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Steinberg’s Slant: Great Expectations For Top Prospect

by Pat Steinberg / Calgary Flames
Fans have big expectations of Sven Baertschi for the upcoming season

CALGARY, AB – You’d have to be living under a rock as a Calgary Flames fan to not be aware of the buzz surrounding Sven Baertschi.

An immense amount of skill, a stupid shot and an infectious attitude have made the 2011 first round pick one of the most exciting Flames prospects in years. His three goals in five games in Calgary last year didn’t hurt, either.

Now, as he likely enters his first full season (if you can call 48 games full) in the National Hockey League, the expectations are sky high for the Swiss sniper who’s turning No. 47 into a household number.

But what should those expectations be?

Let’s put everything on the table. Baertschi could very well be a Calder Trophy hopeful at 20 years of age. His ability to finish scoring chances is something that could see him put up some good points as a rookie. I wouldn’t consider it shocking if he hit double digits in goals if he was a fixture on the powerplay right to the end of the season. Why not? Skilled forwards in this league have shown they can put up points right from the start of their career, and Baertschi is certainly skilled.

However, end of season awards and point totals aren’t what’s most important for Baertschi in his true rookie season. At least not in my eyes, and I don’t believe in the eyes of the Flames.

The biggest key in a full season, or in this case a condensed season, for a player like Baertschi is development. There’s no question the Flames has him factored into their plans in a big way going forward, so putting him in a position to impact those plans is crucial.

If you’re reading this and saying ‘yeah, development, blah blah’, I don’t blame you. The term is thrown around in all different situations, and can come without a true definition. I’ll define how I mean in this sense.

Calgary clearly wants to try Baertschi in a higher end role this season. He’s seen the majority of his training camp time thus far on a line with Mikael Backlund and Mike Cammalleri in a presumed top-six role, but what is sometimes forgotten is how much more to a role in that group there is than just putting up points.

Playing against similar competition on opposing depth charts comes with it some challenges, especially for a first year NHLer. In developing as a player, it’s just important for Baertschi to not get outdone by similarly skilled players on the other side. He’s done a pretty darn good job of that at every other level of hockey, but there’s also no guarantee it’ll happen in an immediate fashion.

That’s where we get back to development. If Baertschi is developing as an all-round forward and putting up great points in the process, that’s awesome. Flames fans will be ecstatic to see a first round pick excelling right off the bat, and we’ll get an empirical glimpse of just how bright his future might be.

However, if he’s not putting up points at a rapid pace in Year One but showing Calgary brass true progression, that’s pretty good too. When it comes down to it, the only thing that is truly important is how Baertschi grows and progresses in his rookie season so that he’s a better player down the road.

The best part about Calgary’s most exciting prospect is how eager he is to learn.

From coaches to management, Baertschi’s enthusiasm is always one of the traits universally extolled. A guy who can finish at as deadly a rate as he can is always going to want to score. By all accounts, including his own, Baertschi is fully aware of the process needed to become a top scorer in this league.

Great expectations bring great pressure. Enthusiastic and eager personalities tend to deal with pressure fairly well. So, points or no points, a blue chip prospects who wants to develop is a pretty valuable weapon to have.

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