SUN Hockey Pool

Flames are picky

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

If there was ever any question the Calgary Flames' roster has gone from gritty to gifted, look no further than the list of first round-draft picks now in their lineup.

After plugging their way to the Stanley Cup final three years ago with just six first-rounders on board, Darryl Sutter has since bolstered that number to 11.

Only one team -- Florida of all clubs -- has more.

On the blueline alone stand five first-rounders, complemented nicely by six of the 12 forwards. Interestingly, Dion Phaneuf is the only first-rounder in the lineup who was actually selected by the Flames, putting another feather in Sutter's cap as he's assembled top-end talent while also re-stocking prospects.

Indeed, he's put together a Calgary Flames team that's tough to beat -- on paper.

On ice it's been a lot easier for the opposition, especially when the games are played outside Alberta.

The reality is, this club's struggles of late seem to revolve around this group finding, and coming to terms with, its new identity. Whatever that may be.

"We have to be a hybrid," said Robyn Regehr of the club's transition from hard-hat crew to an artful bunch.

"It's dangerous because we do have more skill in our lineup but there are still certain fundamentals of the game you have to bring to win consistently. Just because you have more skill doesn't result in winning more games. We can't forget what allows us to be in a position to beat teams. It's nice to have players who are game-breakers and who can make nice plays out there but there are still certain things hockey's always been."

Like, a battle.

"With all the skill we have now the Calgary Flames team still has to outwork the other team," said Craig Conroy.

"I notice the talent level in practice more than ever -- the way the guys dangle and the moves and the plays they make... you just say 'holy cow.' We were pretty straightforward (in 2004) -- make the pass, shoot, drive the net. It's just a different type team."

Marcus Nilson figures the improved roster is part of a natural progression the players are adjusting to.

"We have changed our style of play a little bit but you have to adapt to what kind of personnel you have," said Florida's 20th pick in 1996.

"As long as you win hockey games it doesn't matter."

That's the point -- they're not winning consistently of late, especially on the road.

To no one's surprise, three of Sutter's top-round acquisitions are acquaintances of his from his San Jose days -- Andrei Zyuzin, Brad Stuart and Jeff Friesen. He plucked two former Tampa Bay products as free agents (Roman Hamrlik, Daymond Langkow) and grabbed Alex Tanguay, Wayne Primeau, Nilson and Stuart via trade.

Only Iginla and Regehr were here when Sutter arrived.

"If we could become a team that could do both --forecheck relentlessly, pursue the puck, cause turnovers and then convert them... that's when you win the big games and in the playoffs," said Conroy.

"With the new rules we're definitely better suited to today's game. We're just trying to find an identity."

They better find it soon. Or come spring one of the league's most talented collections will fall victim to just the sort of hard-hat crew the Flames used to be.

---

CALGARY GETS FIRST DIBS

Here's a look at the 11 Flames players drafted in the first round:

Roman Hamrlik

First, 1992 (Tampa Bay)

Andrei Zyuzin

Second, 1996 (San Jose)

Brad Stuart

Third, 1998 (San Jose)

Daymond Langkow

Fifth, 1995 (Tampa Bay)

Dion Phaneuf

Ninth, 2003 (Calgary)

Jarome Iginla

11th, 1995 (Dallas)

Jeff Friesen

11th, 1994 (San Jose)

Alex Tanguay

12th, 1998 (Colorado)

Wayne Primeau

17th, 1994 (Buffalo)

Robyn Regehr

19th, 1998 (Colorado)

Marcus Nilson

20th, 1996 (Florida)


Photos