Player Preview: Lance Bouma To Make NHL Debut Tonight vs. Kings

With Ales Kotalik in Abbotsford, Craig Conroy officially retired as of yesterday, and Niklas Hagman on the shelf, the Flames have called up rookie AHLer Lance Bouma, who will make his NHL debut tonight with the club that drafted him two and a half years ago. Bouma will likely suit up alongside Mikael Backlund and Tom Kostopoulos on the fourth line, wearing #57, as his number with the Heat (#10) is already in use by the injured Hagman. 

Bouma played parts of five seasons with the WHL's Vancouver Giants, accumulating a total of 39 goals and 115 points, and capturing the Memorial Cup in 2007. His best season came in his final year of junior, where he served as captain of the Giants, scoring 14 times and adding 29 assists for 43 points in 57 regular season games before joining the Abbotsford Heat when the Giants were eliminated from the third round of the WHL playoffs. The Alberta native appeared in five playoff games for the Heat last season before they, in turn, were eliminated from the post-season, scoring once and recording seven shots on goal in his first taste of the AHL. 

Now in a full-time role with the Heat, the former third round draft pick is tied for the team lead in powerplay goals with five, tied for second on the team in overall goals with fellow rookie Greg Nemisz, and fourth overall in points with 19 in 49 games. As one of the youngest teams in the AHL this season, the Heat have again struggled to score goals, with goaltender Leland Irving keeping them afloat in the North Division. Bouma's 11 goals puts him on pace for a career-high if he doesn't stick with the Flames, which is likely dependent on the extent of Niklas Hagman's injury and the direction Jay Feaster decides to take this club in at the upcoming trade deadline.

According to NHL equivalencies, if Bouma were to have played his 49 games at the NHL level this season, he would have scored around seven goals and 12 points; in comparison, Mikael Backlund has six goals and 12 points through 45 games in his "rookie" season, and I think there's probably little argument that Backlund is and will be a better player than Bouma. Nonetheless, Bouma is the first real forward prospect since Backlund to get a look from the big club during the season, and it'll be interesting to see how he fares. At 6'1", 210 lbs., he does have size on his side, and he'll have to make use of that in order to make a good impression on Feaster and the coaching staff, as he probably won't be seeing a whole ton of ice time in his first NHL contest. 

If there's one area that the Flames have been semi-successful in the Draft in the past decade or so, it's finding useful bottom-end players who have, on occasion, reached above and beyond expectations such as David Moss. If Bouma develops into a similar player for the Flames, I think he would be considered a pretty nice find as current bottom-sixers like Jackman, Kostopoulos, and Glencross start to age and/or move on. 

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