The 2013 season is almost finished, so it’s time to look towards the future. The benefit of the last dozen games and the audition process is that the Flames and their coaching staff knows which players fit and which don’t. Here’s a quick gander at five guys who, while they haven’t locked themselves into full-time jobs in the NHL quite yet, are really close. (Well, okay, four that are close and one that’s a bit of a stretch.)
Sven’s the closest person on this list to being a full-timer already. Baertschi has spent roughly half this year in the bigs. His season can be split into two halves: the firrst part where he was a third/fourth liner and the second part where he was in the top six. The halves are separated by a stint in Abbotsford.
In the first chunk, he played 10 games (and missed some time due to injury). He had zero goals, one assist and was a minus-two and looked a bit out of his depth. In the second chunk, the last 9 games, he’s had two goals, six assists and a plus-two rating. Moreover, he’s looked more and more like the Sven Baertschi we saw last season.
Bouma’s missed all but three games this year due to a major knee injury. But last season, Bouma was a force to be reckoned with in the bigs. He split his efforts between Calgary and the Heat in 2011-12, making a name for himself by blocking shots, hitting, fighting and generally being a wonderfully unpleasant person to play hockey against.
He was so good that his play likely led to Tom Kostopoulos leaving down via free agency. The Flames dreamt of a fourth line of big Blair Jones, mean Lance Bouma and the veteran presence of Tim Jackman. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out, but so long as Bouma’s knee has fully healed by training camp, he’ll be given every chance to factor into the line-up.
Roman Horak has had a good couple of years. He’s made the Flames two years in a row out of camp – primarily due to injuries – and each year been one of the first call-ups after people got healthy again. Last year he looked a bit out of place. This year he’s become one of the better three-zone forwards, particularly strong at being in the right place in the defensive zone.
Horak’s also found his scoring touch this season, mostly in Abbotsford. If he can maintain his consistency, he’ll be hard to send to the farm a third time.
Now we’re getting into the riskier picks.
Okay, Max Power is a first-year pro. But would you know that looking at him on the ice? Not really. Reinhart is a smart three-zone player and a very good forechecker. You could say he fits Bob Hartley’s high-tempo system likes a glove.
If Reinhart has a good training camp, he’ll be able to make the team. Moreover, Flames management knows what he’s capable of as a pro and, thus, may leave a contestable spot for him on the roster. He’s just 21 and is still learning, but he’s made a good impression thus far.
Obviously the most far-flung pick of this lot, my dark horse for 2013-14 is Tyler Wotherspoon. Wotherspoon didn’t really skate at camp last year due to a shoulder injury and the Flames didn’t really have a training camp this year due to the lockout.
But heck, Wotherspoon was flat-out great at Hockey Canada’s World Junior camp prior to Christmas. He elevated his game all season and seemed to “get” how to play high-level hockey. Granted, the NHL is about as far removed from junior, but Wotherspoon has shown the ability to be a sponge and rapidly improve.
A couple years ago, Roman Horak came into training camp straight out of the WHL and made the team. If anybody does the same thing in 2013-14, it may be Tyler Wotherspoon.