Flames 2005 draft evaluation

By Kent Wilson

In the wake of their recent lackluster season, a lot is being made of the dearth of NHL-caliber forward prospects in the Flames organization. A primary reason for Calgary’s near total lack of offensive difference makers is a number of poor drafts by the team near the beginning of the Sutter reign.

Primary among them is the disastrous 2005 draft. Through a combination of baffling decision-making and bad luck, the Flames effort in 2005 stands as perhaps the worst of the bunch since Sutter took office. The Flames had eight picks in 2005, but ended up taking almost as many goalies (two) as forwards (three). As a result, the team has yet to yield a single NHL player from 2005, with only Matt Pelech with an outside chance to make the team in any real capacity in the near future.

Matt Pelech, D, Sarnia Sting (OHL) – 1st round, 26th overall
Status: AHL Player
NHL Games Played: 5

With the 26th overall pick their only choice inside the top 60, the Flames decided to go out on a limb and choose shut-down defenseman Matt Pelech out of the OHL. Hampered by multiple injuries in his draft year, Pelech was ranked 41st among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting prior to the draft. To put that in perspective, Daniel Ryder – a player the Flames grabbed at 74 – was ranked 40th.

The decision, both at the time and in retrospect, is a curious one. The Flames were already relatively strong on the back end, boasting Robyn Regehr and 2003 choice Dion Phaneuf. The team had greater needs up front. What’s more, they chose a player who may have been still available in the third round, where the club had two picks (69 and 74).

Pelech’s development has been slow. In three professional seasons, he has yet to sufficiently dominate the AHL enough to convince the team to give him a legitimate shot at the big club. As in junior, Pelech has also battled injures the last couple of seasons, most recently succumbing to a pinched nerve and missing half of 2009-10 for the Abbotsford Heat. He has never put up notable offensive stats and is purely a defensive-minded rearguard. At this point, it’s an open question whether Pelech will ever progress enough to be a regular at the NHL level, although the door is still open.

Gord Baldwin, D, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL) – 3rd round, 69th overall
Status: AHL Player
NHL Games PLayed: 0

Coming out of the lockout, the Flames clearly didn’t believe that the obstruction crack-down would have much of a lasting effect on the game. That’s perhaps the only explanation one can divine for the decision to take not one, but two large, defense-first defensemen with their first two choices in 2005. Central Scouting had Baldwin near the very bottom of the draft class at 241 among North American skaters. This suggests the big guy may have been available in the fifth round or later.

Last year was Baldwin’s first full season in the AHL. He was one of the few Heat skaters to remain healthy for the entire season and he took advantage by putting up career-best numbers across the board. That said, he’s large, not very mobile and rather awkward. He trails behind a whole host of players in the organization (Pelech, Negrin, Erixon, Pardy, Seabrook, Brodie) in terms of ceiling/expectations and will have to take several mighty steps forward in order to have any shot at making the team in the future. Chances are he’s a minor-league player for life.

Dan Ryder, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL) – 3rd round, 74th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

An 82-point getter in his draft season, Ryder was the first forward chosen by the Flames in 2005 and the immediate returns were good. He went on to score 38 goals and 82 points in 2005-06 as well as lead his team to the Memorial Cup with 31 points in just 19 postseason games.

Unfortunately, Ryder’s professional and personal life went off the rails after his junior career. He appeared in just 25 AHL games for the Flames organization before being suspended, demoted and eventually released. He would skate in another 20 more contests for the Providence Bruins before quitting the game for good. In January 2010, Ryder was arrested for robbing a convenience store and was recently declared mentally unfit to stand trial.

Considered more skilled than his older brother Michael, Daniel was the Flames best bet to be a true impact player from the 2005 draft. But events have played out very differently than hoped.

J.D. Watt, R, Vancouver Giants (WHL) – 4th round, 111th overall
Status: AHL Player
NHL Games Played: 0

Ranked 141st by CSS on draft day, the rambunctious JD Watt was another "off the board" choice by the Flames. With just six goals and 13 points in 66 games in his draft year, Calgary apparently valued his 213 PIM and ability to get under the opposition’s skin enough to take him well ahead of his consensus ranking. Watt would eventually go on to score a career-high 34 goals for the Giants as a 20-year-old in 2006-07, but the truth is that season was an aberration and his skill set is fairly limited.

Like Baldwin, Watt only recently completed his first full season in the AHL. His eight goals and 13 points in 70 games were nominal, but he did lead the team in PIMs with 267. A true pest in every sense of the word, Watt is also rather undisciplined and doesn’t have NHL-level abilities anywhere else in his game. He’s another good bet to spend the remainder of his career in the minor leagues.

Kevin Lalande, G, Belleville Bulls (OHL) – 5th round, 128th overall
Status: AHL Player
NHL Games Played: 0

Despite already boasting Miikka Kiprusoff, Curtis McElhinney, Brent Krahn and Jimmy Spratt in the organization, the Flames decided to pick not one, but two goalies in 2005. The first of which was Kevin Lalande, who was a back-up for the Belleville Bulls at the time. Lalande would go on to have a decent junior career, compiling near league-best save percentages more than once and appearing in an OHL all-star game. However, due to the Flames glut of goaltending prospects, Lalande never really got much of chance to perform before he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008 for a fourth-round pick.

Lalande has had a decent, if unspectacular, pro career thus far. Last year was his first full season as a starter in the AHL and he compiled a 25-24-2 record with a .912 save percentage. Ironically, that matches the best save rate of any of the regular Abbotsford Heat goaltenders this season.

Matt Keetley, G, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL) – 5th round, 158th overall
Status: AHL Player
NHL Games Played: 1

Keetley was the second goalie chosen in 2005 and, although he trailed Lalande in the draft, the club decided to retain him over Lalande a few years later. Keetley was a Memorial Cup winner 2006-07 with the Tigers, and his regular season save percentage of .913 was good for seventh-best in the league that year.

Although his junior career ended on a high note, Keetley has seemingly regressed during his time in the AHL. His rookie season remains his best where he managed 10 wins and a .912 save percentage in 26 games played. He has bounced between the AHL and ECHL since then and was recently passed by both Irving and free agent David Shantz on the organizational depth chart. With Shantz finishing the season as the Heat’s starter and Irving considered the heir apparent to Kiprusoff, Keetley’s future with the club is in serious doubt.

Brett Sutter, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL) – 6th round, 179th overall
Status: AHL Player
NHL Games Played: 14

The fact that Brett Sutter has played the most NHL games of any Flames draft pick from 2005 speaks to the futility of this particular effort by the Calgary scouting staff. Sutter scored just eight goals and 19 points in 70 games in his draft year and was the second to last ranked skater in North America by CSS. He only ever once managed double digits in goals in the WHL — in his 20-year-old season for the Red Deer Rebels.

Sutter doesn’t have much in the way offensive abilities and isn’t an ideal size for the NHL. He’s defensively responsible and a hard worker, however, and might be good enough to be a replacement-level player in the big leagues. That said, his ceiling is strictly limited and his contributions are replaceable.

Myles Rumsey, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL) – 7th round, 221st overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The third big, defensive defenseman taken by the club in 2005 is still playing hockey, albeit for the University of Manitoba in the CWUAA. Rumsey scored just two goals during his entire junior career and was always a long shot to make noise at the professional level.