SUN Hockey Pool

Stajan at home on first line

Calgary Flames' Matt Stajan and Florida Panthers' Radek Dvorak scramble for the puck. (REUTERS/Todd...

Calgary Flames' Matt Stajan and Florida Panthers' Radek Dvorak scramble for the puck. (REUTERS/Todd Korol)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

CALGARY - Signing a four-year, $14-million extension with the Flames last season, Matt Stajan’s deal included a modified no-trade clause.

The way he’s played in two games this season after missing most of training camp with a separated shoulder, he might not need it.

The 26-year-old centre isn’t going anywhere.

That includes his spot between Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay on the top line, where Stajan impressed with a three-point performance in a big 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers Saturday.

Moved there to provide some spark after the Olli Jokinen, Tanguay and Iginla trio failed to produce any chemistry, Stajan looked at home on the top line.

“I’m happy to be back. You miss training camp, you’re missing a lot of learning and you’re not getting your game legs ready to like everybody else would,” Stajan said Monday before heading to Nashville to face the Predators Tuesday night (6 p.m., Sportsnet Calgary, FAN 960).

“That first game, you’re thinking twice about things. But every period, I feel more comfortable.”

Comfort alongside the captain is something that stems from last season, when he took many a shift with Iginla on his flank after coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of the Dion Phaneuf deal.

“The more you play with someone, the more experience you get, the more comfort you get,” said Stajan.

“It takes hard work to find out tendencies of a guy. The more you play with someone and watch them, it just becomes easier and easier.

“Hopefully, we can just keep building.”

Setting career highs in goals (19) and points (57) last season, Stajan struggled to find consistency with the Flames, scoring just three times and adding 13 helpers in 27 games after the trade.

Expectations are much higher this season thanks to the $3.5-million-per-season salary and the fact he’s more familiar with the franchise.

But the easy-going Mississauga product’s success will likely come from his calm nature.

“I don’t even think about (the money). I judge success by team success. I’m not gonna look at anything else to do with numbers or salary, just focus on the task at hand,” said Stajan, who has been thrown into the fray despite having very little practice time to adjust to head coach Brent Sutter’s new system.

But he says he’s up to speed.

“I better be,” Stajan said with a grin. “You’re playing at this level of hockey, you’ve got to be at your best — or at least as good as you can be — every night.

“Mentally, you’ve got to be up to every challenge.”

Physically, he seems prepared.

An awkward landing during the first pre-season game in Vancouver last month separated his shoulder, but he’s taken plenty of licks on it in two regular-season games.

He won 12 of 17 faceoffs against the Oilers if that’s any indication of how it’s healed.

“It feels good. I don’t really think about it. Even if it was bothering me, I wouldn’t tell you guys — it would get right to the other team,” he said, drawing a few laughs. “It’s always in the back of your head when you get back from injury. It’s nice to take that first hit, give that first hit, get the shoulder used to taking some bumps.”

The one he wasn’t ready for got him in the chin Saturday. Defenceman Tom Gilbert put his shoulder into the Flames player’s jaw and was reportedly fined $2,500 for the hit that cost Stajan a couple of shifts.

“That one stunned me a little bit. Got my bell rung a little bit, but nothing that hasn’t happened before,” Stajan said. “I’ve been hit to the head quite a bit through the years. Just a little bit of a stunner.

“I shook it off and felt fine afterwards.”

And that’s a fine thing for the Flames.

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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