Flames fans craving the unxpected

Flames prospect Greg Nemisz will be looking to make an impact at camp and show he belongs playing...

Flames prospect Greg Nemisz will be looking to make an impact at camp and show he belongs playing in the NHL. (DARREN MAKOWICHUK/QMI Agency)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:07 PM ET

Wouldn’t it be nice for Flames fans if someone emerged from this week’s prospect tourney as a legitimate threat to crack the opening day roster?

Someone who’s name has been heard once or twice before by casual observers.

Someone who defies the odds by demonstrating they’re much more than the player scouts thought, forcing the club’s hand in terms of promoting him to the bigs.

While every team in the NHL looks for youngsters each fall to make that jump — and in many cities kids often do just that — the emergence of a good young prospect is indeed a rarity ’round these parts.

Outside of Chuck Kobasew leading all preseason scorers in 2002 or Matthew Lombardi breaking through a year later, the Flames haven’t been pleasantly surprised much in the last decade or so.

Oh sure, Dion Phaneuf played as advertised when the ninth pick overall drove south from Red Deer to make the Flames in 2005. But that was expected.

This year, Flames fans want the unexpected.

What a refreshing change it would be at a time when Darryl Sutter and his aging team are being picked by most to miss the playoffs again.

Fans need hope in the form of a fresh face or two with skill, as opposed to the endless stream of fourth-line muckers the organization has produced of late.

Diehards have already pretty much drawn up the line combinations and defensive pairings on a veteran squad chock full of one-way deals.

Depending on how Sutter deals with slashing more than $2 million in salary before opening night, the lineup is expected to include Mikael Backlund, who would hardly be a surprise given the fact the first rounder was one of the Flames better players the last dozen games of the season. It would be a colossal disappointment if he didn’t start with the big club.

Despite having all the tools and hype surrounding their young games, John Negrin and Matt Pelech are the only other obvious candidates even though their chances are reduced given the club currently has eight d-men on one-way deals.

The fact Negrin missed half of last season due to injury won’t help his cause. Pelech isn’t in the prospects tourney in Penticton, but the 26th pick in 2005 is the best bet for promotion. Sutter will definitely trade a blueliner or two, giving Pelech all the more opportunity.

What this club needs — and what the fans crave — is for a name like Lance Bouma, Greg Nemisz or Mitch Wahl to demonstrate this club actually does have some high-end talent capable of blossoming at the highest level. Or maybe it’s time for John Armstrong, T.J. Brodie or Hanna native Ryley Grantham.

This humble wish for Flames fans comes not as another way to criticize a scouting staff that has done little to help augment a veteran-laden team built largely through Darryl Sutter trades.

It’s common knowledge the scouting staff hasn’t had much to work with given the five-straight playoff appearances the team made, limiting chances of landing sure things like Phaneuf.

Regardless of the reasons, the long-held belief is the Flames cupboards are bare.

Now would be the perfect time to dispel that notion.

No one is holding their breath. They are, however, crossing their fingers.

Like every other GM in the league, Sutter is on record saying he expects competition to be intense at this year’s main camp with several youngsters pushing vets for employment.

Hasn’t happened in awhile.

Ah, but wouldn’t it be nice.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca


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