He’s happy to be back.

And Ilya Solovyov is in the right frame of mind to make an impact with the Flames.

Solovyov was on the ice at practice Monday after being recalled from the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers, and after spending the weekend in Bakersfield, he’s headed right back to California for a three-game trip beginning Tuesday night in San Jose.

But when asked about what he’s been working on in anticipation of another NHL recall, Solovyov turned away from skills and drills, instead alluding to keeping level, mentally.

Part of what he’s been putting into practice is clearing his mind from the day-to-day stresses that come with his occupation.

“It just was more about the mental work, try to stay with the pressure and do my job as best as I can,” he said Monday. “I’ve just got a notebook where I can write everything I’m thinking about, about the game, about all stuff. I talk with (mental performance coach Matt Brown), and yeah it’s pretty good.”

Clear of mind, and cleared to play as well.

Solovyov missed a month of the AHL season with an upper-body ailment, but since returning to action in mid-March, he’s been a big part of the Wranglers stretch run, one that’s seen them clinch a post-season berth for the second time in as many seasons here in Calgary.

And he’s found success by keeping things simple.

“Work on my first pass, try to be hard in our zone, try to shoot the puck more and of course, be a leadership guy with the Wranglers, and bring (that) to the Flames,” he said when asked which parts of his game he’s been focusing on. “We have a great group of veteran guys here, I have to learn a lot from these guys, too.”

Neither Joel Hanley nor Oliver Kylington were among the seven defencemen taking part in Flames practice Monday. Head coach Ryan Huska figures those absences – combined with Solovyov’s recent form in the AHL – made the 23-year-old Belarusian the logical next man up as the team prepares to hit the road for the Golden State.

“We have a couple bumps and bruises,” Huska said Monday, “so we want to make sure we have the proper amount of bodies, for one. From everything that we’re hearing, he’s been our best guy with the Wranglers over the last little while so he’s deserving of another opportunity.”

Solovyov’s last stint with the big club saw him collect his first NHL points (two assists) as part of a four-game run in early December.

This time around, Huska’s hopeful to see crisp, confident zone exits from Solovyov when the opportunity presents itself.

“To play consistently at this level, defencemen have to make a good first pass, and that’s the one thing that we really sent him back with and we wanted him to focus on,” Huska noted. “Yes, use his size, because that separates him from other defencemen – he’s a big, strong man – we wanted him to really focus on making that good first pass, all the time, so we can get out of our zone clean.

“From what it sounds like, he’s been doing a much better job of that.”

There’s a sense that perhaps the third time’s the charm for Solovyov – with the AHL playoffs right around the corner, what better time to get a bit more time soaking in the NHL experience.

And while the energy of a first NHL call-up might be tough to replicate, Solovyov has just as much excitement this time around.

“It’s exactly the same feeling,” he said. “First time, second time, just enjoy here, it’s the NHL.

“You’re just here and you’re happy.”


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