Staj set for Backlund

RANDY SPORTAK QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:16 PM ET

The shoulder separation suffered by Matt Stajan during the opening night of the pre-season will show whether Mikael Backlund is indeed ready for prime time.

That’s about the best news the Calgary Flames can take from the injury wave which as ripped through their men in the middle.

Stajan is “out indefinitely,” the Flames announced Wednesday, which will be a big blow to a squad already without fellow centre Daymond Langkow, due to his neck injury. So it appears the Flames will be without their expected second- and third-line centres when the NHL season opens Oct. 7 in Edmonton against the host Oilers.

The benefactor will unquestionably be Backlund, who was expected to push for a roster spot with the Flames to start the season but was hardly guaranteed it due to the club’s depth at forward and — more importantly — the salary-cap crunch.

Flames head coach Brent Sutter said the 2007 first-round draft choice will take the second-line duty for now, and Backlund, 21, is raring to go.

“Getting a lot of opportunities and getting a lot of confidence from the coach makes me feel a lot better. It makes me more confident,” said Backlund, who played 23 NHL games last season and collected one goal and 10 points. “Everybody wants to play more, and if you get a lot of chances, it makes you happy. I’m really excited (at the opportunity).”

In theory, Backlund’s linemates will be Rene Bourque and Niklas Hagman, but Hagman missed Wednesday’s practice due to what the club called “general maintenance.”

With luck, Stajan will miss just a month or less. But that still means a need for somebody to take his role on the second line for at least a handful of regular-season games.

Sutter said he believes Backlund has the ability to handle the opportunity, having seen his share of time on the top lines late last season when the Flames were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

“It’s always nice to have centre ice men like that, that you can move up from your fourth line to your first line because they’re skilled enough to do so,” Sutter said. “Mikael, he’ll get that opportunity to play with a Rene Bourque and see how that goes. Mosser (David Moss), from what I’m told (Tuesday) night was solid, and we’ll continue moving forward in that process.”

Moss, who’s played on the wing almost his whole career but played centre in college, has been skating in the middle during training camp.

Also in the wings is veteran Craig Conroy, who’s most likely their fourth-line centre, and first-year pro Mitch Wahl.

Unfortunately, the centre woes don’t end with Langkow and Stajan. John Armstrong, the hard-luck prospect expected to challenge for a roster spot despite two straight injury-plagued seasons, didn’t practise Wednesday after being hit in the face by a puck in Tuesday night’s 3-2 preseason win at the Saddledome over the Vancouver Canucks. His status is unknown.

Ryan Stone, who was an energy player on the Oilers’ fourth line last year, is still recovering from the knee injury which ended his 2009-10 season and is not yet participating fully in camp.

Moss was told before training camp the club wanted him to try playing centre in camp. It appears to have been a pre-emptive strike.

“I’m kinda getting back in the swing,” Moss said.

Ultimately, it appears Backlund will be spreading his wings very soon, and having scored the team’s first preseason goal, he’s confident he can do the job.

“I had two main camps without a goal, so it feels good. It’s a good way to start,” Backlund said. “The most important thing is to play good, and I think I played good. A goal makes it even better.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RandySportak


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