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Penticton a starting point for Flames hopefuls

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- The stars are about to shine on the Okanagan Valley.

And for prospects of the Calgary Flames, the next step to marching towards a permanent home in the NHL starts at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton.

“I think it’s a great starting ground for the season,” Flames radio colour analyst Peter Loubardias said. “It always feels that way. It’s a terrific way for the teams that are involved to get a good look at their prospects and see how they compare and see even depth-wise to a certain extent how all those different organizations compare.

“I think it’s a great format. I’ve always felt that way. It’s great to compete against other teams rather than in your own camp amongst yourselves. I think it’s a great kickoff. It’s a great learning and evaluating tool.”

The tournament runs from Sept. 16-19, and features prospects from the Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets.

It gives prospects from the four participating organizations an opportunity to ramp up heading into main camp later in the month.

“The one thing that I would suggest is that whether it’s been Johnny Gaudreau or Sam Bennett or others, to me it’s a place where if you’re going to really have a shot at making the big team, you want to leave Penticton feeling like those players were dominant players,” Loubardias said.

“I’m sure there’s been a case or two where somebody struggled in Penticton and got it together in preseason and took off, but I think by and large if you’re ready to take another step, and a big step, you better go there and be a very noticeable, if not dominant, performer in that event amongst your peers.”

The tournament will serve as the first opportunity for Matthew Tkachuk to represent the Flames in competition. Tkachuk was the No. 6 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, and a candidate to make Calgary out of training camp as an 18-year-old.

A strong showing in Penticton will go a long way to proving his readiness.

“His competitiveness, his smarts, his tenacity … in all the right ways he’s a nasty guy, with a lot of skill,” Loubardias said. The thing I like most about Matthew is he has a great pedigree. He has an unbelievable understanding about the game. He’s grown up around it all his life, and at the highest level. He knows what it’s going to take.

“When I think about Matthew, there it is. There’s a great step-off point. After two or three games you’re going to get a good idea again of how good he is, how ready he is, and how close he is. For sure he’s a guy that I’ve been so impressed with every time I’ve seen him. I’ve seen him be a very dominant player in Red Deer at the Memorial Cup. I think it’s a great pick. It fulfills a lot of needs and we’ll see if Penticton is a great jump-off point for him.”

The tournament isn’t reserved for first round picks, though. Other prospects can, and have, used the Young Stars Classic as a jumping off point to getting noticed.

The next step towards spending significant time in Calgary.

Garnet Hathaway is the perfect example,” Loubardias said. “I didn’t know much about Garnet because he was a college guy and at that event a couple years ago I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Not too far down the road he was signing a contract and last year got into a number of games.

“That’s the other aspect for me that I really enjoy. It’s great to see if you’re making great first round selections, but one of the highlights for me is you know there are going to be a couple of guys in every organization that maybe you’re not that familiar with, and it becomes a real stepping stone for them.

“You always know that there’s going to be one or two guys on every roster that are going to jump up and they’re going to be noticed and it’s going to be a starting ground for good things.

“I’m excited to see who is next.”

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