It wasn’t that long ago that the Calgary Flames were a rudderless ship, led astray by a veteran-laden roster and kept there by their inability to draft and develop young talent. However, the last several years have seen the Flames draft well and stock their prospect cupboards with a wide array of talent.
At this juncture, though, four prospective Flames stand slightly above the rest.
Parsons may be the best goaltender the Flames have drafted since Mike Vernon (way back in 1981). A second round selection of the Flames in the 2016 NHL Draft – taken with a pick acquired when they traded Jiri Hudler to Florida – Parsons’ past two seasons were excellent enough to the point where there’s very little left for the 19-year-old to do in major junior hockey.
In his draft year, he was dominant and back-stopped a stacked London Knights team to an Ontario Hockey League crown and a Memorial Cup. He was a great goalie on a great team, and had to be alert enough to make key saves infrequently. After being drafted, he had another excellent season for London and was their best player in a pair of playoff series where the Knights were out-gunned. He also captured a gold medal for USA Hockey at the World Juniors, capping the event off with a superb performance in the shootout.
The Michigan native is a very strong technical goaltender, but the thing that elevates him above the pack is his competitive streak. Parsons hates giving up goals, to the point where he doesn’t often give up on shots – even in practice. His ability to successfully make second and third efforts at saves, coupled with his size and instincts, make him the most exciting net-minding prospect that the Flames have seen in quite some time.
Jankowski may be the most controversial first round selection in Flames history – and this is in an organization that took Brent Krahn ninth overall in 2000 and repeatedly overlooked skill in favour of size during the Darryl Sutter regime. The big-bodied Ontario product was infamously drafted from Quebec prep school hockey in 2012, with his selection coupled with a high-minded tale of scouts getting diverted to one of his games during a snowstorm and falling in love with his game.
Regardless of how highly he was touted at the time, Jankowski was always going to be a long-term project. He was drafted as a lanky 6’3″, 165 pound beanpole and touted as the next Joe Nieuwendyk by some. He went off to Providence College to round out his game and his body. He left after four years with a degree, a national championship and more than 30 pounds of added muscle. He became one of college hockey’s most effective 200-foot players.
This past season, Jankowski transitioned to professional hockey and emerged as one of the Stockton Heat’s most consistent players. He was in the running for the American Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year award, losing out to San Jose’s Danny O’Regan, and was among Stockton’s leading scorers in both the regular season and the playoffs. After making his NHL debut with the Flames in November, he seems like a strong contender for one of the open roster spots this fall. Big, rangey and smart in all three zones, the only thing Jankowski hasn’t quite harnessed is the ability to play “mean” hockey.
Another product of the 2016 NHL Draft, Fox was selected in the third round from the vaunted U.S. National Development Program. Slightly undersized for a blueliner, Fox nevertheless set the program’s single-season scoring record for a defenseman in his draft year. The bar was set fairly high for his first college season with Harvard. His performance, both individually and as part of his team’s play, surpassed anybody’s wildest expectations.
Fox scored at over a point-per-game pace – as a freshman defenseman – and captured a long list of accolades; First Team All-American, ECAC Rookie of the Year, New England Rookie of the Year, Ivy League Rookie of the Year and Conference All-Star Team honours among them. He also helped Harvard to a regular season crown, a conference playoff title and a strong showing at the Frozen Four. He also won a gold medal at the World Juniors with USA Hockey.
Despite his offensive prowess, Fox is still not a huge physical presence and his defensive side of his game needs work. He’s likely sticking around in college hockey for at least one more season, which will allow him to continue to hit the books (and the gym) and round out his game. But if he can translate even a fraction of his scoring from the NCAA to the professional ranks, he’s going to be a very productive player.
The organization’s mostly recent first round selection, Valimaki is fairly representative of the Flames’ recent drafting regime. He’s a Finnish defender playing in the WHL. He’s big, but not slow, and strong in all three zones – though he noted he wanted to improve his defensive zone play.
Already boasting a large international resume with Team Finland – including gold and silver medals at the Under-18 World Championship – Valimaki followed up a solid rookie season with Tri-City with an even better one, scoring at over a point-per-game pace. He’s headed back to the WHL for at least one more season, but his strong showing against older players at the Flames’ recent development camp suggests that he may not be too far from making an impact at the pro level.
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.