CALGARY, AB -- When asked about 2011 Calgary Flames first round draft pick Sven Baertschi, Mike Johnston succinctly summed up the winger's 2011-12 season.
"He did everything we could expect of a player," the Portland Winterhawks general manager and head coach told CalgaryFlames.com. "Everything."
In his second season with the Winterhawks, Baertschi played just 47 regular season games due to a hip injury and a concussion. Despite those hurdles, the forward recorded an incredible 94 points, averaging 2.00 points-per-game.
"It was a good year," Baertschi said. "But I always want to improve, get better."
He went on a tear at the beginning of the year, picking up 17 points in his first eight games. The hip malady forced him to sit out for two weeks but when he returned, it looked like he hadn't missed a game. From Nov. 2 through Dec. 11, Baertschi managed 37 points in 17 games.
As expected, he was named to Switzerland's roster for the 2012 World Junior Championship. With the tournament being held in Alberta, it looked like fans in Calgary would be able to see quite a bit of the WHL star but he played just two games before his WJC experience was cut short as he suffered a concussion on Dec. 28 in a game against Sweden.
He returned to action on Jan. 16, earning points in three straight games. While the score sheet indicated he was back at full force, he admitted that his first few games back were nerve-wracking.
"It was tough to come back after a head injury," Baertschi said earlier this year. "It was tough to come back and play the same way you did before.
"For the first couple games, it was kind of weird. I was kind of scared going into battles 100 percent ... It's always somewhere in the back of your head, the concussion."
As time went on, he grew more comfortable and his offensive production ramped back up. He had points in 12 straight games at one point and he looked more dangerous every game he played. It appeared he couldn't close out the regular season on a better note.
And then Calgary called.
The injury-riddled Flames needed reinforcements and recalled Baertschi on an emergency basis on Mar. 7.
"I could score 10 goals in a game and it wouldn't be as good as this," he said after learning he had been recalled. "It's an honour."
He went on to pot three goals in five games with the Flames. His first NHL tally, coming on Mar. 11 in a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild, showcased his skill and hockey sense.
He managed to deflect defenceman Derek Smith's point shot but the netminder was able to stop it. The rebound came back out in the slot and Baertschi spun around, got a handle on the puck and waited for the goaltender to drop down before he roofed it.
"Lots of guys that young would try to quickly throw it back at the net, but he had some patience, took his time, cradled it," Curtis Glencross said afterwards. "That's why he's such a good player and is going to be a good player for a long time."
After he had been reassigned to Portland, former Flames head coach Brent Sutter made it clear he felt the winger was ready to play in the NHL on a full-time basis. Johnston concurs.
"He is ready for sure. There's no question in my mind he's ready. Will he have his ups and downs? Of course, yeah. He's going to have some good games, bad games, good months, bad months.
"But he has the personality and the mindset to be able to handle a lot of things. He keeps it in perspective."
The stint in Calgary gave Baertschi a boost of confidence heading into the WHL playoffs where he continued to dominate. His play in the postseason helped lead the Winterhawks all the way to Game 7 of the WHL Championship series. He finished off the year with 34 points in 22 playoff games, equating to 1.54 points-per-game.
"The big thing for Sven this year that I saw in him was his maturity," Johnston said. "I saw how mature he got by going to his first pro camp. I thought that was probably his biggest step this year, maturing as an athlete and a person.
"He's going to be a very good player."