From Russia without love

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

Looks like there will be a top-tier roster battle at Calgary Flames training camp, after all.

With yesterday's announced signing of Andrei Taratukhin, the Flames have six legitimate NHL pivots to patrol the middle.

Daymond Langkow and Stephane Yelle can be pencilled in already but the stage is set for an outstanding fight for the remaining three positions -- including in the press box -- between Taratukhin, Matthew Lombardi, Jamie Lundmark and Byron Ritchie.

Exactly how Flames GM Darryl Sutter wants it.

"He's a world-class player. He played on a team as good as ours last year in February," said Sutter, referring to Taratukhin's inclusion on Russia's Olympic team.

"He's a pretty good player.

"We'll let all you guys figure out where he's gonna play."

Taratukhin, chosen 41st overall in the 2001 draft, inked a two-year pact with the club. Of those centres, he's the only skater on a two-way deal, making him easiest and cheapest to send to and recall from the minors.

Taratukhin, 23, skated yesterday with some of his Flames teammates in anticipation of rookie camp, which begins tomorrow at the Saddledome.

Main camp begins Sept. 14.

He wasn't on the training camp roster unveiled last week and his arrival was without the attention countrymate Evgeni Malkin received by leaving his team to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sutter said the delay in announcing the signing was in the hopes the NHL would come to a new transfer agreement with the Russian hockey federation.

"We waited hoping there would be an agreement but there wasn't and they kept stretching the deadline hoping to reach one between Russia and the NHL, so we made a decision to sign our player," Sutter said.

Even if it may mean a legal fight down the road?

"I don't really know. It doesn't really concern me," he replied.

Taratukhin had planned to remain in Russia and play for club team Yaroslavl Lokomotiv but gave his two-weeks notice (following the law in his country) and decided in July to come to Canada when the Flames came calling.

He said his team was supportive but told him they would go to a legal battle, if necessary, to receive compensation from the Flames.

"I told them I want to try myself in the best league in the world. The manager understands," he said yesterday, with Flames teammate Andrei Zyuzin serving as an interpreter.

Zyuzin said any wrangles won't be a problem, especially compared to days of old.

"Back then, they said, 'This is Russia, we have treasures, gold, oil, and you guys are a treasure, too, so you can't leave,' " he said. "It was hard to say, 'I'm leaving,' because you couldn't. Now, there is freedom."

In Taratukhin, the Flames are adding another skilled centre who is responsible defensively. The 6-ft., 190 pounder is considered a smart player and good passer, with an average shot and speed.

Zyuzin roomed with him for a month while they both played for Ufa during the 2004-05 season, and said Taratukhin can make the jump.


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