Halfway through the Flames 2008/09 pre season there are a few things that have really jumped out at me...
The Flames have come along way in a few years in rebuilding their farm system and prospects. While it may not be the best collection in the league it is a thousand times better then it was just five years ago and for two reasons.
The first is having a full AHL affiliation and stocking it with prospects and not filling half the roster with journeymen who make the team better -- but at the expense of younger up and comers.
The second factor is much better drafting in the past three or so years. In many ways the Flames dfaft picks of recent vintage have created more of a buzz than the older guys this year. In the group, I would include Mikael Backlund
, John Armstrong, John Negrin, TJ Brodie
and Lance Bouma
All guys drafted in the past two years.
Playing in a rookie tournament has a huge benefit for the players and men evaluating them. I have heard nothing but positives from the Flames participation in the Oilers prospects tournament and I can see a scenario where some time in the future that the event gets expanded.
One thing that it allowed Calgary to do that was different from previous years was playing players in the Camrose games and not in the pre-season which allowed the main roster to get a better look early on. Typically the early pre-season games are filled with players who weren't going to impact the main roster. Not this year, as more Flames vets played more often than at anytime prior to this pre-season.
The Flames are particularly deep from the blue line back, both in goal and on defence there are appear to be no shortage of guys close to making the main roster. Leland Irving
will play his first year of pro hockey in the minors, but the former Everett netminder remains a blue chip prospect. Matt Keetley, who is heading into his second year as a pro, will likely be the No. 1 guy in Quad City. He has really come into his own this past season and there are no shortage of pundits who believe he is very close to the NHL.
On the blueline three players were identified by general manager Darryl Sutter as being very close to making the big club coming into camp. First-rounder Matt Pelech, Adam Pardy, and the Flames third round pick in '07 John Negrin.
Negrin has been sent back to the WHL, but looks like he is as close as next year to making this team. Pelech and Pardy remain in camp battling for a job on the back end. If I were to guess, Pardy may start the season in Calgary ahead of Pelech. He looks a little more polished and would need to clear waivers to be assigned to Quad City.Mikael Backlund
has been given every opportunity to make this years roster. If he doesn't, I am sure there will be some who see it as a failure. I won't view it that way.
The Flames are in a fortunate position with Backlund. They don't need him to be in Calgary this year . If he makes the team that is great. If not he will be here next season. Backlund will play in Calgary in the next two years, that much I am sure of.
I have enjoyed a much longer audition for this young centreman. In the past a young guy might get a game or two, but Calgary has been very patient with Mikael and it has been fun to watch.
These final three games will be a really good test for the Flames NHL players. The pressure is on this team to start the regular season better then it has the last couple of seasons. No doubt the bulk of the roster this week will get a chance to gel and be ready for October 9 in Vancouver. Line combos should become a little bit more consistent and I would guess that Miikka Kiprusoff
will get the majority of the ice time to ensure he is ready to start the season. Rob Kerr is the hockey host at The Fan 960 and the Flames play-by-play commentator on Flames Pay-Per-View