SUN Hockey Pool

Still battling after shoulder surgeries

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

PENTICTON, B.C. -- It's been a long nine months for John Armstrong.

You have to go way back to December to see the last time the Calgary Flames forward prospect played in a game.

Which is why the 22-year-old centre was like a kid in a candy store prior to Monday's Young Stars Tournament clash between the Flames prospects and the future Anaheim Ducks.

"It's good that I get a couple of games in, too, before main camp, to show my stuff here. At main camp, hopefully I can do the same," Armstrong said.

Things looked promising for Armstrong not so long ago.

In the 2008 training camp, Armstrong -- a third-round choice, 87th overall, in the 2006 draft -- was a major surprise.

Heading into his first year pro, the centre who is a shade over 6-foot-2 and 208 lb., had a series of strong preseason games for the Flames.

But then it all started to unravel due to a freak shoulder injury suffered when he collided with a teammate.

Armstrong has since twice had surgery on his left shoulder, the second coming in January when it became obvious the first operation hadn't completely fixed the problem.

"I feel strong and don't even notice my old injury at all," said Armstrong, who kept trying to play through the pain last season, and skated in just 14 AHL games -- collecting one goal and six points -- before being shut down.

"It was pretty depressing sitting at home and watching all the other guys play. As soon as I could get going again, I think I worked out even harder because I wanted to get back.

"I think I had two or three bad days when I was upset and mad about the situation. Once I got over that and started to talk to the surgeon, he seemed pretty confident I could come back and be strong. Then, I was a lot more happy about the situation."

Even better, it's obvious the Flames aren't writing him off.

In fact, during the summer GM Darryl Sutter said Armstrong was among a group of players he expected to push for a spot on the NHL roster this year.

"He hasn't said that to me, but I've heard of those comments and it gives me a confidence boost going into camp. Hopefully, I can feed off that and do well," Armstrong said. "I know I can get back to that point (in 2008). I'm two years older and stronger. I should be even better than I was.

"When I was healthy, I was playing well. Last season was a tough year because I never got to play a lot of games in a row to get back into it. But when I was playing, I think I showed my stuff and I think showed I can play at the next level.

"I think I'm big and fast enough to play with those guys. Hearing they think I can do that gives me more confidence.

"I think I can carry the puck more, play confident out there, and do whatever it takes."

And if Armstrong needs a role model to see how a young player can rebound from a major shoulder operation, all he has to do is look at former Flames forward Eric Nystrom.

Nystrom missed most of the 2006-07 season, but made his mark with the Flames the following season.

"I remember when that happened and he seemed pretty confident going into his next year after," Armstrong recalled. "He was ready to go and the happy guy he normally is around the dressing room.

"That's a good thing, to look back and see how he was."


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