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30 in 30: Flames seek growth from X-factor Baertschi

by John Kreiser

From Lanny McDonald to Theo Fleury to Jarome Iginla, the Calgary Flames have had a history of high-scoring wings.

They're hoping Sven Baertschi will keep that tradition alive.

Baertschi teased the Flames and their fans by scoring three times during a five-game cameo in 2011-12. He left them wanting more after a seven-game points streak at the end of last season.

The Flames, who haven't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009, hope he's ready to carry that through a full season in 2013-14. With longtime captain Iginla gone via trade late last season, the Flames need Baertschi to become the kind of scorer they envisioned when they took him with the 13th pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.

Baertschi, a native of Switzerland, certainly appears to have the credentials. He scored 34 goals and finished with 85 points for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League in his draft season and followed that with 33 goals and 94 points in '11-12 -- in 47 games. Baertschi turned pro last season and struggled through a hip-flexor injury, but he had 10 goals and 26 points in 32 games for Abbotsford of the American Hockey League before his season-ending hot streak enabled him to finish with three goals and 10 points in 20 NHL games.

"Whatever happened was good," he said of last season's struggles, which included a midseason demotion to Abbotsford after a poor start with Calgary. "Those things, however difficult they were, had to happen. It took a while for me to adjust to NHL hockey, to feel as if I fit in."

But the fast finish gives him renewed confidence entering the upcoming season.

"For me, it's going to be similar to last year," he said after excelling at rookie camp in July. "I've got to make sure I get my spot. As a player, you never want to give up your spot. Last year, I got sent down. With that, I gave up a spot. I don't want that to happen again."

Baertschi possesses everything needed to become the Flames' next top gun on the wing. He accelerates quickly, has excellent balance and agility, soft hands, and is an excellent stickhandler, making him dangerous on the rush. He's got an accurate wrist shot he gets off quickly, but his vision and passing skills make him a talented playmaker -- he had 122 assists in 113 games in his last two junior seasons.

At 5-foot-10 and 181 pounds, Baertschi isn't the biggest guy in the League. But he's solid on his skates and is willing to take a hit to make a play and go into the dirty areas to get his goals. He plays bigger than he is; during the Flames' development camp last month, Baertschi went after Tim Harrison after taking a high hit from the 2013 sixth-round draft pick, who had been running several players on Baertschi's team.

"I had to stand up for my teammates," he said of the attention-getting hit.

The Flames are hoping young forward Sven Baertschi takes the next step toward being a prolific wing at the NHL level. (Photo: Getty Images)

Though Baertschi doesn't turn 21 until Oct. 5, he has earned an invitation to the training camp for Switzerland's Olympic team. But he said the most important aspect of his season is to become a major contributor to the Flames.

"I'm a guy that goes step by step," Baertschi said. "I learned so many things last year. For me, the most important thing this season is to be on [the Flames] and play well and be a good player on this team."

The hype that greeted Baertschi during his short stay with the Flames two years ago is gone. What remains is a young player with plenty to prove after getting an education in the perils of great expectations while trying to help a team undergoing a total rebuild.

"I learned that you've got to earn it," he said. "They're not going to give you everything, or anything, just because you're a first-round pick. No one cares. They're too busy. There's too much at stake.

"But I know I belong here. I think it helps that I finished the season strong."

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