FGD: Pre Battle

The Calgary Flames continue their preseason tonight as they open up a home and home set with the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place (6 pm, Sportsnet Radio FAN 960 and www.calgaryflames.com).  Calgary opened their preseason with a win and a loss on Tuesday, taking a 5-1 split squad win at home over Vancouver before falling to the Canucks 4-3 at Rogers Arena.  Tonight opens up a stretch of four games in six nights for Calgary.

The Lineup

Calgary brings a mixed lineup, with plenty of bubble players to watch and evaluate to go along with veteran players to help drive the bus.  It’ll be the second preseason game for Sven Baertschi, as the Flames 2011 first round pick continues to impress in many circles.  It’ll be interesting to see if Calgary gives him some regular season games to try and impress, or if they return him to Portland of the WHL so he can get close to a full season in in junior. 

Personally, I don’t think Baertschi is ready to play the type of role he’d need to play on a consistent basis, so junior is the place to go. As such, I’d rather see them go the junior route sooner rather than later.  I say that for two reasons: 

First, it’ll allow Sven to get almost a full season in with the Winterhawks, making it most condusive to him dominating the league.  Second, I’ve heard a few stories of how getting players into regular season games and then re-assigning them can do a number on their confidence.  Why risk that for a guy who isn’t ready for the NHL?

Paul Byron is a different story, as he’s older, has two years of pro under his belt, and might really be ready to play in the NHL.  The problem is, there are so many forward bodies on one-way contracts that many don’t see a logical fit for the small forward on this team right now.  If Byron continues to impress (and let’s not forget, his first game was against a glorified Allan Cup team) then it’ll be interesting to see if Jay Feaster sticks someone else in the press box.  Here are lines and pairings.

Lee Stempniak-Paul Byron-Rene Bourque
Niklas Hagman-Max Reinhart-Sven Baertschi
Lance Bouma-Matt Stajan-Greg Nemisz
Stefan Meyer-Ben Walter-Guillaume Desbiens

Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
Derek Smith-Anton Babchuk
Brendan Mikkelson-Jordan Henry

Henry is another player to watch, after a strong, poised outing at home on Tuesday night. With Cory Sarich and Brett Carson unlikely to be ready for the start of the season, Henry is among the group of players fighting for potential open spots in the six and seven hole.  Mikkelson had a shaky game on Tuesday, but might have an inside track just because of his familiarity with the team. If that’s true, Henry probably has the edge currently on names like T.J. Brodie, Clay Wilson and Smith.

It was thought at first Henrik Karlsson would join Leland Irving for the game in Edmonton, but the Flames website has Irving going with Joni Ortio.  Again, Irving needs the game action as Abbotsford has next to no preseason, and after a shaky outing in Vancouver, he likely needs a better effort on top of it all.

The Opponent

It’ll be a fairly star studded lineup for the Oilers. They’ll go with a number of their marquee names at home, as most teams typically do. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will play for the first time against the Flames, as he was sat out for the game at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton. The 2011 first overall pick will play on the same line as 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall, who has drawn rave reviews so far in camp.

Taylor Hall-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Teemu Hartikainen
Ryan Jones-Sam Gagner-Ryan Keller
Josh Green-Eric Belanger-Tyler Pitlick
Antti Tyrvainen-Anton Lander-Ryan Martindale

Andy Sutton-Tom Gilbert
Cam Barker-Kirill Tulupov
Theo Peckham-Jeff Petry

Lander centeres the fourth line, yet I wonder if there’s more of a chance for him to make the Oilers out of camp than for Nugent-Hopkins. It’s almost a guarantee Nugent-Hopkins will get the nine regular season games before Edmonton makes their decision, but Lander is older and more experienced and already has extremely keen defensive awareness. In Penticton, I was very impressed with Lander’s finishing ability, however. If he’s not on the team to start, I think he’ll play in the AHL and be on the Oilers by the end of the year full time.

Nikolai Khabibulin gets the start in net and he’s yet to really impress in the preseason. He’ll be under extreme scrutiny this year in Edmonton, as Oilers fans will look at his contract and expect a large deal more than they’ve gotten from him so far.  Olivier Roy serves as the backup tonight.

The Story

It’s the preseason, so, yeah don’t put too much stock into this thing.  What’s good is the Oilers are bringing some real players in this game, so it’ll be a fair evaluation of guys like Byron and Henry.  The two teams hook up again Sunday back at the ‘Dome, a 6 pm start as well.