Back to the future ... soon

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

Mikael Backlund oozes potential to be an NHLer.

Just not yet.

Through the first slew of pre-season games it's become obvious the 2007 first-round draft choice isn't ready to be on the Calgary Flames roster on a full-time basis.

By no means is this to say he won't be eventually.

Backlund has the skill to become a NHL regular and Flames fans should be excited about seeing him with the squad in the future -- next year likely, and if not, the 2010-11 campaign at the latest.

But the fact remains he's 19 years old and very few players that age are ready to be top-six forwards in the NHL.

Sure, it would be nice if Backlund proved he's ready through the first week of pre-season games, and he'll likely get to lace 'em up another time or two, but the Flames aren't in a spot where they need to shoehorn a youngster into place.

Especially since he'll be well-served returning to Sweden for the men's second-division season and representing his country at the world junior tournament.

These aren't the days when Rico Fata and Oleg Saprykin were kept around because there weren't enough other options.

That Backlund wasn't able to prove he's ready yet may be the biggest disappointment in training camp, but that goes to show how well things have fallen into place so far for the Flames.

The biggest need for the Flames when camp opened was for the veteran newcomers -- especially Todd Bertuzzi, Michael Cammalleri and Rene Bourque -- to show they would live up to high expectations.

So far, all three have been as advertised.

Big Bertuzzi appears rejuvenated and poised to bounce back from his past couple of seasons.

Cammalleri's scoring touch and buzz-saw style makes him a great candidate to be a cornerstone of the second line.

Bourque has shown speed and grit, and has had all kinds of scoring chances.

Throw in the strong camps we've seen from Matthew Lombardi and Dustin Boyd -- the forward on a two-way contract who has stepped up the most -- and the fact you know what you'll get from Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow, and things are looking bright.

First-year pro John Armstrong deserves another look or two, while Brett Sutter continues to climb the charts.

Defensively, things are similar.

John Negrin, also a 19-year-old, took another big step forward before being sent to the WHL's Kootenay Ice yesterday, just in time to face off against the Calgary Hitmen at the 'Dome. It's where he belongs for now, and Negrin should be in the mix for a spot on Canada's world juniors team.

Meanwhile, Adam Pardy and Matt Pelech, the 2005 first-round pick, have earned the right to remain in Calgary for now. It's worth noting that Pardy must clear waivers if the club wants to assign him to the AHL.

Meanwhile, Mark Giordano has come back from his year in Russia a better player, while Rhett Warrener has been back to his physically assertive self in the battle among the veteran blueliners.

Anders Eriksson, on the other hand, has struggled.

About the only other disappointing element so far is that 2006 first-rounder Leland Irving didn't see pre-season action in goal before being dispatched to AHL Quad City's camp.

With a week and a half until the season opens, the Flames are by no means a completed puzzle.

Major decisions are still to come -- especially finding ways to jettison a defenceman or two to get under the salary cap -- with other details such as line combinations and defence pairings yet to be finalized.

However, so far we've found the cupboards aren't as barren as people believed, and the here and now is strong enough a player doesn't need to make the Flames before his time.


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