When the Calgary Flames hit the ice for the 2016-17 National Hockey League season, they’ll do so with perhaps the largest contingent of home-grown talent on their roster than they’ve had in years. Led by 2007 first round pick Mikael Backlund, 2013 first round pick Sean Monahan, 2014 first round pick Sam Bennett and perhaps joined by 2016 first round pick Matthew Tkachuk, the Flames have made a remarkable turn-around in their drafting and player development over the past five or six years.
The turn-around is a welcome sign for the team’s management and their fan-base because the club used to be really, really, poor at turning NHL Draft picks into NHL players. Here’s a brief look at the five most prominent Flames picks that (for many reasons) did not pan out.
The highest-drafted netminder in franchise history, Krahn was the star goalie for the Calgary Hitmen (owned by the Flames) and the 2000 NHL Draft was in Calgary. The selection of Krahn at 9th overall earned a nice ovation from the crowd, but he struggled with injuries and consistency issues in the years that followed. Eventually, the Flames let him walk as a free agent. All-told, Krahn played a single game in the NHL (for Dallas).
Better Options Taken Later: Ron Hainsey (13th), Brooks Orpik (18th), Alexander Frolov (20th)
On paper, Biotti was exactly what an NHL team would covet. Taken 17th overall in the 1985 Draft, He was a big-bodied blueliner from New England, poised to spend a few years with the Havard Crimson before turning pro. The Flames had just begun to have success with college players, and Biotti seemed like a slam-dunk. He ended up spending three uneventful seasons in the Flames minor-league system and never got called up.
Better Options Taken Later: Sean Burke (24th), Kay Whitmore (26th), Mike Richter (28th)
The Flames have had a lot of success in drafting and developing Swedish players throughout their history. But Mattsson, a really talented Swedish speedster, never really panned out. Selected 18th overall in the 1993 Draft, he came over to North America a couple seasons later ready to make his mark. He puttered around with the Flames AHL club, putting up solid but unspectacular numbers and not really translating his skilled reputation to the smaller ice. After two and a half seasons of frustration, he returned to Sweden where he put together a pretty solid career in the Swedish Elite League.
Better Options Taken Later: Saku Koivu (21st), Anders Eriksson (22nd), Todd Bertuzzi (23rd)
After a really solid first season with the University of Michigan, the Flames nabbed the 6’3″, 205 pound Deasley in the first round (19th overall) of the 1987 Draft. He had size. He had skill. And he followed that great first season with an even better sophomore year. He soon joined the Canadian National Team, coincidentally located in Calgary, and seemed poised for a great pro career after a strong playoff stint in 1989 with the Flames’ farm team. Unfortunately, his late-season performance didn’t translate the next season and he established himself as a solid but not amazing minor leaguer. He was traded by the Flames to Quebec for future considerations prior to the start of the 1992-93 season.
Better Options Taken Later: Darren Rumble (20th), Stephane Matteau (25th), Rick Tabaracci (26th)
Stop us if this sounds familiar. Big body. Swedish. Ticking off pretty much all of the Flames’ scouting departments usual boxes at the time, Sundblad seemed like an ideal selection in the first round (19th overall) of the 1991 Draft. Like Mattsson, Sundblad came over to North America as a 20-year-old. Like Mattsson, he established himself as a solid (but not great) AHLer. Unlike Mattsson, Sundblad got a call-up to the NHL club – making a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it two-game appearance. Sundblad finished out his entry-level contract and then headed back to Europe, where he put together a solid career spanning Sweden, Finland, Germany and Italy.
Better Options Taken Later: Martin Rucinsky (20th), Dean McAmmond (22nd), Ray Whitney (23rd)
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.