SUN Hockey Pool

Flames prospect cut above the rest

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:23 AM ET

Jon Rheault will cut his hair soon.

He’s grown his locks so they can be used for wigs for cancer battlers, and it’s almost long enough to be shorn.

“It’s about the point where

I can cut it. I had to wait for it to all catch up — I had more hair on top than the sides,” Rheault said. “I’ve got to get that done, because it’s kind of a clean-cut organization.”

If he scores goals like he did upon joining the AHL Abbotsford Heat like last spring, nobody in the Calgary Flames organization will mind if Rheault looks like Sampson.

The right winger from New Hampshire, who’ll turn 24 Sunday, spent the past few seasons bouncing around the minor leagues — mostly in the ECHL.

However, the Flames prospect bottled lightning immediately upon joining the Heat late in the regular season.

He scored three goals in the final five regular-season games and then added six more in 13 playoff outings.

“I was given an opportunity,” Rheault said. “It’s tough when you’re an East Coast (Hockey League) guy — and with contracts (involved) — to get an opportunity on the first two lines and the powerplay. That’s where the scoring is, especially in today’s game.

“The other opportunities I had in the American league, I was a third- or fourth-line guy or penalty killer. When I came to Abbotsford and was given that opportunity, I said, ‘I’m not letting this go by the wayside and am going to make the most of it.’

“I felt like I was part of the team right off the bat. Then,

I was able to get a goal my first two games, and it just snowballed. Your confidence goes up, and things start happening.”

Rheault, who is signed to an AHL contract, was drafted 145th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2006. But after leaving Providence College in the spring of 2008, he had a tough time making his way through the pro ranks.

Last season alone, he played for four minor-league teams — three in the AHL.

But the Flames showed they believe in him.

“You could do all you want, but if some people in the organization don’t have a good view on you, you’re not going to go anywhere,” Rheault said. “I think this organization rewards hard work, and that’s what my game is. Every level, I’ve worked my butt off — almost too hard, sometimes I need to remember to work smarter — and that was a big reason I wanted to be in this organization because I felt there was an opportunity.

“I’m happy.”

The 5-foot-11, 200-lb. winger will be counted on to deliver offence the coming season with the Heat. But he will also be counted on to help guide the crew of youngsters just making their way into the pro game.

“I can help the younger guys,” Rheault said. “As for getting to the next level, what’s always helped me is I’m never satisfied. I was in the East Coast — I’m not happy. In the AHL, I’m still not happy. I want to get to the NHL, and that’s my vision. The younger guys will have that vision, and we’ll be working together.”

But he has near folk-hero status in Abbotsford after the scoring spree.

“I’m American, and it’s not like that everywhere. It made me love the game even more and love playing in Canada. It was great.

“I was there (in Abbotsford) for a few weeks, and there were signs people were making about my hair. It was fun and an interesting time.”


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