CALGARY - Consider first-round selection Sven Baertschi’s first step a success.
Calgary Flames brass wanted to see the Swiss sniper stand out at the prospects tournament in Penticton.
Along with linemates Max Reinhart and Patrick Holland, Baertschi made an impression during three games at the Young Stars tourney in B.C.
Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward loved what he saw from the trio — which likely will be active again Friday night when the Flames prospects take on the University of Calgary Dinos at Father David Bauer Arena.
“I thought those guys had a — I’d use the word ‘exceptional’ — tournament,” Ward said Thursday at the Saddledome. “They had great ice balance. I thought they competed as hard defensively as they competed offensively.
“I thought on the powerplay they controlled the tempo of the game, controlled the pace. They penalty-killed as well.
“They were special players for us over there, for sure.”
Ward also mentions camp invites Dustin Sylvester and defenceman James Martin as kids who caught his attention.
But when it comes to Baertschi, there hasn’t been as much excitement about a Flames draft pick since Dion Phaneuf.
“I thought he had an outstanding tournament. It’s a great first step for that young man,” said Ward.
“The second step would be that I think he’s played himself into a position where he’s going to get an opportunity here to play one of those (pre-season) games on the 20th.
“As the guy who guided the ship in Penticton, I thought he was — game in and game out — one of our better players.”
You can bet Baertschi will get a long look from Flames head coach Brent Sutter and GM Jay Feaster in training camp. It would take an absolutely stellar showing to convince them not to send him back to the junior ranks for more seasoning, but Ward knows this is a player that may never pass through his hands on the farm and is likely to make the jump from junior to the NHL.
“He’s a guy we may never see in Abbotsford — which is good for him,” Ward said with a laugh.
“His consistency at the puck and away from the puck was very noticeable. To be a good pro, you’ve got to be good, obviously, with the puck. But to be a really good young pro and stand out like he is, you have to be good away from the puck, both offensively and defensively. I thought he had a real good feel for the game in that respect as a young player.”
Baertschi said he got off to a bit of a rocky start, losing a few pucks during his first period at the tourney, but it didn’t take long before he realized he belonged.
“I felt it right away. I can compete with those guys,” Baertschi said.
“I felt right away I could do things out there — I could surprise out there.”
He’d like to bring that same feeling to the main camp, where he’s going to hit the ice with guys he looks up to like Jarome Iginla, but the 18-year-old doesn’t feel much pressure.
“I don’t really put a lot of stuff on myself. I just try to play my best hockey and see what happens,” he said. “If I can play a couple of exhibition games, I’ll be really happy. It would be really nice if I could play a regular-season game — I’d be really happy about that.”
He certainly has the skills to make that argument.
“I remember coaching Jaromir (Jagr) and (Alex) Kovalev and (Martin) Straka and (Robert) Lang in Pittsburgh,” Ward said, dropping some big names to make a point about Baertschi. “For me to embrace a young man like that, he has to have the ability to share the puck, and he has to have a good feel for where to share it,” said Ward. “I think you’ll notice Sven very much having that ability.
“Where he fits into the big puzzle for coach up above and that whole situation, it’s got to be the right fit and the right time, and that’s not my choice. I don’t have a say in that.
“I can just say he’s put himself in a position to earn that spot to be looked at that way.”