SUN Hockey Pool

'I'm here to make the team'

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

John Armstrong will be healthy enough to start this season.

Seriously. He’s sure of it.

Then again, after missing most of last season and playing through a shoulder problem in 2008-09 which has now required two surgeries, you could understand some trepidation.

“I’ll be 100% for the season. I feel strong,” the 6-foot-2, 205-lb. Armstrong said. “Now, it’s about getting my feel back on the ice.”

When the Flames headed into the 2008 campaign, the third-round pick in 2006 was on their radar to make the big club, or at least be that first call-up. Through training camp, he made a great case.

Then, the nightmare began. That November, Armstrong suffered a shoulder injury. The Unionville, Ont., native played through it all year and skated in 68 games, but through a tough first pro season — five goals and 20 points — it became obvious the forward would require surgery, which happened in April 2009.

All was supposed to be good in time for last fall’s training camp, but then came another disappointment. He fell awkwardly and re-injured his wing.

At first, he tried to play through it, figuring it was just a twinge, but after a handful of games, he took a seat. He returned after five weeks to play another few games but again suffered a setback. A third recurrence meant the obvious.

After a 14-game season, in which he collected one goal and six points, the decision was made for a second — and season-ending — surgery in January.

“I’m still just getting over it. I’m feeling almost 100%,” admitted Armstrong, who is partaking in this week’s development camp at the Saddledome. “I’m not allowed to do contract drills yet, but it’s July and there’s no reason to really push it.

“The goal is to be 100% ready for September.

“The first surgery was about trying to bring it back to the way it used to be, but now, I have a strong, sturdy shoulder. Before, there was that thought in the back of my head it could possibly come out (of the socket) again. I was always a little shaky about it, but now I’m confident and positive things are good, and I’ll be ready to go.”

And ready to go for it.

Early this month, Flames GM Darryl Sutter listed a handful of players he believed had the chance to push a vet out the door.

Four of the five names were easy to guess — defencemen Matt Pelech and John Negrin, as well as top forward prospect Mikael Backlund and Brett Sutter for the fourth line.

However, the Flames GM also mentioned Armstrong as a candidate.

Talk about a boost for the 22-year-old.

“I think when I’m healthy, I’m one of the go-to guys on the ice,” he said, words which came with confidence but not cockiness. “I think at some of these camps, I’ve proven I can play with some of these top NHL guys. I’m glad they’ve noticed and nice to hear they’ll give me a shot.

“It definitely wasn’t the ideal season for me — 14 games is a tough year — but I think from the past they know what I could do and think if I was healthy last year, would have made a bigger impact in the AHL and maybe even played well enough to get a call up.

“Hopefully, being healthy now, I can prove to them I’m ready for the next step.

“I think this is my year. I think things are going to go my way, and I’m here to make the team.”


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