Last year, the Calgary Flames began their rebuild by trading away Jarome Iginla and heading to the 2013 Draft with three first round picks. The Flames stepped to the podium and had a strong draft in what was touted as the most important draft in franchise history.
Now, a year removed from having their most first round selections ever, the Flames pick fourth overall – their best pick ever – in the latest “most important draft in history.”
Heading into the weekend, the Flames have ownership of seven picks.
- 4th overall in the 1st round
- 34th overall in the 2nd round
- 54th overall in the 2nd round (acquired from Colorado for Reto Berra)
- 64th overall in the 3rd round
- 83rd overall in the 3rd round (acquired from Pittsburgh for Lee Stempniak)
- 175th overall in the 6th round (acquired from Anaheim for Tim Jackman)
- 184th overall in the 7th round
The Flames are going to sit idle for 92 picks by virtue of trading away their own 4th (to Toronto for Joe Colborne), 5th (to St. Louis for Kris Russell) and 6th round (to Dallas for Lane MacDermid) picks. Look for the club to perhaps make a move to bridge that gap and gain a pick somewhere in there, if for no other reason than to give their development staff another project player to work with.
WANTS & NEEDS
When you finish 4th-worst in the NHL, the common wisdom is that your team is bad. The Flames were both better and worse than their record, due to having a great work ethic but riding the percentages for some of the year, and hope to add to their rapidly improving prospect base in Philadelphia.
In essence, the Flames have one primary problem: their big players aren’t particularly skilled and their skilled players aren’t particularly big.
The young players with the most offensive finesse in the organization are likely Mikael Backlund, Sven Baertschi and Johnny Gaudreau. None are big. The most physically imposing players are Keegan Kanzig, Patrick Sieloff and Ben Hanowski. 2012 first rounder Mark Jankowski is a lanky fella who boasts two-way prowess but isn’t a bruiser. 2013 first rounder Emile Poirier has flash and some toughness, but isn’t big himself and will miss the first chunk of the season with a shoulder injury. WHL graduate Michael Ferland may be the only player in the system with a physical edge, size and some offensive skill, but he only played 25 games last year due to a knee injury.
The Flames still have a lot of depth in depth positions; they boast a bunch of middle-six and bottom-six forward options, and have so many talented up-and-coming centers that the team leaned on players like Joe Colborne, Lance Bouma, and Max Reinhart (all natural centers) to learn to play all three forward positions in order to give themselves more routes to the NHL. Beyond collegiate pivot Mark Jankowski, their 2012 first pick, the team has Corban Knight, Markus Granlund and Josh Jooris up the middle. And Tyler Wotherspoon has already shown promise as a third-pairing NHL blueliner, with Sieloff, John Ramage, Brett Kulak, Eric Roy and Ryan Culkin also looking like they could be decent pros. AHL goalie Joni Ortio and NCAA netminder Jon Gillies both had strong years last season, albeit with some injury-related inconsistencies for Gillies. However, Calgary no longer has a junior-aged netminder in their system, which is probably a problem they solve on the second day of the draft.
Calgary really needs some high-end prospects on defense, and in general. Sean Monahan was the first Flames pick to leap into the NHL and make some noise in decades, and Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk also had good years. For high-end players, there’s those three, and Gaudreau and Baertschi…and not much else. They have depth (and they didn’t have depth before recently), but now they need some players that can make an impact.
Tod Button has been the club’s head of scouting since the 2001-02 season. This will be his 13th draft as head of amateur scouting. His tendencies in early rounds appear to have been steered by the GMs of the day – Brad Treliving will be his fourth GM – but over the past few seasons his staff have selected some strong players, particularly outside of the first two rounds.
Their last three years worth of first round picks have produced Sven Baertschi (2011), Mark Jankowski (2012), Sean Monahan, Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk (all 2013). Four of Calgary’s five 2011 picks played for the Flames last season, with the fifth (Laurent Brossoit) being traded to Edmonton for Ladislav Smid early in the season. All three 2013 first rounders played pro games in 2013-14 (Monahan with Calgary, the others with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat late in the season).
Since the beginning of Jay Feaster’s GM tenure (three drafts), the Flames have made 20 picks. Of those: 8 were from the WHL, 2 from the QMJHL, 1 from the OHL, 4 from the USHL, 1 from the NCAA, 2 from prep schools (one each from Massachusetts and Quebec) and 2 from European junior leagues (one each from Russia and Finland). An obvious emphasis on Canada from a Canadian team that owns a WHL franchise (the Hitmen), but also a focus on the northeastern United States. Positionally, the Flames selected 2 goaltenders, 8 defensemen and 10 forwards.
TARGETS & FITS
If the Flames pick at 4th overall, they probably “settle” for whomever of the touted top 4 of Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart or Leon Draisaitl is left. A small chance exists that they take big & mean (and talented) forwards Nick Ritchie or Jake Virtanen, either at 4th or after trading down.
After that, a lot is up to chance. The team needs defenders and WHLers Brycen Martin, Ben Thomas and Travis Sanheim (the last two playing for the Calgary Hitmen) may be available. Or they could go for any of the many skilled USHL prospects like Jack Doherty, Jack Glover, Joshua Jacobs and Johnathan MacLeod.
The middle rounds are likely to be chaotic, with a larger cluster of players of roughly equivalent talent and 30 teams with wildly different lists. Just don’t be surprised if the Flames continue focusing on WHL picks or players from the northeastern USA.
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.