Calgary starts the third season in its official re-building with the 1999 Entry Draft. For a franchise suffering with a low-budget and with many long term needs to fill, drafting good players becomes a key to long term competitiveness. The Flames already have a very solid core of good young prospects, with Hockeysfuture giving the nod to the Flames as the orginization with the best group of young prospects in the NHL. Now is the time where Calgary will need a solid draft again in order to solidify its position and its talent going into the next millenium.
Best Player vs Needs
Without a doubt Calgary will draft the best player available for the early rounds of this draft. The team identified several needs in last years draft, but always selected the best player available regardless of need. The needs list from last years draft will apply once again this year.
The Flames would like to draft skill, size and character with this draft, although they have shown in recent times that size will take a back seat to skill and character. In last years draft, the Flames went with talented players that demonstrated the attitudes and leadership that they think a player requires in order to succeed at the NHL level, especially during the early rounds of the draft. Skating ability remains important to the Flames when drafting. The Flames have made mistakes in the past by drafting players whose skating was suspect and will not make that mistake again.
…and those needs are…
The Flames have several glaring weaknesses both on the team at the NHL level and amongst the prospects. Perhaps the most glaring weakness is the lack of goalscoring talent, especially with NHL size. While the Flames have addressed this concern and have two or more very good prospects that may fill the role of goalscorer, and only one, Daniel Tkazcuk, is a blue-chip prospect. Concerns remain about Rico Fata and Sergei Varlamov, and whether they will succeed at the NHL level as scorers.
Outside of these three players there are offensive forwards such as Martin St. Louis and Brent Gauvreau, but the abilities of these player to handle the physical play in the NHL will determine the success of these two players at the NHL level. Several other players have demonstrated offensive abilities, but these players, such as Blair Betts and Ronald Petrovicky, seem more suited to eventually being role players in the NHL. The lack of a game breaker or go to guy amongst the prospects is a concern that may not be able to be addressed in this draft.
The lack of any NHL calibre offensive defenceman must be a concern. Phil Housley is the Flames present offensive defenceman, with Derek Morris in training. On the farm Lee Sorochan has demonstrated a desire to increase his offensive role, while the Flames traded Ladislav Kohn for David Cooper who has been a bust in that role. Both Cooper and Sorochan leave doubts about whether the remainder of their games will let them achieve any success at the NHL level. Of the junior aged players available, Kamloops Blazers Robin Regher and Chris St. Croix have both hinted at offensive talent, but neither will ever light up the NHL with points, and it is doubtful that either will ever play full time on the power play at that level. The remaining defensive prospects are solid, but demonstrate little offensive skill.
Size was an issue that plagued the Flames early last season. They have not had much success drafting forwards with size in the last few seasons. Chris Dingman and John Tripp were both busts, and Travis Brigley remains the only forward 6’1″ or taller amongst the Flames top 15 prospects outside of Tkazcuk and Betts. Chris Clark, a LW who just finished his first pro season is developing well, and combined with Brigley remain the only forwards with the combination of offensive skill and size.
…and with the 9th overall pick Calgary selects…
After selecting 6th overall for the last two seasons, the Flames took a step closer to the playoffs in 1998/99, but in return move three places lower in the draft. With this years crop of talented forwards, the Flames will be looking at the other 8 teams ahead of them to determine which player the Flames will take. High on the list for the Flames to drop to ninth are Calgary Hitmen Kris Beech, or fellow WHL’er Jamie Lundmark. Other CHL draft prospects, such as American Tim Connolly and Denis Schvidki will also be on the Flames list if they fall to ninth. If none of these players fall to ninth, look for the Flames to draft Oleg Saprykin ahead of projects such as Jani Rita, Taylor Pyatt or Scott Kelman. Do not look for the Flames to make a risky pick. They will be conservative and take the player most likely to make the NHL.
It is doubtful that the Flames will draft a goaltender or defenceman in this position, unless they feel that the player is head and shoulders above the best forward available.
Will the Flames surprise people and take a player from much lower on everyones list? It is possible, but the Flames would have to be convinced that the player is better than anyone else available, and they would have had to have spotted something that everyone else missed. The Flames have done it before however, and done it successfully in recent years, especially with the drafting of defenceman Derek Morris at 13th overall in the 1996 draft.
The European Stigma
The Flames have not had much success in the early rounds of the draft with European players in the 1990′s. The failure of players like Jesper Mattson — drafted 18th overall — and the lack of European talent on the Flames seems to preclude that the Flames will look at North American based players early on, especially with the 9th overall pick. Despite the fact that Toni Lydman and Dmitri Kokorev appear to be destined to become NHL players, the Flames have struggled with their European picks in the last few drafts. They have only drafted one European based forward, Radek Duda, in the last two drafts. Duda struggled to adapt to the WHL this past season, and it is doubtful that he is in the Flames long term plans. The Flames only have one other forward drafted while playing in Europe — Dmitri Vlasenkov — in the last three drafts amongst their top 25 prospects.
…with their second pick Calgary is proud to select…
Calgary’s prospect strengths are defensive defenceman and goaltending. The Flames would like it if the best player available for the early rounds are not goalies or defensive defenceman. After talking about how the Flames have avoided European based forwards, and how they are unlikely to be taking any risks, I will go ahead and contradict myself and predict that the Flames will go against type. What the flames may do in the second round is take a risk that they won’t do in the first round pick. They may draft a player that is high risk, but could bring big offensive rewards. On the Flames list might be players such as Martin Hlavac, Konstantin Koltsov, Mikhail Kuleshov or Alexander Buturlin. These are all players that have demonstrated exceptional skills, but have question marks about size or consistancy. If the Flames avoid looking across the pond, they will be tempted to take are offensive forwards such as Sheldon Keefe or Matt Murley. Look for the Flames to go offensive if one of these are the best available.
… and the rest…
This is not a year for the Flames to be drafting offensive defenceman. There are very few prospects that contain the full package that NHL scouts look for. Last year the Flames took Scott Mitchell, an undersized but offensive forward with their last pick, and in the off-season signed offensive dynamo Derek Walser. It is unlikely that either of these two will have the size to make it to the NHL, and the Flames must be keeping an eye on defenceman with an offensive touch. The Flames will have several offensive defenceman to consider, although most of these will be taken in the third round or later.
One name that stands out is Slovak Kristian Kudroc who is the 5th rated European defenceman, 17th rated European skater by the CSB. The 6’6″, 229 pound defenceman is a wild card, but is offensively minded despite his size. Some scout think highly enough of Kudroc that the Hockey News rated him in their top 56.
Other names that the Flames will keep an eye on include Jonathon Fauteux who includes size with his offensive skill; Jonathon Zion who was over shadowed by Brian Campbell in Ottawa, but scored 41 points in 60 games during the regular season; Darryl Hay who toiled for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans; Two US high school students may follow the route of Phil Housley to the Flames; Trevor Byrne who carries a 6’3″, 200 pound frame into battle for Deerfield Academy in the USHSE, scoring over a point a game; and John Conboy who carries decent size with offensive skill for Silver Bay High School.
… and in the end …
This draft will have to produce at least two or three NHL players to be considered a success. It comes at a time when the Flames need to continue to stock their roster with talent if they are to continue to climb out of the present difficulties. Now that isn’t to much pressure to put on Al Coates, Nick Polano and the Flames scouting staff is it?