SUN Hockey Pool

Johnny on spot

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 4:11 PM ET

It was the day after the start of free-agent frenzy when Darryl Sutter made the proclamation that reverberated all the way to the west coast.

The Flames GM, as he gave a state of the union address amidst the flurry of moves his team and the rest of the NHL clubs made, said junior-aged defenceman John Negrin was capable of playing in the NHL in the coming season.

It's no secret the Flames are very high on the lanky defenceman they drafted in the third-round in 2007, but that was taking the acclaim to a new level.

The Flames currently have eight NHL-calibre defencemen -- including Rhett Warrener and Anders Eriksson, who both went on waivers this summer -- plus two more experienced prospect rearguards in the system in Adam Pardy and Matt Pelech.

Therefore, it's not a stretch to put Negrin at the 11th spot on the depth chart.

Anything can happen in the NHL world, and Negrin would hardly be the first 19-year-old defenceman to jump to the NHL ranks, but that's lofty praise no matter how you slice it.

Negrin was surprised, too.

"When I first heard about that, it was a from a pretty good source, so I had to believe it," said the West Vancouver product, who is in town for the team's prospects camp. "And since then, people have come up and told me. I'll be coming to camp with the attitude of doing what I can do, have fun, and if that's a possibility, I'll do whatever I can."

Negrin, a 6-ft.-3, 195-lb. defenceman who spent the last three seasons with the WHL Kootenay Ice, is like all players this time of year -- working to improve his fitness and conditioning for the coming year.

But those kinds of kudos from the organization is the type of jolt that makes the weight racks feel a little lighter.

"For sure, it's a big boost," he stated. "It's down to what I do. That next level, everybody's so much bigger, so much stronger and it's such a faster game, so I have to do everything I can to make the roster."

Even though Negrin signed an entry-level contract last season, the teenager's options for the coming campaign are limited to either the Flames or one more year in the WHL.

Knowing the Flames have such high hopes for him would be a boon, but he doesn't intend to change his approach when the club opens training camp for rookies Sept. 12, with main camp to start a week later.

"I think with every player coming to camp, your goal has to be to do the best you can and try and make the squad," he said.

"If he'd said that or not, I'd come in with the same mind set, try to make the team and work as hard as I can."

Sutter's words are just the latest sign of how high the hopes are for Negrin.

After Negrin and the Ice saw their season come to an end in the playoffs, Negrin was summoned to be part of the Flames' Black Aces squad during the NHL post-season.

It's a rarity for a junior-aged player to take part in the big-league playoffs, although the Flames' AHL affiliate was eliminated.

"The night before, we lost to Lethbridge and we were saying our goodbyes, and one of the guys in the dressing room (Michael Stickland) said to me, 'I hear you're going to Calgary.'

"I didn't believe him at first, and Darryl gave me the call the next day.

"It was unbelievable. I remember getting the call and thinking these are guys I've looked up to my whole life, and now I was able to get an opportunity to skate with them in morning practices. I think the best part was being able to hang out with them. I didn't know what the guys would be like, but they were warm and really nice to me.

"I took a lot from it. Everything they do, these are professionals and they handle themselves like professionals."


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