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 three of the past five seasons, and appear to ready to do so once again in 2021-22. 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 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. The now 26-year-old last played in the 2019-20 season with the Belleville Senators, and any hopes of him being a potential late bloomer are long gone.
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. He is now playing overseas in the KHL for Riga Dynamo.
7. Jakob Pelletier (2019, 26th overall)
0 NHL games played
This one is a bit unfair, as Jakob Pelletier is just 20 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 an extremely promising young prospect, but until he is able to prove himself at the NHL level it is hard to rank him much higher. 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.
After being drafted, Pelletier spent two more seasons where he continued to put up huge offensive numbers. Now, he is playing in his rookie season with the Stockton Heat and is adapting very well to the pro game as he is currently leading the team with 17 points through 15 games.
With the great start he has had in the AHL, it is possible that the Flames consider giving Pelletier a few NHL games later on this season. We will have to wait and see whether or not that is the case, but regardless, he appears to have a very bright future ahead of him.
6. Juuso Valimaki (2017, 16th overall)
81 NHL games played (3 G, 13 A, 19 PTS)
The Flames selected Finnish defenceman Juuso Valimaki with the 16th overall pick after his second season with the Tri-City Americans in the WHL. His offensive skill was evident 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. He has fully recovered since, and while he played some very impressive hockey in Finland in 2020-21 prior to the NHL season starting, he is struggling to make an impact with the Flames. He has been healthy scratched in 14 of 22 games to start the season, and despite his age, it feels like the organization may be giving up on him.
5. Mark Jankowski (2012, 21st overall)
253 NHL games played (40 G, 35 A, 75 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 27-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 rookie season in the AHL had Flames fans excited for what was to come as he put up 27 goals and 56 points in 64 games.
Jankowski went on to play three seasons with the Flames from 2017-2020. In that time he registered 38 goals and 64 points in 208 games. Due to his inconsistencies, general manager Brad Treliving chose to let him walk that offseason and he went on to sign a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The 2020-21 season turned out to be more of the same for Jankowski, as he once again struggled offensively, managing just four goals and 11 points in 45 games. Unable to secure an NHL contract through the 2021 offseason, he chose to sign a deal with the Rochester Americans of the AHL. Thanks to a great start, however, he was able to sign a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres. This could very well be his last opportunity to prove he belongs in the NHL going forward.
4. Sven Baertschi (2011, 13th overall)
292 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 full-time 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.
Most expected that when his contract with the Canucks came to an end after the 2020-21 season, he would be able to make his way back into the NHL. Unfortunately for Baertschi, that hasn’t been the case, as after signing a one-year deal with the Vegas Golden Knights this summer he has played in just one game at the NHL level and 14 at the AHL.
3. Sam Bennett (2014, 4th overall)
430 NHL games played (81 G, 87 A, 168 PTS)
Though Sam Bennett’s tenure in Calgary was disappointing due to the lofty expectations placed on him, the fact is, the former fourth-overall pick was able able to establish himself as an everyday NHL forward, even if it wasn’t the way many 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 in Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl. This had both Flames fans and management alike thinking they had lucked out in a big way.
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 never turned out to be the case.
The now 25-year-old never hit 30 points in his next five seasons with the Flames, and was traded to the Florida Panthers midway through the 2020-21 campaign. Some suggested the change of scenery could benefit Bennett, and that certainly appears to be the case as he has 28 points in 28 career games as a Panther. Unfortunately, things did not work out in Calgary, but he finally appears to be living up to his draft status.
2. Sean Monahan (2013, 6th overall)
613 NHL games played (206 G, 243 A, 449 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. There is no denying that he has been a successful pick for the Flames, however his struggles over the past few seasons have drawn the ire of many fans. Despite being just 27-years-old, it appears a hip injury, one which required surgery this offseason, may be taking its toll. In 22 games this season he has found the back of the net on just two occasions, a truly shocking stat line given how consistent of a goal scorer he was not all that long ago. His days in Calgary may be numbered.
1. Matthew Tkachuk (2016, 6th overall)
371 NHL games played (120 G, 177 A, 297 PTS)
Something about the sixth-overall pick seemed to work well for the Flames in the 2010s, as they not only drafted Monahan at that spot 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 he will likely never be an elite point producer, Tkachuk has the skill to be a point per game player moving forward. He is off to a great start in the 2021-22 campaign with 10 goals and 19 points in 22 games, all while continuing to be a major pain to play against. He is both a fantastic player as well as a leader for this team, and should be next in line for the teams vacant captaincy.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.