Though they have seven defencemen in camp on one-way contracts, competition will prove to be fierce on the Calgary Flames blueline. Inviting 18 rearguards in total, coach Bob Hartley will have plenty of combinations to tinker with throughout camp as the team continually looks to develop some of the team's more youthful players.
Though there's a great veteran presence on the back end with the likes of Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman, first-year pros like Tyler Wotherspoon and John Ramage will have plenty of opportunity to push for bottom-paring positions. Mark Cundari, who joined the Flames from St. Louis alongside Reto Berra, will also look to earn his first full-time gig on the point, as will several other pro-ready prospects.
Calgary's commitment to getting younger should put several veterans on notice, ensuring the battle on the blueline is a healthy one entering camp.
CALGARYFLAMES.COM 3 PLAYERS TO WATCH
Defense - CGY
12-13: Goals: 2 | Assists: 12 | Pts: 14
Shots: 44 | +/-: -9
TJ Brodie - Emerging as one of the most pleasant surprises for the Flames last season with his play after Jay Bouwmeester
was dealt to the St. Louis Blues, Brodie will have every opportunity to prove last year's stint with an increased role is something he can replicate.
Starting last season as a healthy scratch, Brodie became one of Calgary's most reliable rearguards, recording 12 assists and 14 points while appearing in 47 games. As the 23-year-old's workload increased as a result of munching Bouwmeester's minutes, so seemingly did his play.
As a result, Brodie -- who has played all of 104 games in his career -- was rewarded with a two year, $4.5 million contract in the hopes that he can continue to develop as one of Calgary's best blueliners.
Defense - CGY
12-13: Goals: 4 | Assists: 11 | Pts: 15
Shots: 58 | +/-: -7
Mark Giordano - Though it was Brodie who saw the spike in minutes after the trade deadline last season, it will be Mark Giordano
as the defenceman who is expected to be the cornerstone of Calgary's defense this year.
Though he didn't lead the corps from the back end in goals, points or average time on ice, the 28-year-old was among the team's best in each category and has developed into arguably the Flames' most reliable rearguards in all three zones.
He's also continually boasted a lead-by-example mantra which will be tested as one of the team's most important figures in the dressing room. For a team attempting a rebuild, the package Giordano brings become invaluable to Calgary's club.
Defense - CGY
12-13 (University of Wisconsin):
Goals: 8 | Assists: 12 | Pts: 20
John Ramage - After wrapping up a successful four year collegiate career with the University of Wisconsin, Ramage has his sights squarely on his first professional season.
Ramage, the son of former Flames' defenceman Rob, capped his tenure in Wisconsin with a career-high in goals (8), points (20) and penalty minutes (65) in captaining the Badgers to a WCHA Championship.
The steady defenceman enters Calgary's camp as a mature rookie at 22, and showed just that at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton. The poise shown in the prospect showcase by Calgary's fourth round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft has raised questions on whether or not Ramage will spend his first season in the National Hockey League or American Hockey League.
Keep an eye on... - Though he appeared in just four games to close out the campaign last season, Mark Cundari left a favorable impression with a goal and two assists. He'll look to push hard for his first full-time NHL gig…Though he's eligible to return to the Windsor Spitfires, hard-hitting Patrick Sieloff has a pro contract in hand and has quickly earned a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the organization…Local product Kris Russell, acquired in the offseason, has some pop to his game that can boost scoring from the point. At 26 and with one year remaining on his contract, Russell has plenty to prove.