It’s been a long time since the Flames had a forward prospect enter the season with this much hype. Calgary hasn’t had a kid up front jump directly to the bigs from junior since Jarome Iginla did it in 1996-97.
Sven Baertschi hasn’t made the big roster yet, but after scoring two points-per-game in the WHL and managing three goals in five outing during his cup of coffee in the show, all arrows point to the 19-year old skipping his apprenticeship in the AHL and donning the Flaming "C" right away.
A little irrational exuberance about the kid is understandable given what he represents – an oasis in the middle of a seemingly vast, unending desert of failied draft choices. And while the club will likely continue to be at least competitive for one more season, there’s precious little else to be overtly hopeful about at the present time for Flames fans.
Expectations and Comparables
That said, expectations for Sven should be tempered somewhat. The NHL is a tough league and even the best kids need some time to find their legs at the highest level. To establish a potential range of expectations, I went back to the list of Baertschi comparables I put together a few months ago and took a look at how some of the most similar guys did in their first season:
|Player||Season||GP||Total points||PPG||PP ice||Total Ice|
With the exception of Bobby Ryan, the rest of the guys listed either jumped straight into the NHL or had a limited apprenticeship in the AHL (less than one season). Ryan eventually made the jump full time around the age of 21-22 and has been a high-end player ever since.
As you can see, even though the collection of NHLers is pretty impressive, none of them were true impact guys in their first season – and many of them were in their 20-21 year old year (Baertschi will be 19-20). Only Jordan Eberle played more than 16 minutes a game and only Wolski scored 50 or more points. The average point-per-game pace was 0.51 across all seven players, which represents a 42 points season over 82 games. Of course, none of the kids played in all 82 games (in small part due to injury, but mostly because of scratches/demotion), so the average total points of this sample was just 27.
At the low-end, Schenn and Little managed just over 0.3 PPG, while the best of the bunch were Wolski (0.66) and perhaps the most intuitive current comparable for Baertschi, Claude Giroux (0.64). This isn’t an exhaustive nor overly scientific method, but an expected range from 0.3 – 0.6 points-per-game nevertheless strikes me as reasonable.
In terms of point totals over 82 games, that’s 25-49. The fact that Baertschi’s NHL equivalence last year was smack on 0.6 PPG or 49 points lends further credence to these numbers.
Of course, the biggest determining factor outside of Sven’s talent and performance will be opportunity. Above I listed the PP and total ice time for each comparable to show roughly where each guy fell on the depth chart in his rookie season. The only top-3 forward was Eberle and that’s primarily because the Oilers were depthless and injury prone in 2010-11. The average total ice time was just over 14 minutes across the sample, so most kids fell just outside a top-6 role at even strength and were often second PP unit options.
Given the Flames depth chart, 14 minutes per night might be a high estimate for potential ice this year. Baertschi will be competing with a number of wingers for ice time, including Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross and (potenitally) Mike Cammalleri or Roman Cervenka on left wing. On the right, there is Jarome Iginla, Jiri Hudler and Lee Stempniak. Bubbling beneath is Blake Comeau, Tim Jackman and Lance Bouma.
Absent injuries, there’s a lot of established guys looking to eat up minutes. The Flames PP will have a lot of incumbents battling for ice time as well: Iginla, Tanguay, Cammalleri, Glencross, Hudler, Cervenka and Stempniak.
Upon first glance, it looks like Baertschi’s likely to be a 3rd/4th line option who gets limited PP time. Perhaps the only way he jumps up the depth chart is a few injuries to guys like Tanguay or Hudler and/or is Bob Hartley decides to deploy Glencross in a checking role in order to cobble together a soft minutes scoring unit. If either happens, 15 minutes a night and second PP unit time is possible.
Of course, much of the above assumes Baertschi is ready for full time duty right away. Despite his incredible run in junior last year and his notable 5-game performance with the Flames, it’s entirely possible Baertschi will struggle to remain in the line-up for the full season. Keep in mind the average games played for all the kids in the comparable list was south of 53, for instance, and every guy in that sample was/is a pretty good player. On top of that, the Flames depth in the middle rotation up front is stuffed pretty full – any sort of prolonged trip-up or dry spell can mean a demotion to the minors to make way for the vets.
That said, if Baertschi takes another step forward and is given some opportunity through strategy or injury, he should spend most of the season with the big club and could become a secondary scoring options. If that happens, 40-50 points isn’t out of reach.
On the other hand, even if he struggles to a 20-something point year, any disappointment should be muted given Baertschi’s age and pedigree – a lackluster first go at 19-20 doesn’t necessarily mean he will be yet another disappointment in a long line of Flames prospects; the list of guys who jump straight from junior to the NHL and score 40+ points is a lot shorter than the list of guys who eventually become quality players in their early-to-mid 20’s.