Flames 2009 draft preview

By Jon Roe

Top 10 prospects

1. Mikael Backlund, C
2. Greg Nemisz, RW
3. Keith Aulie, D
4. Mitch Wahl, C
5. Leland Irving, G
6. John Negrin, D
7. Matt Keetley, G
8. Juuso Puustinen, RW
9. T.J. Brodie, D
10. Aaron Marvin, C

The six drafts under Flames GM Darry Sutter have been filled with hits and misses. They’ve really only picked up one star so far (though Mikael Backlund is surely on the right track) in home-run draft pick Dion Phaneuf and a lot of hard-working character guys. Though this is a great way to cheaply stock third and fourth lines, the Flames need to look at strengthening a prospect pool that lacks high-end talent at every position. They’ll have an opportunity to add a quality player with the 20th pick in the first round after they opted to complete the Olli Jokinen trade by sending next year’s first rounder to Phoenix instead of this year’s.

Team Needs

The Flames most prominent need is scoring, both up front and on the back end. They have Backlund at center, who lit up the WHL after a late season transfer from Sweden, and last year’s first rounder Greg Nemisz at right wing, who picked up 77 points in 67 regular season games for the Windsor Spitfires and 20 points in 20 playoff games as he helped lead them to the Memorial Cup, but not much else. Last year’s second rounder Mitch Wahl put up decent numbers with Spokane, but the Flames could still use more missiles in their silos.

Unfortunately for the Flames, scoring isn’t all they need. They lack a top defensive prospect and their goaltending group will likely be down to just two players, Leland Irving and Matt Keetley. This may not be the draft for the Flames to make a serious upgrade, though. After the 20th pick, Sutter and Co. don’t pick again until the third round. With five picks falling after the fourth round, and very few recent diamonds in the rough under head scout Todd Button (with the exceptions of David Moss, seventh round, 2001, and Adam Pardy, sixth round, 2004), it will likely be a crop of Flames regulars joining the prospect ranks.

Organizational Strengths

Grit. Strong. Western Canadian. Sutterists. The players that populate the Flames system are guys you see blocking shots, mucking it up in the corners and working hard every shift. The Flames are set for third and fourth line players. Goaltending likely isn’t an issue for the near future, either. Though an heir for Miikka Kiprusoff would be nice to have on the horizon (or someone who can actually come in as a back up and win games), they have Kipper locked down until 2014 under a reasonable $5.833 million cap hit and both Irving and Keetley are waiting in the wings for an opportunity at the big leagues.

Organizational Weaknesses

There is a limit to how many third and fourth line players you need, and the Flames may have hit it. They lack talented players who will be scoring the team’s future goals. So far they’ve been filling that gap with trades, but there needs to be goals coming through the system. The talent isn’t only missing from the forwards, the Flames also lack a puck-moving defenseman. Though T.J. Brodie and John Negrin have both put up decent numbers in junior, they still need some work before they’ll be able to transfer that talent to the big leagues. Depth on defense also needs to be addressed, especially without a back-end blue chipper toiling in the minors.

Draft Tendencies

Though Sutter and Co. have dipped their toes across the pond in recent years (most notably with Mikaeal Backlund in 2008), a potential Flames player would still likely have the following characteristics: strength, size, leadership and grit. These characteristics have come from a variety of sources in recent years as Sutter has branched away from Western Canada, but expect at least a few Albertans to be called upon(Sutter has drafted nine in six drafts and only once has not selected an Albertan).

The Flames have stocked up on centers recently and have a pile of them in the system, and have also been staying closer to the much proliferated rankings after straying with Kris Chucko in 2004.

Hockey’s Future Mock Draft Result: Landon Ferraro, RW, Red Deer, WHL

Ferraro is slightly built like his famous father Ray, but he has shown a knack for scoring so far in his brief WHL career with the Red Deer Rebels. After putting up 24 points (13 goals, 11 assists) in his rookie season, he led a Red Deer squad that missed the playoffs with 37 goals and 55 points this past season. He could be the scoring the Flames need in the system.