SUN Hockey Pool

Flames preach patience

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

Calgary Flames general manager Darryl Sutter has heard or read local opinions about his team's perceived lack of success at the NHL draft in recent years.

Results, he cautions, take time.

And while confident they will be grabbing a talented player when they pick 17th overall next month in Ottawa, Sutter reminds us not to expect an immediate impact.

"You also understand they're two or three years away for sure," said Sutter. "That's what's kind of got off the track in Calgary the last two months, is the understanding that you draft when they're 18, and if they're not in the top 10, then they're not coming out (of junior) until they're 20.

"They're not really pushing to make your team until they're 22, 23."

With the draft less than a month away, Sutter will be doing a different sort of scouting in Las Vegas this week.

He heads to the desert tonight in advance of Games 3, 4 and 5 of the ECHL Kelly Cup final where the Flames affiliate Las Vegas Wranglers are currently locked in a 1-1 series draw with the Cincinnati Cyclones.

Pro prospects Kevin Lalande, 21, Adam Cracknell, 22, Aki Seitsonen, 22, and Ryan Donally, 23, are trying to bring the Wranglers a championship.

"It's important that they see me, I think," Sutter said of the players who hope to one day crack the Flames lineup.

Seitsonen and Cracknell were drafted in 2004, in the fourth and ninth rounds, respectively.

They haven't separated themselves the way Dustin Boyd, or even Brandon Prust -- both third-rounders that year -- have, but championship experience is important at any level, says Sutter.

"The more experience you get at it, the better chance you have of being successful at it," said Sutter. "It's not so much getting to the next level, it's the tag they put on them as playoff players.

"It's no different than when I came here and you had players like Robyn (Regehr) and Jarome (Iginla) that had (few) playoff games."

With a 1-0 shutout Sunday in Cincinnati, goaltender Lalande extended his league-best number of post-season wins to 12 in 16 starts.

Selected 30 spots before fellow netminder Matt Keetley in the fifth round in 2005, Lalande is part of a talented stable of backstops.

Lalande, Keetley, and Leland Irving should battle for top billing for the AHL's Quad City Flames next year, assuming pending unrestricted free agent Curtis McElhinney is re-signed and makes the full-time jump to the NHL as Miikka Kiprusoff's backup.

The work Lalande is getting in now bodes well for his future.

"Kevin is a guy that we needed to play. We couldn't leave him as a backup, and not play, in Moline (Quad City) this year," said Sutter.

"It's not uncommon for those young goalies to have to spend a year there and he's done very well at it."

Cracknell has a laser of a wrist shot, which has helped propel him into a tie for second in playoff scoring with eight goals and 21 points.

Sutter says he's got "an NHL wrist shot," but will have to show more to be a full-time American Leaguer or better.

"It's a combination of having to learn to train like a pro and improve his skating to continue to advance," said Sutter.

Seitsonen came to Canada from Finland as a 17-year-old and is still improving.

"Aki is a very skilled guy who is still learning the nuances of the whole game," said Sutter. "But now give him credit -- he's a top penalty killer and used in a real checking role. He's done really well."

ICE CHIPS

The Flames say an IIHF transaction report that assistant coach Wayne Fleming has signed on to become head coach of the Dinamo Minsk in Belarus is "inaccurate," although Fleming is a candidate for the position ... Of the eight Flames draftees from 2006, only two are signed -- G Leland Irving and C/RW John Armstrong. Sutter says he still has to decide whether C Hugo Carpentier and LW Devin Didiomete are worthy of pro contracts. They will retain rights to college players C Jordan Fulton and C Aaron Marvin until they graduate, and the uncertainty of the IIHF transfer agreement may allow them to keep the rights of European players RW Juuso Puustinen and D Per Jonsson. Puustinen has signed with a team in his native Finland for next season.


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