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Evaluating the Flames Pre-season

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I started the exhibition season off by saying that team-wide results weren't all that important and that the real focus was on individual efforts, especially for those players on the bubble. With that in mind, here are some of my player "grades" based on my own observations over the last couple of weeks.

The Hopefuls

Jason Jaffray - B - Acquitted himself well and could be pushing for the 13th forward position. Saw a lot of ice time, scored a couple of goals and generally held his own. A decent utlity forward, there's no one area of his game that looks either outstanding or weak.

Jamie Lundmark - B - Similar to Jaffray, Lundmark continues to hang around the edges of the Flames roster. Sniped a couple of nice markers and combined to form a nice little unit with Glencross and Fleury during the Oilers game. Lundmark proved useful to Calgary last season when the injuries came down and would probably be a full time NHLer on a club with less depth.

Colin Stuart - C - Stuart made an impression on me in the first pre-season tilt by making one of the most ill-advised cross-ice passes I've ever seen in an NHL game. He had a couple of other gaffes in the same match that convinced me he'd be on the next flight out of town. He's settled down since then and showed some speed and tenacity which would probably be a boon on the 4th line. He, Jaffray and Prust were pretty effective against the Oilers as well.

Mikael Backlund - C - Some very apparent steps forward over his previous training camp couldn't mask the fact that the Flames top rated prospect isn't ready for prime time. Didn't score a point (as far as I can recall) despite some decent line mates, but did manage to create some chances in the offensive zone as well as control the puck at times. Still needs some work in the defensive end, he'll need at least a full year of seasoning in the AHL before he can be a regular at the NHL level.

Anton Stralman - B - A mobile defender with good puck skills, it looks more and more like Stralman will be staying with the big team. Somewhat smaller and weaker on his skates, Stralman will have to improve his boardwork and balance in order to become a regular on the blueline, but the offensive skills are apparent, especially along the offensive blueline.

Staffan Kronwall - C - I didn't see a lot of the big Swede, but the few times I saw him the only impression I got was his foot speed is an issue. At 28, he has a lower ceiling than Stralman and is less likely to be picked up on the waiver wire should he be shuttled to the farm. Look for him to be the veteran on Abbotsford's blueline this year.

Leland Irving - C - Wasn't bad or outstanding during his limited time in net, Irving was certainly better than Keetley and will probably be heading to BC as the assured starter on the farm.

Matt Keetley - D - A disastrous camp for a guy who was looking to bounce back after being usurped by Leland Irving last season, Keetley let in a number of groaners before being shipped to the farm. Didn't even last as long as un-signed camp invitee David Shantz and may be fighting for his job in Abbotsford with same.

The Regulars

Curtis Glencross - A - A bad final game against the Canucks doesn't change the fact that Glencross was lights out for most of camp, leading the team in scoring and frequently being one of the best forwards on the ice. Has speed, grit, smarts, tenacity and even a bit of a scoring touch.

David Moss - A - Missed a chunk of camp due to a minor injury, the games he did play in were all good. Auditioned on the top line against the Canucks and made an impression by holding his own and even scoring a goal. The Bertuzzi is good news for Flames fans, but great news for Moss who quietly excellent all over the ice.

Daymond Langkow - B - Played the roll of emulsifier alongside a rotating carousel of disparate line mates, Langkow didn't get primo minutes at either ES or on the PP, but still managed to be effective most of the time. I stil think he'll end up playing with Iginla at some point this year.

Olli Jokinen - B - Also one of the team leaders in points this pre-season, Jokinen did almost all of his damage with the man advantage which fits with his M/O. Dangerous as anyone down low and coming off the half boards, his lack of savvy in the face-off circle and in the bad end of the rink are still concerns and sometimes led to the Flames top line being hemmed in their own zone. Him and Iginla seemed to work a little better together relative to last season, however.

Nigel Dawes - B - Off and on, Dawes was at times one of the best forwards on the ice for Calgary. When he wasn't, however, he was totally invisible. Fast and willing to go into the corners, Dawes also has a quick release and will probably be a boon to the power play. Playing with Langkow and Bourque, who were his line mates last night, would probably help iron out his consistency issues.

Brandon Prust - B - Ever since I bad-mouthed him in a game thread, Prust has done nothing but impress me. A willing combatant, Prust can also skate, forecheck and handle the puck fairly well. Cemented his spot on the club with a number of solid efforts.

Jarome Iginla - C - Got a couple of PP points, but didn't do much at ES besides rifle a lot of pucks over the net. Still a lot of gliding around in the defensive zone from Jarome and, considering the level of competition he faced for most of the pre-season, he didn't exactly beat anyone up.

Rene Bourque - C - Didn't make much noise until the final game, when he was perhaps one of the more effective Flames at ES against Vancouver. Doesn't look comfortable on the PP yet and may still be trying to get up to game speed after spending much of the summer off of skates.

Craig Conroy - C - Missed most of camp as well, Conroy was quiet aside from winning a lot of face-offs.

Freddy Sjostrom - C - Obviously has some wheels, Sjostrom got an opportunity to play with Iginla and Jokinen for a night, but didn't do much with it. Looks to be a capable utlity forward.

Eric Nystrom - C - Is what he is. Good skating, eager to hit and willing to block shots (and fists) with his face if he has to.

Dustin Boyd - C - Didn't get much of chance to do anything, first being relegated to the Flames all-prospect 'B' squad earlier in pre-season and then spend almost the rest of it nursing a groin pull. Played on the 4th line in the last game and only got about 10 minutes of ice. Looks like Boyd's Job-like trials on this club are going to continue indefinitely.

Brian McGrattan - N/A -  Didn't play and still isn't cleared for contact, McGrattan will likely start the year on IR. His signing looks more and more useless by the day.

Mark Giordano - A - Dispelled all concerns that his job was in jeopardy, Giordano was solidly amongst the Flames best defenders in most of the games he played. Smart, mean and with the unique ability to stick handle out of trouble in tight places, it looks like Gio is penciled into the club's top 4 heading into the regular season. Might end up being the best value contract on the roster this year.

Dion Phaneuf - B -Started the camp out by running around the ice like a chicken with it's head cut off, Dion gradually began to settle down and ended the pre-season with what may be his best game in a long time. Still has all the tools, just has to continue to think the game at the same manic pace he tries to play it at all the time. 

Jay Bouwmeester - B - Struggled during his first couple of contests, which included a number of ill-advised pinches. Managed to showcase his silky smooth skating and good own zone positioning alongside Robyn Regehr, Bouwmeester looked more comfortable by the end of camp. Was fairly dangerous in the offensive zone as well.

Robyn Regehr - B - Solid as a rock, as usual.

Cory Sarich - C - Struggled visibly to keep up in the first pre-season game, Sarich missed the end of the exhibition period due to some unknown ailment. Will need to return and put together some strong outings in order not to lose his spot outright. He may become trade bait sooner rather than later.

Adam Pardy - D - Was a liability during the first few games and managed to take a lot of penalties over the course of the pre-season to boot. Pardy settled down as the things progressed and is no doubt considered Calgary's #6 defender for now. Still, he'll have to progress in order to keep the likes of Stralman et al at bay.

Miikka Kiprusoff - C - Dreadful in his first outing and mediocre in his second, Kipper allowed at least one stinker per start but was also brilliant at times against the Canucks last night. If he could cut back on pucks sneaking through him once a game, he'd be a lot closer to the goalie we once knew. Unfortunately, that was also true last year...

Curtis McElhinney - C - Didn't get much action and didn't wow anyone when he was in net. Got stronger in the first match against Vancouver, but still allowed a couple of pucks to slide underneath him (albeit, they were shots by the Canucks most dangerous player).

The Flames as a team did a couple of things well during training camp: they scored a bunch on the power play and they also drew more penalties than they took. The bottom end of the roster was rarely a liability which is always a bonus. Who knows if that will continue into the regular season, but the trends are there.

On the other hand, the goaltending on the whole was mediocre and the team didn't score all that much at ES. The number one line was a concern when it wasn't on the PP, which is disconcerting for me personally - having more than $12M locked up in two players who are played to even at ES is a bad investment. Either the Jokinen/Iginla pairing will have to start consistently outplaying their opponents 5on5, or Brent will have to find a new combination that can do damage without giving it all back at the other end.