It’s no secret I’m a guy who tends to look at the forest rather than the trees when it comes to hockey analysis. I’m going to supress that habit this one time to share my very early impressions of Sven Baertschi however. With appropriate caveats attached, of course.
The kid has appeared in three games, and, famously, already collected a couple of goals. We obviously can’t expect him to score in two out of three contests going forward, but the tallies themselves were good indications of his abilities.
For the first, Baertschi established himself in position in front of the net, deflty tipped a point-shot between his legs and then spun around and immediately deposited the rebound behind the sprawling goaltender.
His second marker last night was similar:
Baertschi keeps the play alive in the offensive end and then follows the puck to net and deposits a rebound.
Of course, anyone looks good while they’re scoring goals. The real issue for youngsters is how they play everywhere else on the ice. Here are some of my notes on Baertschi’s overall efforts so far:
– He appears neither intimidated nor hesitant. For a lot of rookies, the speed, size and aggression of the league is so overwhelming at first that they spend a a lot of time trying to avoid the puck, minimize board battles and just try not to screw up too badly. Baertschi, on the other hand, looks hungry for the puck and eager to engage opponents all over the ice. He has attempted moves (both unsuccessful and succesful) and already appears relatively comfortable.
– One big positive I’ve noticed is his ability to gain entry into the offensive zone so far. A lot of kids (and heck, many vets) will throw the puck at the net or into the corner at the smallest hint of pressure in the neutral zone or around the blueline. This was one of Backlund’s big failings when he was a rookie for instance.
Baertschi, however, has shown the ability to carry it in or thread passes through coverage so the Flames are able to attack with possession rather than having the dump the puck in and try to regain it. It takes a certain level of both skill and poise to make good plays on the rush at the offensive blueline Baertschi is already showing those off as a teen.
– This one is highly subjective, but Baertschi frequently seems "central" to the play and therefore readily noticable whenever he’s on the ice. In many other instances in the recent past I’ve had to strain to notice certain hopefuls on the ice: Kris Chucko, Eric Nystrom, Greg Nemisz, etc. In part because they often didn’t much ice time, but also because they played very minimal, bland, periphery games. Baertschi, on the other hand, anticipates the pucks path and actively moves to involve himself in the play. On a good shift, he’s one of those guys who seems to be "everywhere" on the ice.
– In terms of mechnics, I’d say Baertschi is very quick but not "fast", at least not in the same sense as, say, Taylor Hall, who seems to have another gear relative to other NHLers. Which isn’t to say skating is a weakness – he’s just not going to win races against the fasest guys in the league.
Also, although he’s been dubbed small, Baertschi dosn’t appear under-sized or overmatched so far, perhaps because he skates with a wide stance and lower center of gravity. I think Brent Sutter agrees because the kid’s ice time has climbed in each subsequent game so far (9:08, 10:41, 14:06).
– Overall I’ve been very impressed. I can’t remember the last Flames forward who came in and looked similarly comfortable right out of junior. I guess that’s a small subset of players since so few Calgary prospects actually make that leap – Jarome Iginla is probably the only Flames choice to do it in recent memory.
Mikael Backlund is the best Clagry forward prospect of the last decade and Sven looks several steps ahead of him at the same age. Again, that’s just by eye and we’re only talking about three games here which is a terribly small sample to judge any player, but you work with the information you have.
Right now, I now fully expect Baertschi to make the big club full time next season. I won’t rule out a brief stint in the minor at some point, but I assume he’ll spend the majority of the time as a Calgary Flame.
– Leland Irving was recalled from Abbotsford today. Expect him to get the start against the Oilers on Friday. His recall means the Flames have just one left (absent any more emergencies) for the rest of the regular season.
– Krys Kolanos was predictably demoted thanks to the return of Blake Comeau today as well. I didn’t mind Kolanos as a deth option, even though he clearly had his warts (below average skating). I liked his instincts with the puck around the net and thought he probably deserved a few more points than he picked up. I can reasonably say there are worse players drawing regular pay checks in the league than Krys. Good luck to him and maybe he can fill a similar role for the team next year.
– TJ Brodie is apparently feeling better and getting close to a return. Also skating according to Roger Millions this morning were Jackman, Stempniak, Bouma and Butler. The Flames may actually ice a full NHL team before the season ends.
– Still hurt long-term are Backlund, Jones and Cammalleri. We know what’s wrong with the first two, but the team has been very quiet about the Cammy injury. I assume it’s a concussion because he was hit in the head with a puck, but that’s mere speculation.