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Veterans, rookies set for final push

Veterans, rookies set for final push

by Aaron Vickers @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- Chris Higgins doesn't need a reminder.

He knows. 

Without an NHL contract and in camp with the Calgary Flames on a professional try-out, Higgins understands that time to leave an impact is limited.

"There's only two left," said Higgins, who is set to audition against the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday alongside veterans Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. "The next one is tomorrow night.

"There's not much more time to make an impression after tonight."

No, there isn't.

The Flames will host the Coyotes at Scotiabank Saddledome before jetting off to visit the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on Thursday, in what will serve as Calgary's final pre-season tune-up before opening the season against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Oct. 12.

Higgins, who had his contract bought out by the Canucks in June after the least productive season of his NHL career, will play Wednesday.

There's no guarantee he will dress against his former team Thursday.

Meaning there's not much time to leave a mark.

And earn a contract. 

"There's still spots available," said Higgins, who had three goals and four points in 33 games with the Canucks, and nine goals and 13 points in 22 games with Utica of the American Hockey League last season.

"I'm kind of just trying to take it day-by-day. Here's another day to make an opportunity. I feel good. I feel strong. I feel I've gotten better every day. I think most guys would say we're past the tough part where your body's sore and tired. Now we can start working our game, start improving."

Higgins, 33, and Lauri Korpikoski, who isn't expected to play against Arizona, are both on PTO's and hoping to leave an impression.

They aren't alone in their efforts.

Prospects are trying to make a late push, too.

"There's a lot of good players," rookie Hunter Shinkaruk said. "Every player in this room is a great player. They can play at this level. It's about showing that you have that little something extra, that something special.

"For me it's just about going out there and playing my game."

Shinkaruk, acquired by Calgary from the Canucks in February, will also dress against Arizona.

There's no guarantee the 21-year-old will do the same in Vancouver.

Wednesday's skate could be his last in-game opportunity to leave an impression.

And make the team.

"I'm pretty relaxed," said Shinkaruk, who is expected to skate on a line with Linden Vey and Micheal Ferland against Arizona. "I know I have to go out there and play my game, but I've been down this road before. It's up to you. If you play your game that's really all you can do. I feel like where my game's at, where it was last year, I'm ready to make this jump.

"I feel I've proved to people who've watched me I'm ready to make this jump. Now it's just about getting that opportunity. 

"That's kind of how it is. There's a lot of good players. Every player in this room is a great player. They can play at this level. It's about showing that you have that little something extra, that something special. For me it's just about going out there and playing my game."

Shinkaruk, who had two goals and three points in a late-season, seven-game audition with the Flames, is entering the final season of a three-year, entry-level contract.

But he's not stressing about his situation in camp. 

Or the competition.

Or how quickly time is running out to leave that lasting impression. 

"The first few years I thought about a lot … who was there and what line I was on," he said. "I was getting sent down either way. When I went back to the A last year I just went out there and played my game and do whatever I can to help whatever team I was playing for. That's what I have to do now.

"When I'm at the top of my game I think I can be the best player on the ice, so if I just do that, whatever happens, happens."

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