Warm-up act takes Saddledome ice


They call it prospects camp and they call it rookie camp, neither of which is completely accurate.

Prospect has that element of speculation, of potential, of possibility, as in “He sure as heck isn’t an NHLer now but we believe that with time and some physical maturity, he’ll become one.”

Mikael Backlund, a physically immature young forward who’s still trying get the hang of hockey and life one ocean and then most of a continent away from his homeland, is a prospect.

Carsen Germyn, a phyiscally mature not-so-young forward, is not a prospect. Or if he is a prospect, he’s one whose present and future bear an awfully close resemblance to his past — i.e. Kraft Dinner five nights a week, intimate knowledge of all the hotspots in Norfolk, Va. and the complete assurance that no one will ever, ever say, “Get your tickets for Thursday when Carsen Germyn and the Calgary Flames come to town.”

Those who would call the early portion of the Flames’ season prep session a “rookie” camp are playing fast and loose with the term considering the presence of Jamie Lundmark, who is almost three-quarters of the way towards qualifying for his full NHL pension.

They really oughta call them “hopeful” camps because hope — or wishful thinking, take your pick — is the one thing all of the hockey players who will take the ice Wednesday at the House Kari Eloranta Built have in common.

Hope as in the Flames hope that Leland Irving will continue to make the transition from cut-rate Napoleon Dynamite look-a-like to bona fide NHL goaltender.

Hope as in the Flames hope Kris Chucko will build on a superficially productive but surprisingly uninspiring 28-goal season in the AHL and avoid permanent placement in the Rico Fata/Jesper Mattson/Niklas Sundblad/What the Hell Where We Thinking? file.

Hope as in the Flames hope that Anton Stralman will make the idea of taking in Maple Leaf blue-line castoffs a lot better than it sounds.

The truth of the matter is, the best most of the guys who will serve as the warm-up act for the headliners who show up to work this weekend can hope for is to leave a favourable impression before being handed a ticket to Abbotsford and the helpful suggestion, “Try the miso soup at Mars Japanese Bistro.”

Of the lot who attended Calgary’s prospect camp a year ago, only Backlund, Kyle Greentree, John Negrin, Matt Pelech and Brett Sutter wound up playing in the NHL, and that was for only a combined total of 15 games.

Thanks to the liberal admission policies for this year’s camp and the presence of Lundmark types (Garth Murray and Stralman also have the equivalent of at least one season of NHL duty on their resumes) these prospects will log considerably more big-league time.

Here, based on discussions with knowledgeable hockey people and personal observations from a far, far less sage ex-journalist, are a few random comments and predicitions on the pre-camp campers.

The guy who’ll play the most games in the NHL

Lundmark: At one point last season, Adrian Aucoin jokingly said that Lundmark comes to the NHL every once in a while, shows off his first-round talent for a short burst and then gets bored so he starts sucking so that he can go back to the minors. Only a jest, but there might be more truth in the comment than Lundmark would ever admit. Still, depth is a bit of issue and people who knew Lundmark both before and after his ill-fated Russian stint say he’s a different and more determined player now.

The guy who’ll wind up with the best career

Negrin: Perhaps it’s a desire to refrain from taking the easy out and naming a first-round selection such as Backlund, Irving or Greg Nemisz, but the love for the former Kootenay Ice defenceman, a third-round pick in 2007, in the Flames organization is considerable. Negrin impressed at the rookie tournament a year ago and an unflappable way about him both on and off the ice.

Darkhorse candidate

John Armstrong: While most of the reports from Moline about Chucko were lukewarm despite a breakout offensive year, the raves for Armstrong seemed incongruant with his five-goal rookie campaign as a pro. As a matter of fact, Armstrong never scored much in junior either but scouts love all his other qualities and are convinced he’ll eventually be an NHL role player.

Most likely to answer a ton of questions about his family

Brett Sutter: Apparently, some members of the previous Sutter generation have dabbled in the frozen game. Fortunately, young Brett inherited his mother’s good humour and handles the attention very gracefully considering the relentless monotony of the bloodline line of questioning.

  • word out of the QC was that johnny A played most of the year injured, so i'm decidedly curious about what he's gonna do this year after surgery.

    i'm also thinking this will be a make-or-break year for aulie.

  • A make or break year for Aulie? In his first year as a pro? I'd be willing to give the kids some training wheels.

    If I were to throw out a darkhorse candidate it would be Brett Sutter. He'd get unfairly hounded by the press because of the nepotism question but IMO Brett Sutter has all the tools to be an excellent NHL role player.