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Florida defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, right, entered the NHL as a 19-year-old and has played six seasons with the Panthers.

The Calgary Flames have acquired the negotiating rights to Alberta native Jay Bouwmeester, perhaps the most highly prized NHL free agent available this off-season.

The Flames made the deal early Saturday and a few hours later reacquired defenceman Brandon Prust in exchange from Phoenix for veteran blue liner Jim Vandermeer.

Bouwmeester, 25, scored 15 goals and 27 assists in 82 games for Florida last season. The defenceman has not missed a regular season game in the last four years, but has never played in the post-season with the struggling Panthers.

Bouwmeester, who was born in Edmonton and played junior hockey in Medicine Hat, is set to become an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday and will command a pay raise from the $4.875 million US he made last year.

The 6-foot-4 defender would be an imposing presence on Calgary's blue-line, but would also require Flames general manager Darryl Sutter to do some juggling to get his team under the salary cap next season.

Florida received the rights to defenceman Jordan Leopold, also an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and a third-round draft pick in exchange.

Leopold, 28, came over to Calgary from Colorado at the trade deadline for a second stint with the Flames. He began his NHL career with Calgary in 2002.

The Golden Valley, Minn., native has 162 points in 355 career games.

Prust, 25, spent parts of the last two seasons with Calgary before being dealt at the March trade deadline to the Coyotes along with Matthew Lombardi and a first-round pick. The Flames received Olli Jokinen in return.

The Flames selected Prust in the third round in the 2004 entry draft.

Vandermeer, 29, played 79 regular season and playoff games for Calgary over the past two seasons. He has also played for Philadelphia and Chicago over 312 games in the NHL.