Just over two weeks ago, the NHL had their draft lottery, where it was determined that the Calgary Flames would have the 12th overall pick. This is a position they have picked in just one time before, back in 1984 when they selected Gary Roberts, who went on to play in over 1200 NHL games. Safe to say, if they land a player anywhere near his caliber this time around, both management and fans will be thrilled.
It is hard to predict what the Flames will do with this pick, given that they don’t have one particularly glaring need but instead need to improve throughout all their positions. Assuming he is still the one in charge, general manager Brad Treliving has been on record in the past saying he believes in selecting the best player available, so there is no reason to expect that to change at this year’s draft. Assuming that is indeed the strategy they follow, here are five players that they will certainly consider and may very well take with their 12th overall selection.
One player the Flames are almost certainly keeping tabs on heading into the draft is Cole Sillinger. The 18-year-old centerman headed south of the border to suit up for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL this season due to the WHL’s season being so delayed. Despite playing over 20 games less than the majority of his teammates, he led them in scoring by a wide margin with 24 goals and 46 points.
These impressive numbers have nothing to do with the fact the USHL is a slightly lower skill level than the WHL, as just a season prior, Sillinger had 22 goals and 53 points in 48 games with the Medicine Hat Tigers as a 16-year-old. His offensive game is one of the best in this entire draft class, and the fact he plays center makes him that much more valuable.
As far as weaknesses go, Sillinger is not known to be the greatest skater, nor is he particularly strong in the defensive end. However, he will still spend at least one more season in junior hockey and will have time to really focus on those aspects of his game. If family history says anything, signs point to him turning out to be a very good player given that his father, Mike, played over 1000 games in the NHL.
Prior to the 2020-21 season, Aatu Raty was one of the best players in this entire draft class. After a disappointing year in his home country of Finland in which he registered just three goals and six points in 35 games for Karpat of the SM-Liiga, however, his draft stock has taken a serious hit. It is tough to guess exactly where he will be selected, as different mock drafts have him listed all over the place throughout the first round.
Though his low point totals can be excused given that he received limited minutes playing against players much older than himself, he was surprisingly left off Finland’s roster for the 2021 World Juniors after making the team a year prior, which has resulted in even more questions surrounding his game. Given how he was considered a can’t miss prospect at this point last year, he appears to be very boom or bust now, making him a risky but intriguing player for Flames management to consider.
The 18-year-old is known as a playmaker has an incredibly high skill set with fantastic hands, but like Sillinger, he needs to work on his skating. He has also been criticized at times for being too individualistic, something that worked for him in the past but caught up to him this season when playing against higher competition. Regardless of where he ends up, he will be a very interesting player to keep tabs on over the next few seasons.
If the Flames are looking for a highly-skilled winger at this year’s draft, Nikita Chibrikov may very well be their guy. The 18-year-old Russian is comfortable playing at both left and right wing and is extremely gifted offensively. On most draft boards, he is expected to be taken right in the area where the Flames will be picking.
Chibrikov was all over the place, playing games in both the KHL and VHL, as well as the MHL, which is a junior league. In the MHL, playing against players closest to his age, he recorded nine points in 11 games; however, it was the IIHF U18 Championship this year where he really impressed, posting 13 points in seven games while wearing the “C” for Team Russia.
As far as skating goes, Chibrikov can absolutely fly when at top speed. Instead, the area of his game that needs improving is in the defensive zone, as he can sometimes get caught puck watching, which leads to him being out of position. The only other concern surrounding him is his size, as he is listed at just 5-foot-9, 160 pounds. However, undersized players are proving more and more lately that you no longer have to have a big frame to be effective in the NHL.
If the Flames are interested in taking a defenceman with their first-round selection, one player they should strongly consider is Corson Ceulemans. The 18-year-old, who was born and raised in Alberta, is not receiving as much attention as some other high-end prospects in this draft, likely due to the fact that he chose to play Jr. A in the AJHL rather than go the major junior route.
While players from leagues like the AJHL often don’t go this high in the draft, Flames fans need not worry, as Ceulemans team, the Brooks Bandits, are no stranger to having players on their team selected high in the NHL draft. Just four years ago, in fact, the Colorado Avalanche selected one of their defencemen, Cale Makar, at fourth overall, and we all know how good he has turned out to be. Though Ceulemans’ numbers aren’t as impressive as Makar’s were at the time, he had three goals and seven points in six games this season and 35 points in 44 contests a year prior as a 16-year-old.
To this point, there are no glaring weaknesses in Ceulemans’ game. He has good size at 6-foot-2, is a very solid skater, and is as sound defensively as he is in the offensive end. It seems the only concern scouts have is the fact that he was facing lower competition, given that, as mentioned above, he chose not to play major junior. For next season, he is committed to the University of Wisconsin, where he will look to prove any teams who passed on him for playing a lower level wrong. While it remains to be seen, he feels like a player who multiple teams will regret passing on down the road and could be a great fit for the Flames if still available when it comes their time to pick.
By all accounts, Chaz Lucius falling to the Flames at 12 seems quite unlikely, given that most lists have him pegged as a top 10 selection. That certainly makes sense, given the fact he scored 13 goals and 18 points in just 12 games this season with the U.S. National Development Team in the USHL. However, a knee injury that required surgery and forced him to miss the opening months of the 2020-21 season has made some leery, which just may result in him falling down the draft board.
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Had Lucius not been injured, there is no doubt he would be a top 10 pick, perhaps even sneaking into the top five. While he still may very well be taken before the Flames step to the podium, this injury may have changed that. Though an 18-year-old already requiring knee surgery is far from ideal, he reportedly looked no worse for wear after returning, and his numbers helped prove that.
While Lucius’ skating isn’t a strength, it isn’t seen as much of a hindrance either, and it was not affected by his knee injury. He has a phenomenal shot and is one of the best goal scorers in this draft class, but like many other young offensive studs, he’s not great in his own zone, often being the last player back and sometimes caught cheating for a scoring chance. The hope is he can work on that part of his game, but regardless, the hardest part of hockey is scoring goals, and this kid is a natural at it. If he is still available for the Flames when they are up to draft, this should be a no-brainer.
Compared to some years past, this draft projects to be weaker than most and is also extremely unpredictable given that many of these players were unable to play many games due to the pandemic. It is also the first time in many years where a first overall pick isn’t fairly consensus, as no one seems to know what the order of the first few picks will be.
There is no doubt that with all the uncertainty surrounding this draft, it will be very exciting for fans and will likely have many surprising and unexpected moves throughout. As for the Flames, it will be interesting to see if they choose to address a certain need or go for the best player available at the time. If they do the latter, they should heavily consider one of the five listed above, depending on which of them is available at the time.
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.