SUN Hockey Pool

Work in progress

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:28 PM ET

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Amid the euphoria of his team's one-sided victory, Kris Chucko was given the good news.

Chucko, the Calgary Flames' 2004 first-round draft choice, already had a smile on his face after his University of Minnesota beat North Dakota 6-1 Friday night.

But his grin grew wider when told Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter took in the action at Mariucci Arena.

"It was a good game to come to," Chucko said.

"I think I played really well, played in-your-face hockey and had some chances. I thought I played well and hopefully Darryl did, too."

And so Chucko's roller-coaster season takes a turn for the better.

He was expected to take a big step forward in his sophomore season but a pair of slight shoulder injuries has limited his effectiveness and scoring.

He has made some improvements -- mainly in his skating -- and physically, he now boasts 210 lb. on his 6-ft. 2-in. frame, more than 20 lb. heavier than draft day.

"You look at my skating from when I was 16 to now and my puck handling, it has improved so much," Chucko said.

"This team has 14 NHL draft picks (plus the highly touted Phil Kessel), there's a lot of good players, and a lot of skill, so I've learned a lot.

"When I make the jump to pro, I want to be ready in all areas of the game. Yeah, I could be in the WHL, play hard and play the grinding game, but I want to be an all-around player.

"Coming here has given me the opportunity to work on my skating and spend more time in the gym. This has been really beneficial to me."

Sutter, however, said he would rather see one of his top prospects in the WHL.

"I don't think they play enough games, very simple," Sutter said.

"He's played 23 games and should have had 40 (by now).

"I think the more games you play, the better player you become.

"The big benefit he's getting is the chance to play on a very good team with a chance to win a national championship."

The Golden Gophers are ranked second in the NCAA, having won seven straight prior to last night.

Studying business and marketing, Chucko had another recent boost: An invitation to the training camp for Canada's world junior team. Though being cut prevented him from living a dream in his hometown, his confidence jumped.

"It was a great experience. I've never made a Team B.C., never competed for my country. I wasn't even in the top 40 in my province a few years ago and now I was in the top 40 in all of Canada, so things are looking up," he said.

"When I was drafted, I know the Flames felt I was a project and needed a few years and realize it. I'll keep working until I'm not a project."


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