CALGARY - When Calgary Flames head coach Mike Keenan saw winger Kristian Huselius with his shirt off during training camp, he told him: "You finally got it."
But Huselius's fitness runs more than muscle deep, says Keenan, who has noticed a difference between the Swede now and when he coached him with the Florida Panthers five years ago.
"He's a lot stronger than he was in Florida," said Keenan. "He's a stronger man mentally and physically. He's never going to be a big man, but he's strong individually. He's always had the skill set."
Huselius, 28, began working with a personal trainer for the first time prior to last season and put up career numbers with 34 goals and 43 assists in 81 games.
He provided important second-line scoring for the Flames and will be counted on to do so again this season as well as playing a lot of special teams minutes.
"I felt good going into last year and felt strong," Huselius said Thursday before the Flames opened the season against Philadelphia. "I think I'm in even better shape this year.
"It's key nowadays because the league is tough, there's a lot of games and a lot of travelling, so you need to be in good shape to stay healthy and focused."
The lanky forward isn't ever going to be a behemoth at six foot one and 176 pounds. Still, he feels he's in the best physical condition of his career.
Huselius, from Osterhaninge, trained on his own earlier in his career, but reached a point where he felt he needed to do more and began working with a trainer at home in Sweden during the off-season.
"When you get older, you realize how tough it is to play in the league and to be a good player and that's why I kind of realized it's really time to step it up and make sure I do what it takes," he said.
Huselius combines vision and playmaking ability with shifty speed that makes him difficult to check. He attributes his improved numbers last season not just to physical fitness, but also to a maturation in his game.
"To get to that point, you realize you have to do what it takes to be a good player," Huselius explained. "You have to play well in the defensive, neutral and offensive zones. I know I have the skills to make plays in the offensive zone, so I have to make sure I play well in all areas."
Florida drafted Huselius 47th overall in the 1997 NHL draft and he was named to the league's all-rookie team in 2002, when he played for Keenan.
Calgary acquired him midway through the 2005-06 season so he's played just one full season for the Flames. While his regular-season numbers were good, his production fell off in the playoffs as he had two assists in six games.
Huselius becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. Another regular season like last one plus a better post-season would go a long way in extending his career as a Flame.
"I don't really think about my goals," Huselius said. "We have to make sure we're ready to play as a group and if we play well as a group, everyone in this locker room is going to look good."