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Andersson comes to camp in better shape to fight for spot on blueline

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Imagine the blocks-long queue length for suddenly-released seats to a performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London's West End.

And only one or two tickets are actually for sale.

Then you can relate somewhat to Rasmus Andersson's situation.

"I can't,'' says the highly-thought-of 2015 draft pick, "think about anybody else. What they're doing, what they're not doing.

"That's when things go south, right?

"There's a lot of good defencemen in this organization. All those guys, including me, wants to be here. But I can only worry about myself.

"Do what I can, affect what I can. 

"Make the best impression possible on the coaches and management and see what happens."

Monday evening, Flames' training camp but three days old, auditions for up-top employment begin in earnest with the south-north split-squad games against the Edmonton Oilers.

On defence, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic are iron-clad, sure-fire, slam-dunk gimmes, of course. Michael Stone is factored in on the third pairing.

After that …

There are no end of candidates in the queue for those one or two open spots on the blueline, depending on how coach Glen Gulutzan decides to do the math: Matt Bartkowski, Tyler Wotherspoon, Brett Kulak, Josh Healey, Dylan Olsen, Oliver Kylington. And Andersson.

So many factors go into sorting out who stays and who receives a plane ticket to Stockton. Sides. Strengths. Needs. Age. Contractual status.

The argument could be made that for someone so young, the future would be better served as an important cog in the Heat's season right now than logging spot-duty, awaiting opportunity, here.

"Rasmus,'' says Stockton head coach Ryan Huska, "plays a real intelligent game, sees the ice very well and has a good understanding of the people around him which allows him to make the right play a lot of times.

"In this kind of situation, you might only get one game, so you better make it count. It earns you a second game. If you're the type of player who makes plays, has good composure, looks comfortable and confident on the ice then you can earn another game. That's what Rasmus has to do. He needs to make sure people notice him to make sure he gets that second game.

"In my opinion, he's in the mix. So are a lot of other guys."

The month Andersson spent topside as a Flame last year - making his NHL debut with a single appearance in the process, April 8 vs. San Jose - certainly further whet his appetite to make the jump sooner than later.

"The coaches and the management have higher expectations of me because of my time here and I like that,'' he insists. "I think I play better with higher expectations. 

"Getting to know the guys a little bit better, the lifestyle a little bit better. I just tried to take notes. You watch a guy like Gio every day. How professional he is. Coming every day prepared, 82 games a year. Seems to always do the right thing.

"I try to watch Dougie a lot, too. I think we're a bit more similar style-wise. A rightie, a little more offensive. I watch what he does, how well he skates, how long he tries to hold the puck at the offensive blueline before backing off.

"Just little things, details you pick up watching guys like that."

Huska says the soon-to-be-21-year-old is a quick study.

"He now understands, after being here, how hard these guys actually work and how prepared they come every day.

"That gives him a leg up.

"I think that's why you saw significant change in his conditioning over the course of the summer. He saw first-hand the level of commitment required.

"So however it does shake out in camp now, I think he learned a valuable lesson in terms of his development being here last year."

As Huska mentioned, Andersson shed 12 pounds, down to 210, through the off-season in order to make himself more NHL ready.

"That,'' he says, "was my main priority. Losing the weight. I know I've still got to improve my conditioning a little bit but that should be easier now that my weight is down.

"All summer I kept thinking 'I don't want to be in the AHL. I want to be in the NHL.'

"That thinking hasn't changed. When you're here, at main camp, you're in this bubble. With me, they're looking at keeping a high pace. Not so much about when I have the puck. So I'm trying to be as detailed as I can.

"It feels like I'm more ready, more confident in myself, than I was last year."

Monday, auditions start in earnest.

"If I do get the shot to play,'' Rasmussen says, "I can't go out and be somebody else. I've got to be me, trust in that, and prove why I deserve that last spot.

"Doesn't matter what the situation is. Powerplay, penalty kill, 5-on-5, 4-on-4, take advantage of every opportunity I get.

"I've got to get my mindset ready for tomorrow. You've got to be one step ahead all the time.

"We'll see how far it goes.

"Hopefully it goes all the way."





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