SUN Hockey Pool

Crowded house

STEVE MacFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

Some players may be threatened by the addition of free agents who could take away a little of their ice time.

Not the Flames players.

The way GM/head coach Darryl Sutter rolls through his forward lines -- a major factor in the team's recent success -- guys such as Shean Donovan don't need to worry about a possible bump from the second to third group.

Depth is not something the Flames lack.

"It's unbelievable," said Donovan after the team's first on-ice practice at the Don Hartman Northeast Sportsplex yesterday.

"Obviously we've added more depth (via free agency) so we have more depth than we had the year before. I haven't seen too much of the young guys but I'm sure there's lots of good young guys, too.

"Things look really good around here so I'm sure the scouts and coaches are real excited about this year."

The speedy winger was a constant on the second line in the 2003-04 season -- his best in the NHL -- chipping in 18 goals and 42 points over 82 regular-season games and adding 10 points in the playoffs.

Donovan practised yesterday with Marcus Nilson and centre Stephane Yelle on what many consider the third line. But Sutter's assembled cast always puts the team before personal goals.

"I know things can change but if I get to play with these guys, I'm excited," said Donovan, who played with both Nilson and Yelle at different times during the last season.

"I just want to pitch in and help. My goal is just to be better than I was and try to have a better season than I did the year before.

"Everybody has to play better than they did if we're going to win (the Stanley Cup) because, obviously, in the end we didn't win."

Another forward happy to play any required role is Jason Wiemer. Tampa Bay's first-round pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft joined the Flames as a free agent for a second stint more than a year ago but skated with the team for the first time yesterday.

"I knew I wanted to come back here when I had the opportunity and they expressed some interest so I was thrilled," Wiemer said, recalling his signing in August 2004.

He joined newcomer Darren McCarty and centre Matthew Lombardi on the fourth line -- an intimidating group of checkers that also has the ability to chip in a few goals.

"The depth is incredible," said Wiemer, adding he was happy to get the first-day jitters out of the way. "We can definitely play four lines and, with a season like this, that's going to be key."

If the formidable checking line with McCarty and Lombardi remains intact into the regular season, Wiemer expects good things.

"I think we're going to be a very capable line that is going to be able to create some offence, be very responsible defensively and be fairly physical," he said.

"I look forward to playing with that line.

"Depending on what happens coaching-wise, what kind of matchups they want to play, we're a line that it doesn't really matter who we play against, we can be effective."


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