A quick scan of the depth chart was all Ben Street needed in making the next big decision in his promising hockey career.
Having played the better part of the last two years for the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins - the minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins - Street knew that leapfrogging names like Crosby, Malkin and Sutter would be near impossible.
Enter the Calgary Flames, who signed Street to his first National Hockey League contract - a two year, two-way deal - on July 1.
"It was a lot of relief," said Street, who spoke to The NOW Wednesday while training in Madison, Wis. "It was a stressful time because I had a good history with Pittsburgh and they had offered me a deal as well, and I really was torn as to what to do. Looking at Pittsburgh's depth chart, how deep they are and good they are, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that it would be pretty difficult to get called up for a significant amount of time there."
Street is coming off his first full season in the American Hockey League, a campaign that saw him net 27 goals and 57 points in 71 games. The 2010-2011 season saw Street split his time between the Wheeling Nailers of the East Coast Hockey League and the baby Pens - in 74 games that season, Street put up 74 points. Those totals were good enough to earn him the ECHL's rookie of the year award, despite only playing 38 games in the minor pro loop before moving up to the AHL.
"I was never a real big point guy, even when I was in college. I kind of fell into that role in Wilkes-Barre and developed that side of my game a bit more," said Street, who previously spent four years at the University of Wisconsin. "My coach in Wilkes-Barre helped me develop those skills by putting me in the right situations. For whatever reason, the points started coming and so did the confidence. Once that got going, I just kind of got on a roll."
Street's rapid improvement on the offensive side of the puck was enough to catch the attention of Flames general manager Jay Feaster. And given Street's history with Troy Ward - the former coach at Wisconsin and current coach of the Flames' AHL team in Abbotsford - the move seemed natural.
"We are very pleased to add Ben to our forward group and organization," Feaster said in a team statement. "He has been a prolific scorer at the AHL level and he has a history with Troy Ward. Both Troy and our scouts view Ben as a legitimate NHL prospect and we look forward to helping him achieve that goal."
And while offence is a critical part of Street's game, the young pivot is acutely aware of the need to be a complete player at both ends of the rink, and in all situations he faces on the ice. While with Wilkes-Barre, Street played top-six minutes and was used on both the powerplay and penalty kill units.
"I think one of the reasons they wanted me is because of my versatility," Street said. "If I don't make the roster right out of camp, I've got to be ready if someone's injured or isn't playing well and fill in whatever position they need to fill."
Standing at five-foot-11 and weighing 195 pounds, Street has set his sights on improving his faceoff percentage, one timer and his explosiveness coming out of the corners in order to stick with the big club.
And with the very real prospect of a lockout looming, Street could still slot in with the Heat due to his two-way deal.
"I realize I'm a guy who will be brand new to their systems and being on a two-way contract, I'll really need to prove myself. But my goal is to go into camp, turn some heads and open some eyes. I guess ultimately, I'm looking to steal someone's job because they have a lot of guys with one-way contracts," he said.
. Street wasn't the only hockey player with roots in the Tri-Cities to solidify his future this week.
Port Coquitlam native Zach Hamill was re-signed by the Washington Capitals on a one-year deal, after he posted eight goals and 13 assists in 41 games with the Providence Bruins of the AHL last year.
Coquitlam native Josh Lunden looks as though he could remain in the sunny confines of Nevada, given that the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers have offered him a one-year qualifying deal.
Lunden put up 42 points (21 goals, 21 assists) in his second season with the Wranglers and added 10 points during the playoffs. He was also called up to the AHL on four occasions last season.
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