SUN Hockey Pool

Crasher Cunning turns heads

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

Call Cam Cunning a strong sleeper pick.

The Calgary Flames hopeful has to be considered a darkhorse, as the NHL prospects battle for a spot or two on the opening-day roster.

"I'd like to hope so," said the physical forward, formerly with the Red Deer Rebels.

Cunning was a scrimmage standout at this summer's development camp, where he left an impression on new head coach Mike Keenan.

"I really liked him in the development camp. I'm liking what I see to this point," Keenan said yesterday of the left-winger. "I liked him in development camp in the competitive situation, and he's paying attention out here. He's attentive. He wants to improve -- you can see it in his focus."

It helps that Cunning has almost a year-and-a-half of professional hockey experience, having spent last season in Omaha after splitting the previous year between the WHL and AHL.

He became more aware than ever what type of game he has to play to be effective in the pros.

"Ryan McGill (the head coach in Omaha and now in Quad Cities) has really helped me identify my role as a player, and it's been helping me lately," said Cunning, who was looking at yesterday's late-afternoon scrimmage as another chance to impress. "I'm not going to be a guy logging too much ice, but I've got to go out there, provide energy for the team that I'm playing for and just do my job banging and crashing."

Cunning's physical presence made him an impact player as the campaign progressed. He finished with 12 goals, a handful of assists and 45 penalty minutes in 60 games, but McGill said he was recognized by opposing teams toward the end of the season.

"The reason why people knew he was on the ice was because every time he finished a check, he certainly made his presence felt," McGill said.

"That's very encouraging going into the season for himself to try to make an impact here in Calgary. Also, if he doesn't, the expectation level of improvement continues.

"But there's bigger expectations."


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