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Odd Man Rush: Baby Flames ready to ignited

The season hasn't started yet and head coach Bob Hartley is already having his nights impacted by the state of the Calgary Flames.

But while it was the club's struggles a season ago that probably had Hartley chugging warm milk and Tylenol PM to get some sleep, the upcoming influx of young talent has him tossing and turning as he prepares for his third season on the Calgary bench.

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Expectations remain low for the Flames as they wait for their young talent to mature. But if this preseason is any indication, a few baby-faced skaters appear ready to contribute now and that has left the organization with some decisions that need to be made.

"Remember, the first day of camp, I told you the depth on this hockey club is surprising from the outside," Hartley said following Thursday's preseason win over Winnipeg.

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"All summer I talked to my partners, we have some good, young players that are coming up and right now they're making statements out there. We have to respect this. Remember our slogan, 'It's always earned, never given.'"

Sean Monahan is leading the youth movement at the age of 19, but his status for this upcoming season was already locked in after he produced 22 goals in 75 games as a rookie last year.

But this preseason has seen the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Josh Jooris, Sven Baertschi and even 18-year-old Sam Bennett impress management.

The big name to watch has been Gaudreau, the recent recipient of the Hobey Baker Award after notching 80 points in 40 games last season with Boston College. The 21-year-old was a fourth-round pick by Calgary in 2011 and got into one game with the Flames at the end of last season following the conclusion of his Boston College career, scoring a goal.

Gaudreau had three assists in Thursday's 4-2 victory over the Jets. He humbly pointed out that two of those were secondary assists, but there was no denying the talent he flashed while setting up the first of two goals in the game by Jooris.

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Collecting the puck along the left boards, Gaudreau spun away from a pair of defenders into the slot and spotted a wide open Jooris down low, sporting excellent vision while hitting him with a quick pass.

"I'm trying to show management that I belong," he said. "Whatever I have to do to do that is something I'm going to try and do. Whether it's playing well defensively or creating offensive chances, I have to make sure I'm doing my best out there."

Jooris is another wild card after posting 27 points in 73 games a season ago at the American Hockey League level. Undrafted out of Union College, the 24- year-old was a late cut from last season's Flames club and is pushing again this year.

"I've kind of understood what it takes to play at this level. For me in particular, I've got to go out there and do the little things right," noted Jooris. "I'm not worried about putting up numbers or offense. That stuff will come as it did tonight. Defense and little things at the blue line, just smart plays around the ice, that's first and foremost for me. That's been the mindset."

Said Hartley of Jooris, "He's playing with passion. It's so nice to work with Josh because he wants to learn, he's a great student, he has speed. On our coaching staff, we call this buzz. He has lots of buzz to his game. He never stops."

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Normally, a rebuilding club would love to see its young players perform like this, but there is always the problem of not enough roster space. Calgary has gotten a good look at some talent while Mikael Backlund, David Jones and Mason Raymond have nursed injuries, and the Flames, anticipating another year of rebuilding, acquired a number of stop-gaps this past offseason in Raymond, Devin Setoguchi and Brandon Bollig.

That leaves Hartley and the rest of management with limited room on the roster for the prospects and don't be surprised if the coach is sporting some tired facial features during Wednesday's opener against Vancouver.

"It's not getting easier. I told you guys (the media) this morning, there's going to be lots of long nights thinking about it and after tonight's game the night is just getting longer and longer," Hartley said on Thursday night.

Ultimately, players like Gaudreau, Baertschi and Jooris may find themselves squeezed out at the start of the season despite their best efforts as Calgary is forced to play the numbers game. But their recent display has brightened the hope of the Flames' future.

The leader of that movement, Monahan is ready.

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"I feel really good out there right now," Monahan said after scoring twice against the Jets. "Obviously confidence is big in the game and right now I'm confident and I want the puck. I'm looking forward for the season to get going here."

Even though the season is sure to feature a number of ups and downs, Flames fans should agree.

[SportsNetwork.com]

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