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Great expectations

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames
CALGARY, AB -- For a man who has never played a minute in the NHL, Henrik Karlsson has some big expectations placed upon him.

The franchise has pegged him as a viable backup for workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff and hopes he'll be able to shoulder a fair amount games despite his inexperience.

"That's why he was signed - the projection that he is going to be the guy so we'll see," head coach Brent Sutter said on Sunday afternoon.

"He's going to get an opportunity to play some games through exhibition and we'll see where he's at as far as the goaltending end. Expectations are that he can hopefully fill that hole. But his performance has got to provide that and that's what we're looking as far as our hockey team."

The man himself is taking the pressure in stride, saying he simply wants to go practice-to-practice and improve upon his performance every day.

"They want to see me play good. I want to prove myself from the beginning and help the team win in games.

"Of course I want to be on the ice but I know that Miikka is an all-star goalie in this league for many years. I'm just going to do my best. I want to be on the ice but we'll see what happens."

Karlsson is relatively unknown in North America, both to the coaching staff and fans alike, but that is not something that worries Sutter.

"Going into this camp, it's a situation where you guys maybe know as much about him as I do. I've never seen him play before. To me, it's about performance, right through your whole lineup. It's everyone doing what is necessary for them to be good players to help their team succeed."

Goaltending coach Jamie McLennan is of the same mindset.

"I went to Sweden to see him this summer when we acquired him. I went to see Kipper and Henrik just to see how their progress was going. What you see is what you get with Henrik. He's 6'6, covers a lot of net and really works hard.

"He's a 26 year-old guy. He's not a young guy ... he's not a draft pick, let's put it that way but he's a guy who has a lot of upside. I think that's what was seen within the organization. I'm really looking forward to working with him and having him push for minutes in the net."

The Swede has spent his entire career in the Swedish Elite League, posting a 2.45 GAA and a .914 save percentage in 34 games with Färjestads BK last year. The differences he'll see in the NHL are great and he realizes that. Karlsson says he is using training camp as a way to get acclimatized to the new playing style.

"The players are more skillful here. It's the best league in the world so I expect that they're going to go a little bit faster. Also, adapt to the small rink here."

Due to the lack of knowledge of his playing style, it is hard to form a decent comparison but McLennan says the best possible player to match Karlsson with is another Swede.

"People have compared him to Gustavsson out in Toronto, as far as the size and the Swedish type of thing. I haven't seen Gustavsson or Henrik enough to make that comparison but I think there are a lot similarities as far as size and style."

Backing up Kiprusoff can be a daunting task but Karlsson is hoping he can glean valuable information and tips from the veteran netminder as the season goes on.

"He's a nice guy," Karlsson said of Kiprusoff. "We haven't talked about that (goaltending advice) so much. I try to play my game and he plays his game and we're a little bit different goalies also. But I can pick up things from him."

Kirprusoff has never played less than 73 games during his tenure with the Flames and while Sutter has hopes he can reduce that number, he would not give a number of games he hopes Karlsson can play in.

"I'm not going to say numbers," he stated. "Kipper plays many games because circumstances last year. That's the bottom line. 

"I can sit here and say 'Yeah, I'd love for Kipper to only play 65-68 games,' but again, performance by the other individual and the situation where our team is dictates that a lot."

Fitting into a new team, let alone a new league, can be an extremely stressful transition period for any play but McLennan believes Karlsson's mellow attitude will greatly ease this evolution.

"He's got a great temperament. You notice a lot of Finnish and Swedish people have that lax temperament. He's a firey guy on the ice and really competes hard but his temperament is very nice. He's a very laid back guy so I'm very happy about that and think he'll adjust to playing a North American style very well."

Karlsson says coming over has not been nearly as tough as he expected.

"The guys here are really nice and I'm just trying to do my best. It's kind of weird - you come in so quickly to the team. I feel good here, in this group, and guys are really nice. It's been easy to come in here.

"I'm really happy to be here. It's a big club. It's a historic club so I'm just really thrilled to be here."
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