The 2010s were an interesting decade for the Calgary Flames. For the most part, their first-round picks did not pan out as they had hoped. Usually, this would result in a very unsuccessful franchise. However, thanks to some great picks in the later rounds, they have made the playoffs in four of the last six seasons, including 2019-20. The Flames had nine first-round picks in the 2010s. Here they are ranked from worst to best.
9. Morgan Klimchuk (2013, 28th overall)
1 NHL game played (0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS)
The Calgary Flames found themselves in a great spot heading into the 2013 NHL Entry Draft with three first-round selections. Unfortunately, only one of them ended up working out, which you will see later on this list. Selecting Morgan Klimchuk seemed like a good choice for the Flames at the time, as he had just finished a terrific season with the Regina Pats of the WHL in which he scored 36 goals and added 40 assists in 72 games.
It is hard to blame the Flames management for the pick. Prior to the draft, he was on many lists as a late first, early second-round pick, so it’s not that they went off the board with him. Klimchuk played two more seasons in the WHL where he continued to post big numbers before he started his professional career in the 2015-16 season.
His first professional season in the AHL was a complete disaster, as he managed to put up just nine points with the Stockton Heat. However, in the following two seasons, he was able to put up 43 and 40 points, respectively, and earned his first NHL call-up during the 2017-18 season, where he played his first and only NHL game to this point.
The following season, Klimchuk again failed to make the Flames out of camp and was traded shortly after to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He appeared in just 13 games with the Toronto Marlies before being dealt to the Ottawa Senators. This season, the now 25-year-old appeared in 49 games with the Belleville Senators where he put up 26 points in 49 games. It seems highly unlikely that he will ever become a regular NHL player at this point.
8. Emile Poirier (2013, 22nd overall)
8 NHL games played (0 G, 1 A, 1 PT)
The other pick from the 2013 Draft that didn’t come close to working out for the organization was Emile Poirier. The Flames took the talented Montreal, Quebec native well ahead of the NHL’s final draft ranking, which had him pegged at 39th overall on a list of North American skaters. However, it was still an exciting pick for Flames fans at the time, as he had just finished his second season in the QMJHL with the Gatineau Olympiques which saw him put up 70 points in 65 games. His grittiness was also apparent given his 101 penalty minutes.
Poirier played just one more season in the QMJHL, where he posted big numbers again. That same season, he also made his professional debut, where he set very high expectations for himself with two goals and two assists in two games with the Abbotsford Heat. The 2014-15 season, which was his rookie year, was quite impressive as well, as he put up 19 goals and 42 points in 55 games.
Those numbers were good enough to earn him his first NHL call-up. He played in six games and managed one assist. At that point, his future looked very bright.
Unfortunately, it has all gone downhill since. Poirier, now 25, has played five more seasons in the AHL and has only hit the 30-point mark in one of those. He did appear in two more games with the Flames during the 2015-16 season but was unable to put up any points. That is the last we saw of Poirier in the NHL to this point, and likely ever. He is now with the Manitoba Moose, who signed him as a free agent during the 2018 offseason. In 50 games this season, he managed just 14 points.
One reason for Poirier’s sudden decline could be due to his struggles with alcohol, which he opened up about prior to the 2017-18 season (from ‘Kristen Odland: Calgary Flames prospect Emilie Poirier opens up about alcohol abuse,’ Calgary Herald, 07/05/17). It is disappointing for him and the Flames that he never panned out, but it is good to know that he is feeling better.
7. Jakob Pelletier (2019, 26th overall)
0 NHL games played
This one is a bit unfair, as Jakob Pelletier is just 19 years old. He still has many years before anyone can determine whether or not he was a successful pick. At this point, he looks like a promising young prospect. The Flames selected him 26th overall after an impressive campaign with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL which saw him score 39 goals and 89 points in just 65 games.
This past season saw Pelletier back with the Wildcats, where he posted very similar numbers. In 57 games, he scored 32 goals and 82 points, with a dazzling plus-57. Despite the big numbers, there are two slight concerns about his game. The first is his size, as he is listed at just 5-foot-9, 167 pounds. The second is his lack of playoff scoring at the junior level. Playoff games can make or break players, and in a combined 17 playoff games, he has just eight points.
Still, the good certainly outweighs the bad with Pelletier. As far as size goes, the league is at a point where smaller players can succeed, even if it is still tougher for them. His playoff stat lines stick out, but it is also a small sample size. We will need to see more before making any judgments.
6. Mark Jankowski (2012, 21st overall)
208 NHL games played (36 G, 28 A, 64 PTS)
The most surprising and off the board pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft was when Flames former general manager Jay Feaster selected Mark Jankowski with the 21st-overall pick. At the time, the young forward was unknown, as he had just wrapped up a season of high school hockey months prior. Despite this, Feaster was very confident in his pick, claiming he would be viewed as the best player in the draft 10 years down the road.
While that certainly hasn’t been the case, the pick didn’t turn out as bad as many thought it would, largely due to how bad the 2012 Draft turned out to be. It took the now 25-year-old some time to get to the NHL, as he played four seasons with Providence College and an additional year in the AHL. His one and only AHL season had Flames fans excited as he put up 27 goals and 56 points in 64 games.
Fast forward to where we are now, in the 2019-20 season, which was Jankowski’s third as an NHLer. His first two seasons in the league went okay, as he provided decent secondary offence with 17- and 14-goal seasons. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about this season. After starting the campaign in a horrible slump when he was scoreless through his first 37 games and put up just one assist during that time, he ended the year with just five goals and seven points in 56 games.
As a result, Jankowski was a healthy scratch often this season. When he was able to make his way into the lineup, he averaged just 11:06 of ice time per game, the lowest TOI of his NHL career. Given that his contract is set to expire after this season, it seems that his time with the Flames is over.
5. Sven Baertschi (2011, 13th overall)
291 NHL games played (66 G, 72 A, 138 PTS)
With the 13th-overall pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Flames selected Sven Baertschi. The talented Swiss forward had just finished his first season with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, where he put up 34 goals and 85 points in 64 games. This pick was very exciting for Flames fans, as it looked like he had all the makings of a future NHL star.
Following the draft, he returned to Portland for one more season, where he continued to impress, with 94 points in just 47 games. He also appeared in the final five games of the Flames’ season that year and had fans thinking they had a superstar on their hands, scoring three goals in that short span. However, that never happened, as he was never able to stick fulltime with the team over the next three seasons, bouncing between the NHL and AHL.
The Flames, who became frustrated with Baertschi’s lack of development, traded him to the Vancouver Canucks in March 2015. The trade proved beneficial for him, as he made the Canucks roster for the start of the 2015-16 season and went on to play four seasons with the team. During that time, he put up solid secondary scoring numbers, despite dealing with many injuries. That is why it came as such a surprise when the Canucks chose to waive him and send him to the AHL prior to the start of the 2019-20 season.
As a result, the 27-year-old spent the entire season with the Utica Comets of the AHL, aside from a six-game stint with the Canucks in November. He put up excellent numbers with the Comets, recording 46 points in 43 games.
It was reported in December that Baertschi had asked for a trade, as he was not happy with his demotion. Although his future remains unknown, it seems likely we will see him in the NHL again soon. Whether that is with the Canucks or another team remains to be seen.
4. Juuso Valimaki (2017, 16th overall)
24 NHL games played (1 G, 2 A, 3 PTS)
Another player who was hard to rank on this list was Juuso Valimaki. The Flames selected the Finnish defenceman 16th overall, after his second season with the Tri City Americans in the WHL. His offensive skill was apparent that season, as he put up 61 points in 60 games. He also appeared in the World Junior Championships that season, putting up two goals in six games for Team Finland.
The following season saw Valimaki return to the Americans, where he again had a big offensive year with 45 points in 43 games and an additional 17 points in 12 playoff games. He also played in his second WJC, posting one goal and three assists in five games.
After that, the Flames decided he was ready to become a professional. The 2018-19 season saw him play in 20 games with the Stockton Heat, where he had 14 points and played 24 games with the Flames, where he posted three points. He also played in two playoff games for the Flames that spring, recording one assist.
Unfortunately, Valimaki was forced to miss the entire 2019-20 season due to a torn ACL suffered in August. It was reported that his recovery was ahead of schedule and he was reportedly skating at the end of January. Even if he has fully recovered now, it is unlikely we will see him suit up for games in the playoffs this summer considering how much rust he would have to work off his game. Regardless, he has big-time potential and will be a key part of the team’s blue line for the 2020-21 season.
3. Sam Bennett (2014, 4th overall)
364 NHL games played (63 G, 65 A, 128 PTS)
Though Sam Bennett’s career has been disappointing due to the lofty expectations placed on him, the fact is, the former fourth-overall pick has been able to establish himself as an everyday NHL forward, even if it isn’t the way people had envisioned. Prior to being drafted, he was regarded by many as the top forward in his draft class. However, on draft day, two forwards were selected ahead of him, Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl. This had Flames fans and management thinking they had won a big-time steal.
After being drafted, Bennett returned to the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL but was only able to play in the team’s final 11 regular-season games due to shoulder surgery. He and his teammates were knocked out of the playoffs that season in just four games, and as a result, the Flames recalled him. He was able to get in just one regular-season game before the playoffs started, and he made the most of it, recording an assist. He then played in all of the team’s 11 playoff games, where he quickly gained attention with his physical play and all-around talent.
His playoff performance had many thinking he was going to be a major threat for the Flames for years to come. The 2015-16 season saw Bennett make the team as a rookie, where he put up a solid year with 18 goals as well as 18 assists in 77 games. It seemed like the beginning for him and that he would continue to build on those numbers as the years progressed. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
Not only has the 24-year-old not built off those totals, but he has failed to hit the 30-point mark in four seasons since. This season was a disaster for Bennett, as he recorded just eight goals and 12 points in 52 games. Like Jankowski, he averaged his lowest ice time as an NHLer this season, playing just 12:31 a game. As mentioned above, he has still managed to become an everyday player thanks to his versatility, but it is becoming less and less likely he will turn into the stud many thought he would become.
2. Sean Monahan (2013, 6th overall)
541 NHL games played (194 G, 217 A, 411 PTS)
Though Calgary missed with both Klimchuk and Poirier in the first round of the 2013 Draft, they certainly didn’t miss when they selected Sean Monahan with the 6th-overall pick. The Brampton, Ontario native was coming off of an impressive season with the Ottawa 67’s where he put up 31 goals and 78 points in just 58 games. He earned those numbers despite a very weak 67’s roster, in which the second-leading scorer on the team had just 40 points.
Thanks to a strong training camp and first nine games, Monahan stuck with the Flames as an 18-year-old for the 2013-14 season. He wasn’t out of place, as the youngster put up 22 goals that year which was a sign of things to come. The next season, he broke the 30-goal plateau for the first time, putting up 31 along with 31 assists, which played a big part in the Flames making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
So far, Monahan has cracked the 60-point mark four times, including a career-high 82 points during the 2018-19 season. Despite struggling this season with just 22 goals and 48 points, there is no doubt that this was a great pick for the Flames. Considering he is on a very team-friendly deal worth $6.375 million per year through the 2022-23 season, it is likely he will remain a Flame for a long time.
1. Matthew Tkachuk (2016, 6th overall)
293 NHL games played (94 G, 141 A, 235 PTS)
Something about the sixth-overall pick seemed to work well for the Flames in the 2010s, as they not only drafted Monahan with that pick but star forward Matthew Tkachuk as well. The 2016 draft choice has turned out to be a brilliant one for the team, as he has become their best overall player. While he was projected to be a top-four pick, there were some concerns about his skating, which led to him slipping to the Flames at number six.
Brad Treliving and the rest of the Flames staff decided to take the London Knight forward regardless of any concern, and it has paid off big time. At the time of the draft, Tkachuk had just finished his first and only season with the London Knights, where he played with arguably the best line in junior hockey that season alongside Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner. He put up an astonishing 107 points in 57 regular-season games, and an arguably even more impressive 20 goals and 20 assists in just 18 playoff games. He capped off the year scoring the overtime goal to win the Memorial Cup.
The Flames elected to keep Tkachuk as an 18-year-old the following season, where he quickly established himself as both extremely talented and extremely agitating with his 48 points and 105 penalty minutes. While it was apparent early on that Tkachuk had offensive skills, not many projected him to become as good as he is. The 2018-19 season saw him put up career-highs with 34 goals and 77 points. While this season was a slight decline statistically, his 61 points still led the team.
Given that he is still just 22 years old, he likely still hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling yet. With his already extremely physical style of play, his ability to get under opponent’s skin, and his all-around talent, he will likely be one of the most dominating players in the game for years to come. This was without a doubt the best first-round selection the Flames had of the 2010s.
Former Jr. A player turned writer. Cover both the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, and am part of both the Flames Faceoff and Oilers Overtime podcasts.