One year ago, newly-promoted Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster went to the podium at the Xcel Energy Center and pulled a rabbit out of his hat. Drafting 13th overall in the first round, Feaster chose Swiss winger Sven Baertschi. Within the year, Baertschi had dominated the WHL and spent two weeks in the NHL with the Flames during an injury recall stint.
The rookie didn’t look a bit out of place.
Now firmly entrenched in his general manager’s office, the pressure is on for Feaster to once again have a strong draft after selecting Baertschi, NCAA standout John Gaudreau, WHL playoff MVP Laurent Brossoit and others at the 2011 draft.
However, if anything, the draft success of the past few years and the insurgence of young players into Calgary’s line-up has posed a bit of a problem: there’s not a lot of talent in the Flames prospect base at the junior level with Baertschi, Max Reinhart and Michael Ferland turning pro next season. The promotion of T.J. Brodie to the NHL means that there are no blue-chip defensive prospects, either. And the trial period for 2006 first rounder Leland Irving in the NHL as Miikka Kiprusoff’s back-up possibly hollows out the goaltending position, too.
In short: the Calgary Flames need prospect help everywhere. This makes their draft strategy both very simple and very problematic. When you have holes everywhere, what’s the priority?
The Flames own picks in the first (14th), third (75th), fourth (105th), fifth (122nd), sixth (165th) and seventh (186th and 195th) rounds. (Although their picks after the first round could move up one apiece if the New Jersey Devils choose to surrender their first round pick to the league as punishment for salary cap circumvention.)
The Flames have a lot of forwards with bottom-six capabilities and potential beyond that, should they fix a few things in their games. The most complete forwards are arguably Sven Baertschi, Max Reinhart and Michael Ferland, all graduating from the WHL following this season. Baertschi looked great in a 5-game NHL stint and should make the jump straight to Calgary in a top-six role, but Reinhart and Ferland are likely to see a month or two in the AHL before making the leap themselves.
Beyond them, the organization has a lot of depth guys. Paul Byron is undersized but has great speed. Greg Nemisz has great size but his skating needs work. Roman Horak is strong all-around but needs a bit more experience to hone his decision-making. Akim Aliu has size and talent, but lacks consistency and discipline.
In the NCAA, Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold have three and two year remaining, respectively, while Markus Granlund is likely to spend at least one more year in Europe. All three are coming off strong seasons, but it’s unsure where they project at the NHL level.
Outside of Baertschi, the Flames don’t have a lot of prospects with high-end skill at any of their positions.
The Flames have a lot of depth defenders, but the majority of their AHL call-up players (Derek Smith, Clay Wilson and others) were acquired from other clubs or signed as free agents, and most are in the mid-20s. More youth at that position is needed at the AHL level, which means they’ll need to draft it.
While Laurent Brossoit has been great in the Dub this season, the Flames don’t have much in the goaltending pipeline outside of him. The statuses of Joni Ortio, Leland Irving and newly acquired Karri Ramo are all question marks headed into next season – Ortio and Ramo may stay in Europe, Irving may jump to the NHL.
LIKELY DRAFT STRATEGIES:
Last year, Flames GM Jay Feaster touted the “best player available” approach to drafting. It worked out pretty well. It’s likely that, given the fact that they need help everywhere, drafting the best player available will be the best strategy available.
That said, considering that the Flames have a huge lack of depth on the defensive front, they may skew towards drafting high-end defenders, all things being equal. There are quite a few blueliners likely available at 14th overall. The list includes a great deal of WHLers. Due to Calgary’s proximity to many WHL clubs and their ownership of the Calgary Hitmen, the scouting staff is very familiar with most of the WHL prospects.
- Matthew Dumba – Red Deer Rebels (WHL), originally from Calgary and a teammate of Flames prospect Turner Elson.
- Derrick Pouliot – Portland Winterhawks (WHL), a teammate of Flames prospects Sven Baertschi and Tyler Wotherspoon.
- Griffin Reinhart – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL), a teammate of Flames prospect Laurent Brossoit and the younger brother of Flames prospect Max Reinhart.
- Jacob Trouba – US National Development Team; the Flames have increasingly looked to the U.S. for prospects and both Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold have impressed with Boston College.
- Olli Mattta – London Knights (OHL)
- Cody Ceci – Ottawa 67s (OHL)
- Matt Finn – Guelph Storm (OHL); the three OHL defenders are on the radar, possibly moreso now that former OHL standout T.J. Brodie has cracked the Flames roster. Any OHLer that resembles Brodie’s skillset would be an easy sell to the scouting staff.
In the event that the Flames decide not to draft a blueliner, it’s likely they would draft one of these forwards. Shockingly, there are no WHLers ranked highly, so it’s probable that they would skew towards the OHL or perhaps draft from the USHL; the club chose Johnny Gaudreau from Dubuque last year in the fourth round.
- Radek Faksa of the Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
- Brandon Gaunce of the Belleville Bulls (OHL)
- Zemgus Girgensons of the Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
- Tom Wilson of the Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Beyond the first round, look for the Flames to continue to diversify their prospect assets. Last season, the Flames continued to find players in Europe and the American college system to supplement their North American assets. With a bunch of WHL prospects becoming pros, expect the Flames to draft a mix of Canadian major junior prospects, along with occasional Europeans or Americans.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.