NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
The Calgary Flames' needs up the middle could be Sean Monahan's ticket to the NHL this season.
The Flames are in severe need of a center they can build around. They hope that player can be Monahan, the sixth player selected in the 2013 NHL Draft and the center of attention with Calgary's entry in the Young Stars Classic earlier this month.
Monahan was the earliest pick the Flames have had since they took Rico Fata with the sixth choice in the 1998 draft. He has no intention of ending up like Fata, who never became the player the Flames hoped he would be and has spent the past six-plus seasons in Europe after 230 NHL games.
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The 18-year-old (Monahan turns 19 on Oct. 12) spent the summer adding muscle to his 6-foot-2 frame. He checked in at an even 200 pounds when he arrived at rookie camp this month and said he's determined to be with the Flames when they open their season against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 3.
"I'm working my butt off to make that a reality," Monahan said of making the Flames' roster. "I know there are certain things I need to work on to make it, but I've dedicated my summer to ironing those things out. I was in the gym six days a week working on my conditioning, which I know is huge at the next level. I was mostly focusing on my core strength, which worked out well because I've gained some solid muscle mass since the draft. On the ice, I focused on my explosiveness, and I got an excellent chance to work on that when we had our development camp earlier this summer.
"I feel like I'm a much better and more refined player than I was a few months ago."
But Monahan is doing more than just preparing physically. He also spent time boning up on the centers he'll be facing if he makes the team rather than returning for another year of junior hockey with the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League, where he scored 78 points in 58 games last season.
"Throughout the summer, I've been watching a little bit of video on certain guys in the NHL and what they do," Monahan said. "I think you've gotta be smart and treat it as a game within a game within a game."
Monahan wasted little time making his case for a roster spot. He skated with veteran forward Mike Cammalleri during the summer and again during the early stages of training camp.
"He's a player who plays with his head up and sees the ice," Cammalleri said. "That's a very effective quality if you want to produce at this level. Teams are good defensively, and you've got to be able to read plays, play the game with your head up and be aware of where your teammates are. He's shown the ability to do that."
Monahan saw ice time in every possible situation in Ottawa, and he feels he'll be able to get used to coach Bob Hartley's systems in Calgary in time to contribute to the Flames.
"They're good systems, and I'll have to get used to them if I want to play in Calgary," he said. "I can adjust to different situations; it's something I've done my whole career."
If Monahan's first pro game on Sept. 14 is any indication, he has an excellent chance to start the season with the Flames.
"This game is about details and commitment," Hartley said after Monahan's performance against the Edmonton Oilers. "Look at year-by-year drafts. You see many first-round picks, second-round picks, very talented players that, unfortunately, don't make it in the NHL … or, after a few years, they're simply out of hockey. Lots of skills, but they don't understand what they need to do to be a good pro.
"With Sean Monahan, he gets this. He's ready to learn. He showed up in great shape. It's pretty rare for a junior to come to his first camp and be one of the top in conditioning. Usually, they need a year to get their feet wet. Compliments to Sean Monahan -- he did it the right way."