughly 15 markers this coming season. As with McAmmond, Gelinas strengths lie in his speed and aggressiveness but he has also been prone in his career to long dry stretches in a season, something the Flames can ill-afford.

The depth chart weakens considerably after Gelinas and McAmmond. Ideally, former first round pick Oleg Saprykin would return from his wandering in the desert to knock one of those two onto the third line. He has the skating, skills and aggressiveness to do it but the head continues to be something of an enigma. Once touted as a can't miss prospect, Saprykin, still only 21 years of age, will probably open the season finding his game in Saint John.

A newcomer to North America but intriguing nonetheless is Mattias Johansson, 28, long in the Flames organization and one of the few Swedish Olympians not playing in the NHL, who has decided to give the NHL a shot. Johansson will be given every opportunity to snag third line duties as a defensive checking specialist.

That leaves a mad scramble for fourth line duty among candidates like Ronald Petrovicky, Jamie Wright with Dave Lowry, although the latter could be the odd man out.

Wright, 26, has enough airline points to take a ride on the space shuttle after shuffling between the NHL and the AHL some 20 times in his brief career. But he probably showed enough in his stints in Calgary last year to stick around, lending some decent speed and skill to the overall lineup. It doesn't hurt his chances that Canada's World Championship GM and Flames hero Lanny McDonald has been championing Wright's chances in the background.

Lowry went from hero to zero in a single season, following up his excellent and unexpected 18 goal 2000-2001 campaign with a pratfall that saw him stripped of Calgary's captaincy. Lowry is a first class team man but the legs might be past the point where they can match his heart and that not only pushes him down the depth chart but also puts him at risk of falling off the big club altogether if his contract can be disposed of.

Petrovicky is the man most likely to supplant Lowry. The feisty Petrovicky spent much of the season with a bum shoulder - a debilitating injury for a hitter - which limited his effectiveness but figures to be better this year. Petrovicky's penchant for undisciplined and untimely penalties has to be cleaned up if he's to advance much further in his career.

Martin Sonnenberg is a newcomer who has a chance should any of the above falter. Sonnenberg brings the element of speed the Flames are looking for but the former Pittsburgh farmhand will have to overcome a relatively small frame to stick in the NHL for long. Most likely he'll spend the year in Saint John and serve as an emergency injury replacement in Calgary.

Rounding out the depth charge are Dwayne Hay and Ryan Christie, both probably anchored in Saint John.

Depth Chart

  1. Dean McAmmond
  2. Martin Gelinas
  3. Jamie Wright
  4. Dave Lowry
  5. Ron Petrovicky
  6. Oleg Saprykin
  7. Martin Sonnenberg
  8. Ryan Christie

Organizational Grade - C- The additions of Gelinas and the hope brought by Johansson may turn left wing from a dark hole into something with reasonable credibility. But if given half the chance, GM Craig Button would no doubt like to add more of a pure sniper at the top of the heap to round things out. Grade C-