When you think of the Calgary Flames today, you think of guys like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano.
In years past, the first names that came to your mind when discussing the Flames were Robyn Regher, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Jarome Iginla.
Somewhere in between those two eras from Flames hockey, things went awry. After missing out on hoisting the Stanley Cup in the summer of 2004 by only one win, the Flames literally began to flame out – four straight first round exits between 2005 and 2009 left the Flames not only with the bitter taste of meaningless playoff defeat (meaningless in the sense that they not only lost in the playoffs, but they also got knocked out immediately each time), but also with middling draft picks that weren’t necessarily going to result in top-end players to replace their aging veterans.
The inevitable playoff drought hit in 2010, only ending this past spring when the Flames rode their young, speedy roster to the second round of the playoffs. Their rebuilding years have proved to be fruitful – and worth it – up to this point, as the Flames look destined to be a strong team in a tough Western conference for years to come.
A lot of their current success has to do with smart drafting, but a lot of their past failures have been a result of poor selections. There’s no exact science to the draft, in any sport, but Calgary seems to have been able to ride out the storm and steady their ship – for now.
2001 – Chuck Kobasew (#14)
Chuck Kobasew was a fairly productive NHLer, always hovering around 20-30 points a year. He was a productive member of the ’04 Cup run roster (in the sense that he played every game during the postseason), but was ultimately unable to live up to his billing as a mid first-rounder. He was an AHL scorer but an NHL grinder and that mix generally never lasts too long in one city.
R.J. Umberger was selected two picks later by Vancouver Canucks. Umberger turned into a solid power-forward with scoring ability that the Flyers probably could have used more of during the mid-2000’s.
2002 – Eric Nystrom (#10)
Like Kobasew, Nystrom was a prospect who showed flashes of scoring ability that ultimately never translated to the NHL level – and definitely came nowhere close to matching the expectations set for a guy drafted 10th overall. He spent three full seasons in Calgary before the Flames finally gave up.
The scoring touch Nystrom was expected to bring would have been filled nicely by Alexander Semin, who was taken three picks later by the Washington Capitals.
2003 – Dion Phaneuf (#9)
Remember when Dion Phaneuf was regarded as one of the best defenseman in the NHL? A strong, talented and intimidating force on the back-end?
Those days are long gone, but those of you who remember Phaneuf’s rookie year remember that Calgary had seemingly gotten a hell of a player in “Double Dion” (thanks Pierre McGuire). Phaneuf was a force to be reckoned with during his first three season, but down years in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 forced management’s hand and landed Phaneuf in Toronto, where he is ridiculed constantly for his play and apparent lack of leadership abilities.
The 2003 Draft was loaded with talent and Phaneuf – at the time – seemed like one of the top 5 players it had produced…until recently. If the Flames still wanted a defenseman, they would have been better off taking Brent Seabrook, who went 14th overall. If we hand them the best player, though, they pick Ryan Getzlaf, who would have been the true #1 center Jarome Iginla never had.
2004 – Kris Chucko (#24)
Kris Chucko, a right winger from British Columbia, only got his first crack in the NHL four years after he was drafted 24th overall by the Flames.
You can already see where this is going.
He played a grand total of two games for the big club, spending most of his pro career in the AHL. While he was a late first-rounder, this classifies as a first round bust, to a lesser extent.
The Flames picked late in that draft and in hindsight they didn’t whiff on a true superstar. They could have taken Cory Schneider, who’s become a workhorse number one goaltender, but they had Miikka Kiprusoff coming into his prime around that time, so it wouldn’t have made much sense to take another goalie (back then, anyway). In this scenario we’ll give them Mike Green, who would have created a dynamic offensive duo Phaneuf for a couple of seasons had they been able to suit up together.
2005 – Matt Pelech (#26)
The Flames either knew right off the bat that Chucko wasn’t going to pan out or they we’re just excited about the possibility of having a couple of young wingers to slot in on the right side a few years down the road.
Whatever the reason was, they took another RW in ’05 in Matt Pelech and like Chucko he never panned out. He played five games with Calgary and eight with San Jose for a grand total of 13 NHL games – the rest of his career was spent in the minors.
Steve Downie and Matt Niskanen were both taken in the last four picks of the first round, but the real misses become noticeable at the top of round two. Several teams (including Calgary) passed on borderline first rounders James Neal and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The Flames could have used Neal’s firepower alongside Iginla in the mid-2000s.
2006 – Leland Irving (#26)
Even with Miikka Kiprusoff in the fold, Leland Irving seemed like a solid pick back in 2006 and for several years after that. Goaltending depth is important and Irving had the look of a “goalie of the future.” He put up decent numbers in the AHL, but was never able to get a foot firmly in a crease owned by Kiprusoff and ultimately flamed out (pun absolutely intended).
Nick Foligno was available two picks later – he took awhile to develop, but if his career path had worked out similarly with the Flames, he would have been another piece in what could be a scary Flames offense in a year or two.
2007 – Mikael Backlund (#24)
It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride for Mikael Backlund in Calgary every since he was taken by the Flames in ’07. Every year seems like “the year” and every year he seems to fall short or hit a patch of bad luck (like last season when he got injured after a good start).
He’s been a solid player for the Flames, but he hasn’t been the player they expected him to be, either.
David Perron went a few picks after Backlund and while Perron has better numbers, he’s also played a lot more games. The Flames would likely be better off with Backlund at this point, as the upside is still there, whereas Perron has clearly plateaued.
However, a certain defenseman slipped into the second round that the Flames would have loved to have taken a chance on – a certain P.K. Subban.
2008 – Greg Nemisz (#25)
The Flames, who were without a first round pick in 2008, decided to ship Alex Tanguay to Montreal for the 25th pick in the 2008 draft. Tanguay was essentially a one-year rental for the Habs, while the Flames’ selection, Greg Nemisz, was supposed to be a fixture at center for the next decade.
Instead, Tanguay played more games for the Habs that season that Nemisz has for the flames in the past seven years (15).
The two picks following Nemisz were Tyler Ennis and John Carlson. Carlson is the better player, but Ennis would fit nicely into a feisty, young and fast crop of forwards the Flames currently have. We’ll give them Ennis in this scenario.
2009 – Tim Erixon (#23)
Tim Erixon represented the first defenseman the Flames had taken in the first round since they took Phaneuf in the first round in ’03. Perhaps they realized that it was time to switch up the formula after more or less striking out on every first rounder they had taken since Phaneuf.
Turns out the drought wasn’t going to end in ’09 either. Erixon didn’t want to sign with the Flames and was eventually traded for two second round picks and Roman Horák (the picks turned into Markus Grandlund and Tyler Wotherspoon).
Erixon never really panned out, while Grandlund figures to be at least a cog in the Flames machine for the foreseeable future.
Ryan O’Reilly slipped into the early second round of this draft and the Flames actually tried to offer sheet him a few years ago, so clearly he was a player Calgary coveted. They probably should have coveted him a little more, in hindsight.
2011 – Sven Baertschi (#13)
For a few years it seemed like Sven Baertschi was a solid prick. He put up big numbers in the WHL and was at least consistent in the minors, but it never translated with the Flames. It seemed for the best that the Flames gave the young forward a fresh start, although they might regret sending him to a division rival in Vancouver if he breaks out soon.
No one has really broken away from the pack when it comes to the later first round draftees from the 2011 draft. The Flames, in hindsight, could chose between Nathan Beaulieu and J.T. Miller, both who have been solid for their respective clubs. Beaulieu looks like the player with more upside, but Miller is developing into a solid two-way player. This is a toss up, but considering the strength of Calgary’s defense we’ll give them Miller.
2012 – Mark Jankowski (#21)
The criticism was coming in from all angles when the Flames took a chance on Mark Jankowski back in 2012. Too small, not strong enough, etc…Jankowski has yet to suit up for the Flames – everyone knew this was a “project” pick, but the time for the project to be presented in front of the class is fast approaching.
The Flames better hope Jankowski pans out because the Penguins took a stud who’s already strutted his stuff in the NHL one pick later, as Olli Maatta looks like a star in the making. For the purpose of this exercise we have no choice but to replace Jankowski with Maatta. That could change in five years, but as it stands it looks like the Flames might be regretting their decision soon.
2013 – Sean Monahan (#6), Emile Poirier (#22), Morgan Klimchuck (#28)
We’ve got a lot of info to plod through here, so let’s get to it.
The 2013 signified the unofficial start of the Flames rebuild (unless you want to use the Iginla trade as the true starting point).
The Flames made no mistake with their first pick, taking Ottawa 67’s stud Sean Monahan sixth overall. Monahan has already developed into a force up the middle for the Flames and he’s only 20 years old. The future is very, very bright for Monahan.
Emile Poirier was excellent in his first full season in the AHL, putting up 42 points in 55 games with the Abbotsford Heat last season. He got a cup of coffee in the NHL, putting up 1 assist in six games last year. He’ll have a chance to earn a full time spot on the wing this season and if his AHL production is a sign of things to come, the Flames will be happy to plug Poirier on the second line and play his energetic, fast-paced style.
Their third pick, Morgan Klimchuk, has yet to suit up for the Flames, but has put up decent numbers in the WHL and will hopefully make a smooth transition to the pro game full-time this year.
The Flames hit the jackpot with Monahan, so he remains the sixth pick. It’s a little harder to justify the Poirier pick, as Andre Burakovsky went a pick later, so those two will be compared for the rest of their careers. It’s way too early to tell on Klimchuk, so he remains the 28th pick.
Considering how well things have gone for the Flames lately, we’ll trust their three picks and leave them as they are – for now.
2014 – Sam Bennett (#4)
Sam Bennett got hurt before last season began, so we only have one regular season game to go off of – but if his playoff performance is a sign of things to come, the Flames and their fans have a lot to look forward to.
No need to replace Bennett here – he’ll be a good, productive player for Calgary as soon as this year. The question is how productive, but there’s no reason to be believe he won’t be able to out perform the guys picked after him; in the end, he might even be better than Sam Reinhart, who was taken second overall by Buffalo.
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