With the departures of Mike Cammalleri and Todd Bertuzzi, the Calgary Flames only have 3 sure bets in terms of top 6 forwards: Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow and Olli Jokinen. As such, there will be ample opportunities for the club’s various “support players” to move up to the top of the rotation. With as many as 6 candidates looking to grab a scoring role, there’s a good chance Flames fans will see a “break out” season or two this year.
Following are the most likely Flames to take a step forward in terms of role and point totals this year:
1.) Rene Bourque
Fast, tenacious and defensively responsible, Bourque rapidly endeared himself to the coaching staff and fans alike last year. Thanks to his abilities and a nice helping of good fortune, Bourque was the Flames best forward at even strength last year, despite facing some of the toughest competition on the club. He was the only regular skater to score more than 3 points/60 minutes of ice at 5on5 and led the club in plus/minus.
Some would argue Bourque has already “broken out” and is the most likely lock in the Flames top 6 outside Jarome et al, which is defensible. However, there’s the potential for Bourque to regress this season owing to a number of factors, primary of which is his career best SH% from last season and team best PDO number of 102 (on-ice SH% and SV%, combined), both of which are bound to fall back towards the mean. That said, Bourque piled up all his points playing against tough competition and with almost no PP time to speak of. If he lands on a forward unit with, say, Iginla and garners some time with the man advantage, the improved circumstances may just make up for less amicable percentages.
2.) David Moss
Another guy who kinda, sorta already broke out was former 7th rounder David Moss. Teamed with Craig Conroy and Curtis Glencross, Moss beat up on other third liners last year, resulting in one of the best corsi rates in the entire league (+23.8/60). To put it in perspective, his peers in that regard last season were the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Semin and Marian Hossa.
Like Bourque, Moss did most of his damage at ES, averaging just 1:50 on PP time per game. He was also limited to a paltry 10:46 of ES ice-time per contest, good for 15th (!) on the team. A bump in either ES or PP time (or both) could turn Moss into a 50 or 60 point forward, depending who he plays with.
3.) Curtis Glencross
One of the best steals of last summer, Glencross was just behind Moss as a team corsi leader (+19.2). He scored 2.33 ESP/60 (more efficient than Langkow, Jokinen, Bertuzzi and Moss himself) and his totals were only limited by his ice time and an injury that saw him miss 8 games in the middle of the season. Lightning fast with decent offensive instincts and a will to hit anything that moves, Glencross scored just 5 of his 40 points with the man advantage last year. With more ice and more PP time, he could well become a 20 goal, 50 point winger.
4.) Nigel Dawes
The newest Calgary Flame has a big fan in bench boss Brent Sutter. Asked about Dawes recently, whom he coached against in Junior and out East in the big league, Sutter had this to say about the diminutive sniper:
“He’s a player that’s really gifted, he can really score,” said Sutter.
“You look at the stats”–25 tallies in 133 NHL games — “and they’re not really where a goal scorer would be, but he’s a very young player with tremendous potential. From the top of the circles and in, he’s a finisher.
“He knows the game, he plays hard, he’s a competitor.”
Ryan McGill also coached Dawes in Junior, where he put up 3 straight seasons of eye-popping goal totals. With so many supporters amongst the guys calling the shots, there’s a good chance Dawes will be given an opportunity to esablish himself, even if he is somewhat less proven than guys like Bourque and Moss above.
5.) Dustin Boyd
The best home grown forward prospect to come out of the Flames system in some time, Boyd has yet to really make a dent at the NHL level. A point-per-game scorer in the AHL as a 20 year old rookie, Boyd has put up results at every level in hockey except the NHL, where he’s been mostly relegated to a 4th line role while he finds his footing. With so many guys in line ahead of him, Boyd will either need to take a sizable step forward this season in order to grab a top 6 spot, or have to be gifted an opportunity by chance (say, for instance, a long-term injury to one of the incumbants).
6.) Mikael Backlund
The longest of the long-shots, Backlund is tabbed to start the season in Abbotsford thanks to the parent club’s lack of cap space and 14 NHL caliber forwards. Like Boyd, a lot of things would have to go right (or wrong, as it were) for Backlund to get a legit shot at the top 6, including injuries, incumbants truggling and a sizable improvement by the kid himself. Although a capable scorer at the Junior level, Backlund visibly struggled against NHL competition during the pre-season and his lone regular season appearance last year, especially in the defensive zone where he was completely overwhelmed. Even if his offensive abilities are NHL calbier, Backlund will have to get up to speed in his own end of the rink before he can take a regular shift with the big boys.