We have a bunch of young guys that are good players that can step in and make the job, too. Better depth this year and we'll see what happens. - Mikael Backlund
CALGARY, AB -- Last season, depth down the middle was a cause for debate.
This year, it's the centre of attention for the Calgary Flames.
Returning two key pivots in Mikael Backlund and Matt Stajan and with a plethora of potential hopefuls chomping at the bit for an opportunity, the Flames are heading into the 2013-14 with plenty of options.
Flames coach Bob Hartley has said he'll add newly acquired winger TJ Galiardi to that mix too, an experiment he tinkered with last season between Mike Cammalleri and the departed Alex Tanguay.
But Hartley put the onus on the youngsters in camp to step up and force Galiardi back to the wing.
"The play of our young players will dictate where TJ Galiardi will play," Hartley said. "That's how much confidence I have in TJ. If the best youngsters are on the wing, most likely we'll see TJ at center. If the best prospects are at center, we will find either the left wing or the right wing for TJ.
"I have some nice options. We will experiment all this in intra-squad and in exhibition games."
"We have a bunch of young guys that are good players that can step in and make the job, too," he said. "Better depth this year and we'll see what happens."
Among the candidates to push Galiardi back to the wing include Max Reinhart and rookies Corban Knight, Sean Monahan and Markus Granlund. The foursome come from distinctly different backgrounds.
Reinhart, entering his second professional season, played 11 games late in the season for Hartley, recording one goal and two assists. The 21-year-old former Kootenay Ice assistant captain added seven goals and 21 points in 67 games for the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League.
Knight, 23, wrapped up his senior year at the University or North Dakota, finishing top-10 in Hobey Baker voting as the top collegiate player in the country after amassing 16 goals and 49 points in 41 games during his final collegiate campaign.
Granlund had 10 goals and 30 points in 50 games in SM-liiga with HIFK Helsinki, just his second year of professional hockey. The 20-year-old has yet to make his North American debut but has already caught the attention of the Flames.
Just 18, Monahan serves as the Flames' top pick from the 2013 NHL Draft. The Ottawa 67's product has put up back-to-back 79-point seasons in the Ontario Hockey League as was selected sixth overall last June.
How he, Granlund and Knight fare against National Hockey League opposition remains to be seen. How Reinhart holds up after his audition last season is a question, too.
If any need support, the veteran Stajan is there to lend a hand.
"It feels like yesterday I was one of them," the 29-year-old recalled.
"I'm there for these guys and hopefully they adapt quickly."
Their biggest adjustment?
"The one thing I've noticed so far how strong and quick everyone is at this level," Knight said. "You look at these guys and there's a reason they're in the NHL, just the way they battle and compete out there. They're so smart too in every zone. It's not very often you're going to be able to make a mistake and not have it cost you.
"You've got to try to be as careful as you can with the puck and really protect it and try to limit the mistakes."
Backlund, hardly an elder statesman at just 24-years-old, had different advice for Knight and the other prospects.
"Don't be shy in camp, just want to be the best player out there," he offered. "That's the only way to make the team."
And close the contest at centre.