SUN Hockey Pool

Horak sticking around

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:26 PM ET

CALGARY - Anyone surprised to see Roman Horak still standing in Calgary Flames camp isn’t alone.

He admitted being part of the group.

“It’s a great opportunity to stick around the team a little bit — I’m happy,” Horak said after Friday’s team practice at Westside Recreaction Centre.

“It’s awesome.”

Two more forward prospects, Paul Byron and Lance Bouma, were dispatched to the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat. As well, Guillaume Desbiens was placed on waivers in anticipation of a demotion, too.

Of the 25 skaters and a trio of goalies who took part in the prospects camp, only Horak remains with the big team one week before the NHL regular season opens.

It remains to be seen whether the 20-year-old centre will still be in the Stampede City when the Pittsburgh Penguins come calling for the 2011-12 curtain-raiser Oct. 8, but it’s a big step for a player — a first-year pro — who was known for the return in the trade that sent 2009 first-round pick Tim Erixon to the New York Rangers.

It appears Horak will be around for a few more practices and the club’s trip to Banff, where the Flames will enjoy rest and relaxation Monday before practising Tuesday and Wednesday, even though he doesn’t know whether he’ll be part of those festivities.

“It would be nice to stick around — I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Horak said. “I honestly have no clue.

“It’s day to day.”

The Flames still have 27 players, which is four above the roster limit.

The current roster includes goalies Miikka Kiprusoff and Henrik Karlsson, nine defencemen — a list which includes the injured Brett Carson and a pair of players on two-way contracts in Jordan Henry and Derek Smith — and 16 forwards.

Where Horak fits into the mix is impossible to tell.

Horak, who was originally drafted in the fifth round by the Rangers in 2009 and collected 26 goals and 78 points for the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins last season, is one of five centres remaining, one of whom is the injured Brendan Morrison.

Morrison is inching closer to a return from off-season knee surgery, but it’s not certain he’ll be healthy enough for the season-opener.

Also battling injuries are Jarome Iginla, Rene Bourque and Raitis Ivanans.

Much of Horak’s status with the team depends on who is cleared for action in time, making it no certainty he’ll remain with the big club or be ticketed for the minors.

Plus Horak is one of only two forwards remaining in camp with a two-way contract. The other is Mikael Backlund.

One thing for certain is the club’s excitement with how Horak has impressed, even while going pointless through four pre-season games.

Flames head coach Brent Sutter has raved about Horak’s on-ice smarts and continued to do so Friday.

“Nothing seems to rattle him. (Thursday) night, he went up against Martin Hanzal, and he did really well,” Sutter said before explaining how the youngster chatted with him about a couple of mistakes he knew he made in the latest game.

“There was a couple of things around the offensive blueline or in our zone — just missed assignments — but he recognized it, and that’s a smart player,” Sutter said. “That’s a very coachable player.”

And he’s one whose confidence is quickly climbing.

“I realized I can play against NHL players. It’s a great experience,” Horak added. “I think they are happy with me right now. We’ll see if it stays this way.

“We’ll see how long I stay here.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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