SUN Hockey Pool

Game of youth ... or consequences

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

DENVER -- The blizzard that crippled Denver yesterday resulted in a state of emergency.

The Calgary Flames' injury woes on their current road trip do not fall into that same category.

In fact, the steady stream of players going to the infirmary could be a good thing for the club, which faces the Colorado Avalanche tonight (7 p.m., PPV).

Six regulars -- three veteran forwards and half of the team's defence corps -- were on the shelf when the Flames downed the Los Angeles Kings 5-3 Tuesday.

Two young replacements, forward David Moss and blueliner Richie Regehr, potted their first NHL goals in the victory. Freshman centre Dustin Boyd chipped in with an assist.

They could all be back in the lineup tonight, giving Flames brass another opportunity to see what their up-and-coming prospects are capable of doing under NHL duress.

This can only be viewed as a positive development.

For the past couple of years, the Flames have been working to replenish a barren prospects cupboard.

How barren was it?

Until recently, there were only three Flames players on the roster who were actually drafted by the team: Matthew Lombardi, Chuck Kobasew and Dion Phaneuf.

Just as many players on the team's opening-night, 22-man roster were originally brought into the league by both Florida (Kristian Huselius, Rhett Warrener, Marcus Nilson) and San Jose (Jeff Friesen, Miikka Kiprusoff and Andrei Zyuzin).

However, we're told, times have changed.

This is no longer a club suffering from a dearth of prospects. There are players on the farm who'll become legitimate NHLers.

Or so go the claims.

However, there has to come a time when those boasts become more than just empty words.

Those players need to be thrown into the fray and this pre-Christmas journey is as good a time as any to let them test the waters.

When the season began, there really wasn't the opportunity to see if the likes of Boyd, Moss, Brandon Prust and Tomi Maki -- all forwards who've made their NHL debut this season -- were actually ready to cut the mustard. Same thing goes for forward Andrei Taratukhin and goalies Brent Krahn and Curtis McElhinney, who have yet to make their NHL debuts.

Before training camp began, the Flames had 13 forwards, five defencemen -- plus Phaneuf -- and two goalies on one-way contracts, all but ensuring those roster positions were filled.

It didn't make sense to keep a youngster around.

But now, they've been forced into the mix, giving the Flames a good read on several players.

Defenceman Mark Giordano, who won the seventh-defenceman job, has given the Flames a better read on his future potential. Same thing goes for Richie Regehr.

As for the young forwards, Prust was solid for a stint but showed he's not quite ready for a long-term stay with the Flames.

It's likely they'll find the same with Boyd and Moss, both still quite early in their pro development.

Too bad Eric Nystrom's shoulder required surgery because he's another who'd get a serious look.

The Flames and those players will benefit from this experience when the time comes for them to stay longer -- which should happen in the near future.

After this season, the Flames will have a handful of veterans who'll become unrestricted free agents and they won't all be back -- players such as Nilson, Tony Amonte, Jeff Friesen, Darren McCarty, Roman Hamrlik and Jamie McLennan.

Not all those who don't return to the fold will be replaced by vets through the free-agent ranks.

That means the club will finally have to go to the pantry. Thanks to this spell, they're finding out what is behind those doors.


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