Once again this year, Flames GM Darryl Sutter was busy improving his team through trades at the NHL Entry Draft. Last year, Sutter sent unhappy left winger Alex Tanguay and a fifth round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for a first round pick (which turned into Greg Nemisz) and a 2009 second round pick and picked up Michael Cammalleri from the Los Angeles Kings for the 17th pick in the draft. This year, Sutter dropped down from the 20th spot to the 23rd by swapping first rounders with the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a third round pick, turned the Flames other third round pick and the rights to Jordan Leopold into the rights to negotiate with Jay Bouwmeester and swapped a third round pick and a fourth round pick for a higher spot in the third round.
When all the wheeling and dealing was done, the Flames walked away with six new players in their system and, a few days later, one of the best defensemen in the game to patrol their blue line.
The Flames top need heading into the draft was scoring and they certainly picked up some potential scorers with third-round pick Ryan Howse and fourth-round selection Henrik Bjorklund. Sutter, for the first time in his stint as Flames GM, took three Europeans, the most ever for him. The Flames system is now stocked with some more potential, but all of the draft picks face a long road to the NHL.
Tim Erixon, D – Skelleftea (SWE)
1st round, 23rd overall
Height: 6’2 Weight: 189 lbs
Drawing favorable comparisons to countryman and No. 6 pick Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Erixon is a solid two-way defenseman and the son of a former NHLer. Though he was born in the USA when father Jan was playing for the New York Rangers, Erixon plays at the national level for Sweden.
Erixon was excited to be joining the Flames.
"It’s a great organization with great players, and yeah, just thrilled about it," he said at the draft.
Though not flashy, he’s shown he is effective and can skate well, while playing almost the entire season at the senior level in the Swedish Elite League. He played 45 games at the top level, picking up seven points and a plus-five rating, and only 10 with the juniors.
While lighting it up at the U18s, Erixon led all defensemen with three goals and six assists in six games, he impressed Sweden‘s U18 coach Stephan Lundh, who compared him to Ekman-Larsson.
"They’re pretty close to the same," Lundh told Hockey’s Future. "Tim is better on defense because he’s a little bit bigger and has a good reach. They have the same skills offensively, are very good at the blue line and have a good shot too."
Erixon admitted at the U18s that he needs to improve his first few strides to get more explosive in his skating, but he has solid hockey sense and already has the size to play against men.
Pros: Solid two-way play; already experienced in playing against men after sticking around the SEL last season; solid hockey sense.
Cons: Needs a few more years to develop fully.
The diminutive Howse has had a successful few seasons with the Chilliwack Bruins in the WHL. After scoring 10 goals and seven assists in 54 games in his rookie season, Howse notched 31 goals and 13 assists in 61 games this past year and was singled out as a leader by Chilliwack general manager Darrell Porter.
Howse has had the opportunity to learn under some top WHL offensive players during his stint in Chilliwack, including LA Kings second round pick in 2007 Oscar Moller and Nashville Predators fourth rounder Mark Santorelli, who won the WHL scoring title in 2007-08.
Much like the Flames’ 2004 third rounder Dustin Boyd, Howse was drafted with low offensive numbers but has an opportunity to turn into a top scorer in the WHL in the next couple seasons with Chilliwack.
Pros: Stepped in quickly as a leader with Bruins; good skater, good two-way play; not afraid of traffic.
Cons: Undersized; still early in his development.
Henrik Bjorklund, RW – Farjestad (SWE)
4th round, 111th overall
Height: 6’2 Weight: 202 lbs
Continuing a recent Swedish trend, the Flames picked up Bjorklund in the fourth round. Bjorklund is the fourth Swedish player drafted by the Flames in the last three drafts.
Much like Erixon, he played most of last season at the senior level, playing 38 games with Skåre BK in division 1 and 10 games with Farjestad in the elite league while only skating in one with a junior squad. He was scoreless at the highest level, but did light it up one level down, notching 21 goals and 14 assists.
Bjorklund has represented his country internationally in numerous tournaments and scored two goals and two assists at the 2008 U18 championships in Kazan, Russia after being held scoreless the year prior.
He’s been a reliable scorer so far at the junior level, picking up 56 points in 38 games, but has yet to pick up any points in 12 career games at the highest level in Sweden. With his hands, it’ll happen eventually, but Bjorklund may be another long-term project.
Pros: Good size; aggressive; strong; nice release; good on the puck; scored at most of the levels he’s played at so far.
Cons: Yet to score at the highest level in Sweden; not a great skater; likely a long-term prospect.
Spencer Bennett, LW – Surrey (BCHL)
5th round, 141st overall
Height: 6’3 Weight: 185 lbs
The decently sized Bennett has yet to fill out his 6’3 frame, but he had some success scoring with the Surrey Eagles in the BCHL. Last year as an 18-year-old, he picked up 41 points (20 goals, 21 assists) in 60 games after scoring only 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in his first full season with the Burnaby Express the year before. He led his team in scoring in the playoffs with six points in nine games this past year as his team lost in the second round in five games to the Powell River Kings.
After being ranked 93rd in the CSS mid-term rankings, Bennett dropped nearly 50 spots to 142nd before the draft.
Bennett is the second player Sutter has taken out of the BCHL, following Kris Chucko who was taken in the first round in 2004. Bennett has committed to the University of Alaska-Anchorage for the next year, giving the Flames a few more years to evaluate this pick.
Pros: Size potential at 6’3; decent offensive abilities shown so far at the BCHL level, though nowhere near as much as Chucko when he was selected.
Cons: A project like the Flames other picks; fell out of a lot scouts’ favor; needs to fill out frame.
Joni Ortio, G – TPS Jr. (FIN-JR)
6th round, 171st overall
Height: 6’1 Weight: 181 lbs
In a draft lacking goaltending talent, Ortio was the 19th goalie selected. He was ranked seventh among European goalies by the CSS after a year with the TPS junior squad in Finland, posting a 2.63 GAA and a .918 save percentage in 26 games. The native of Turku, the same hometown of current Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, also suited up for Finland‘s U18 team, helping his squad win bronze with a 2.91 GAA and a .903 save percentage in six games.
In his brief career, he’s been great at times, but he will likely need to pick up his game if he’s going to make it to the next level in Finland.
Pros: Level-headed, doesn’t get frustrated or knocked off his game; has good size for a goalie; strong on breakaways, penalty shots.
Cons: Needs to increase his strength, speed and lateral movements and improve positioning, and rebound control; another project for the Flames.
Gaelan Patterson, C – Saskatoon (WHL)
7th round, 201st overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 204 lbs
With their final pick, the Flames snagged Patterson out of Saskatoon. This was as close to an Albertan as was taken by Sutter.
Patterson took a statistical leap this past year with the Blades. After only posting 14 points in his first 104 regular season games, Patterson scored 57 points (22 goals, 35 assists) and had a +31 rating in 71 games last year for a team that finished first in its division, but lost in the first round of the playoffs. The year prior he was knocked out of the regular season in January after a skate blade severely cut his wrist.
Though few seventh round picks make the NHL, the Flames have lucked out with David Moss, who has played in 163 games with the big club after being picked in the seventh round in 2001, and David Van Der Gulik, who suited up in six games last year after being selected in the seventh round in 2002.
Patterson will get another shot at improving his point totals this fall as a 19-year-old in the WHL.
Pros: Has improved at the WHL level; decent size already.
Cons: Needs to show he can score, work hard in his 19-year-old year.