The summer of 2009 marked the beginning of the end to the Sutter era in Calgary. Then Flames GM Darryl Sutter had a veteran team that was running out of time to return to the Stanley Cup Finals as they did in 2004.
After back-to-back years of first round exits, Sutter fired Coach Mike Keenan in May and brought in his brother, Brent, to man the helm in hopes that he could ignite a Stanley Cup playoff run.
The 2009 NHL Draft the next month was also an eventful time for then Sutter, who took part in two draft day deals along with the selection of six draft picks, including a controversial first round pick. Both deals involved defensemen, one which acquired the rights for Jay Bouwmeester and the other, a deal between the New Jersey Devils and the Calgary Flames that saw the teams swap their first rounds picks, which resulted in the Flames drafting defenseman Tim Erixon.
Out of the 2009 draft class, only Joni Ortio remains standing with the organization. Ortio has preserved and is reaping the rewards of his hard work, earning the starting spot for the Abbotsford Heat this season. Unfortunately, the rest of the ’09 draft class did not pan out as expected for the Flames, particularly Erixon who lacked interest in playing for Calgary.
Tim Erixon, D, Skelleftea (Elitserien) – 1st round, 23rd overall
Status: Prospect (CBJ)
NHL Games Played: 51
The drafting of Erixon came with many surprises and it all started when the Swedish blueliner was available at the 23rd slot. GM Daryl Sutter could not pass up on the opportunity of drafting the highly touted 18-year-old and selected the son of former NHL player Jan Erixon.
Erixon spent 2009-10 playing for Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League. The Flames wanted Erixon to bring his game over to the CHL, however both parties had a different perspective on the subject. Erixon felt that playing among men in the SEL justified that his game was ready to make the jump directly to the pro ranks, however that sentiment was not shared by Flames management and coaching staff. As a result, Erixon remained with Skelleftea for the 2010-11 season and posted 24 points in 48 games.
The summer of 2011 brought upon a new challenge for the Flames, as newly appointed GM Jay Feaster was forced to trade Erixon due to his refusal to sign an entry-level contract with Calgary before his NHL rights expired. Rather than squander Erixon for nothing and have him re-enter the 2011 NHL Draft, Feaster was able to work out a deal that sent the 20-year-old and a fifth-round pick to the New York Rangers in exchange for two second round draft picks and prospect Roman Horak. Calgary eventually used the two second round picks to draft Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon, who are currently playing for the Abbotsford Heat.
Rangers GM Glen Sather, was very interested in Erixon and could not pass up the opportunity to acquire the talented defender before he re-entered the 2011 draft. Sather felt that Erixon would fit in nicely with the Rangers, especially since he would be following his father’s footsteps playing on Broadway. However due to a crowded blue line, Erixon played only 18 games in a Rangers jersey, while recording just two assists. Erixon was assigned to the Connecticut Whale (AHL), where he posted a career high 30 assists in 52 games. Erixon’s stint with the Rangers ended in the summer of 2012 as the Swede was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a package that included a first round pick, Brandon Dubinsky, and Artem Anisimov in exchange for Rick Nash.
Playing for the Blue Jackets has given Erixon the greatest opportunity to find the most ice time, and he played a career high 31 NHL games in 2012-13. Erixon continues to play for the Blue Jackets and their AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons.
Ryan Howse, LW, Chilliwack Bruins (WHL) – 3rd round, 74th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
The Flames traded their 84th pick overall in a package with the L.A. Kings in return for the 74th pick to select Ryan Howse. Howse was an offensively touted prospect whose skills were sought after by the need to fill the wings with potent scorers in Calgary.
Howse played for the Chilliwack Bruins during the 2009-10 where he posted 72 points in 72 games. He followed up this point-per-game season with a team-high 51 goals and 83 points in 70 games in 2010-11.
With strong back-to-back seasons in Chilliwack, Calgary decided to promote Howse to Abbotsford in 2011-12. The expectations increased for the 20-year-old as he would attempt to carry over his offensive production to the pro level, however the opposite started to take place. Howse began to struggle with his game, and the coaching staff started to take notice of this attitude with a decline in his play, nutrition, and conditioning.
The 2012-13 season saw Howse split time between Abbotsford (AHL) and Utah (ECHL), mainly due to his lack of production and weak performance. During the season, Heat’s coach Troy Ward, required Howse to take a mandatory month off to refocus on his game in hopes that he would come back recharged and ready to play again. Unfortunately, the lack of interest had manifested throughout Howse and the break away from the game did not help improve his situation.
Entering the 2013 summer development camp, Howse approached Craig Conroy, and indicated that he no longer had the passion for the game. The Flames tried to motivate and convince Howse to attend the camp, however the BC native declined, which terminated his relationship with the Flames.
Henrik Bjorklund, RW, Farjestad (Elitserien) – 4th round, 111th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Bjorklund was drafted as a right wing project that could turn out to be a quality prospect given his performance as a player in the Swedish Elite league and his selection by Team Sweden to play in various junior tournaments. For 2009, Bjorklund remained in Sweden splitting time between Farjestad BK in the SEL and Boras HC in Division 1.
Unable to find success with Farjestad, Bjorklund was sent to Rogle BK in the Allsvenskan for most of 2010-11. His play regressed as he spent time playing with Troja-Ljungby and Orebro during the 2011-12 season. Bjorklund had mixed results during the season, which led to the Flames opting out of signing him.
The 2013-14 season finds Bjorklund in his second campaign with BIK Karlskoga and through 39 Allsvenskan games has 27 points.
Spencer Bennett, LW, Surrey Eagles (BCHL) – 5th round, 141st overall
NHL Games Played: 0
The Calgary Flames took a chance when drafting Bennett with the 141st pick overall, in hopes that the BC native would be become a scoring threat in the system. Bennett received more good news in 2009 as he received a scholarship to play for the University of Alaska-Anchorage, however he decided to take the route through the WHL to advance his career.
The 2009-10 campaign marked Bennett’s rookie season with the Portland Winterhawks and he responded by posting a respectable 40 points in 71 games. Bennett contributed to the team as well the next season, however due to the other talented left wingers on the team, such as Nino Niederreiter and Sven Baertschi, he played a bottom six role and became expendable.
Bennett was traded to the Vancouver Giants half way through the 2010-11 season in exchange for Craig Cunningham (BOS). Playing for the Giants gave Bennett more ice time to produce, as indicated with his career high 49 points in only 35 games. However, that was the pinnacle for Bennett and although he had an offensive upside, his responsibilities in the other zones were questioned and were factors in not being signed by the Flames.
Bennett spent limited time with the Abbotsford Heat in 2010-11 and the Portland Pirates in 2011-12. He then bounced around various ECHL teams over the next few seasons and currently finds himself playing with the Bakersfield Condors for 2013-14.
Joni Ortio, G, TPS Jr (FIN-JR) – 6th round, 171st overall
NHL Games Played: 0
After coming off a strong performance in the 2009 U18 WJC and winning a bronze medal with Finland, Ortio was drafted by the Flames in the summer of 2009. The Turku Finland native comes from the same town as Miikka Kiprusoff and shows flashes of a similar style of play and highlight-reel saves.
Former goaltender coach Jamie McLennan saw Ortio when he visited Kiprusoff during the offseason and was impressed with what he saw in the young goaltender’s game, especially his practice habits. With high recommendations, Ortio was selected 171st overall and spent his draft year playing with TPS (U20 Jr. A SM-liiga). Ortio continued to battle the next few seasons in various leagues across Finland, as he developed and improved his game.
Ortio made his first transition to North America when the Flames signed him to an amateur try-out contract with Abbotsford at the end of the 2010-11 season. It was an adjustment for Ortio to say the least. After attending Flames camp and spending the first half of the 2011-12 season with the Heat, Ortio decided it would be best to head back to Finland to continue working on his game.
The decision to follow his instincts paid off for Ortio as he returned to North American ice in 2013-14. The 22-year-old had matured and developed into a confident and poised goaltender. After starting the season with the Alaska Aces (ECHL), Ortio was reassigned to Abbotsford and has played an important role in the success the Heat have found this season. Through 23 games, the Finnish goaltender has two shutouts and a 19-5 record.
The development for Ortio continues to steadily improve year-after-year and as a result, Ortio is the only prospect from the 2009 class that remains in the Calgary Flames system with the potential to reach the NHL level.
Gaelan Patterson, C, Saskatoon Blades (WHL) – 7th round, 201st overall
NHL Games Played: 0
With their final pick in the 2009 draft, the Calgary Flames selected Gaelan Patterson from the Saskatoon Blades. The 19-year-old center was sent back to Saskatoon in 2009-10, where he had his best junior season, notching 59 points in 71 games. Due to numerous late season injuries in Abbotsford, Patterson was called up for the playoffs and appeared in three games for the Heat, scoring his first pro goal. Unfortunately the Heat were eliminated in the first round, which ended Patterson’s first pro experience.
Patterson was assigned to Abbotsford by GM Sutter to begin the 2010 season. The rookie had a respectable season, recording 21 points in 61 games, despite suffering numerous injuries including a broken jaw and a concussion.
The second season with the Heat started with doubt for Patterson, who was coming back from a concussion. The injury took a toll on Patterson mentally, as he worried about it happening again and started to play a role with his on-ice confidence. In 56 games during the 2011-12 season, Patterson only scored one goal and had five assists, which was a considerable drop off in point production. As a result, Patterson was assigned to finish the season with Utah Grizzlies.
Patterson once again played with the Grizzlies for the 2012-13 season, however with the Flames not offering a contract to Patterson at the end of the season, the 23-year-old signed as a free agent with the Idaho Steelheads for the 2013-14 season.
Follow Brian Jung on Twitter @brianjung80