SUN Hockey Pool

Going prospectin'

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

The way it looks right now, it will take a shoehorn for more than one rookie to fit into the Calgary Flames' roster.

With a veteran-laden team, there simply aren't many openings unless injuries crop up or GM Darryl Sutter makes some trades. (Sutter already has some moves to make seeing as the team sits over the NHL's salary cap.)

The good news is the club has a crop of youngsters able to start knocking on the door over the next year or two.

So even though it's not likely anybody partaking in rookie camp, which opens Friday, will be seen around these parts when the puck drops on the new campaign, the long-term battles for roster spots will begin in earnest.

Here is a position-by-position look at the future Flames.

GOAL

Best bet to see NHL action this season: Matt Keetley.

Long-term regular: Leland Irving.

Also to watch: Kevin Lalande.

A year ago, Irving was staring in a season to remember. Coming off a strong performance for Canada during the summer junior series against Russia, he came to Flames camp and was very good. It seemed the sky was the limit in his final season of junior.

However, he struggled in the early going of the WHL season with Everett, didn't make the world juniors team and never really got his season on track.

Still, Irving -- the first-round choice in 2006 -- is the most likely replacement down the road for Miikka Kiprusoff.

But that's not to say Irving is the club's only option between the pipes.

Coming off a WHL career full of success and personal accolades, Keetley had a very good rookie pro season with Quad City and even an appearance for Calgary. His stock has risen fast.

Meanwhile, Lalande backstopped the franchise's ECHL affiliate in Las Vegas to the league championship series.

The Flames are pegged to start with Kiprusoff and Curtis McElhinney, so two of these three will be in Quad City. It will make for a good battle.

DEFENCE

Best bet to see NHL action this season: Matt Pelech.

Long-term regular: John Negrin.

Also to watch: Brad Cole, Ryan Wilson, Keith Aulie, Gord Baldwin.

With eight NHL-calibre players already filling roster slots, the Flames don't have to force a player into a big-league position.

Within a year or two, that could change drastically.

Right now, the blueliner who the club sees the greatest things from is Negrin. The lanky Kootenay Ice defenceman doesn't appear to have great offensive skills, but is a very good skater who can make the all-important outlet pass.

Adam Pardy likely has the inside track to be the first defenceman summoned up this season being the only minor leaguer who spent time with the Flames last season.

Pelech, the first-round pick in 2005, is a big, defensive defenceman the Flames would love to see develop into a Robyn Regehr mode.

Ryan Wilson is this year's new undrafted free agent. The Flames did well with that plan by inking Mark Giordano and Richie Regehr in the past, and also have Brad Cole in the system.

Aulie is staring at another year of junior in Brandon, but the 6-foot-6 fourth-round draft choice is more than just a lumbering big guy, shown by his invitation to the world junior team's summer camp and may be a real sleeper pick.

RIGHT WING

Best bet to see NHL action this season: Aki Seitsonen.

Long-term regular: Greg Nemisz.

Also to watch: J.D. Watt, Jonathan Tremblay, Adam Cracknell.

Realistically, your money would be better spent betting none of the five will be playing at the Saddledome in the regular season, especially since David Van Der Gulik has the inside track for NHL duty among the crop of right wingers who'll be in Quad City.

Seitsonen, a fourth-round pick in 2004, is a third-year pro who spent all of last season in the ECHL. He took some strides in developing a more rounded game last year, but has a ways to go.

Barring an incredible turn of events, Nemisz is destined for his third season with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires, but the club has big hopes for this year's first-round draft choice. He's a big body who has shown a scoring touch.

Watt is an agitator who was sent all the way to the WHL last year even though he could have played in the minors, while Tremblay is a minor-league enforcer and Cracknell has shown he can score at the ECHL level but not in the American League.

CENTRE

Best bet to see NHL action this season: Dan Ryder.

Long-term regular: Mikael Backlund.

Also to watch: Mitch Wahl, John Armstrong, Hugo Carpentier.

Backlund is arguably the club's top prospect, and could surprise by making the team, if some pieces fall in place. First off, he still has a year of junior eligibility -- not that he's expected to play at that level -- and is being counted on by Sweden to be a big part of its world junior entry.

If Backlund wows everybody, he could remain in Calgary -- which would likely mean a trade involving a centre to open a spot -- but it's most likely he'll play in the men's loop in Sweden.

Ryder is an interesting study. After taking a year off from the game, he returned to the organization apparently refreshed and re-committed to hockey. Judging by his performance with Quad City last season -- one goal and four assists in six games before he bolted -- he could put up big numbers in the minors. Still, the club has to find a way for Dustin Boyd to be a regular.

Wahl, a second-rounder this year, has plenty of potential, while Armstrong and Carpentier are making the jump to the pro ranks and most likely need some minor-league seasoning.

LEFT WING

Best bet to see NHL action this season: Kyle Greentree.

Long-term regular: Ryley Grantham.

Also to watch: Brett Sutter, Lance Bouma

There aren't many openings in the coming year for left wingers, especially since Eric Nystrom will be with the team on a full-time basis and Brandon Prust is probably going to make the jump for duty as an agitator. The Flames had Greentree in their sights a couple of years ago when he was playing college hockey and dealt away Tim Ramholt to Philadelphia to acquire him, so he's on the radar.

Grantham could be an enforcer of the future, while Sutter is coming off a solid first pro season and Bouma is still looking at another season or two of junior.


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