2011 NHL Draft: Calgary Flames still feeling the positive vibes

By Jason Lewis
Johnny Gaudreau - Calgary Flames

Photo: Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau has been the definition of a draft steal while prompting other teams to take a chance on skill over size (courtesy of Jose Quiroz/Icon Sportswire)

In 2011, Jay Feaster was overseeing what would be his first draft as the newly anointed General Manager of the Calgary Flames. Taking over for Darryl Sutter in December of 2010, and having been officially named GM later on in May, the former Tampa Bay Lightning man had a lot of work to do.

In hindsight, the 2011 NHL Draft may have been one of Feaster’s highlights of his short and frustrating tenure. The Flames had just five picks, but each and every one of them have panned out in one way or another for Calgary. The exception might be Laurent Brossoit – who has developed into a fine prospect – but was part of the Ladislav Smid deal that was one of the last trades Feaster made as the Flames’ GM and may have sealed his fate as the Flames’ boss.

Hockey irony aside, the Flames 2011 draft was highly successful, and the current Calgary team is still reaping the rewards of the work done by Director of Scouting Tod Button and his team. Most teams would be happy with just hitting on two or three of their five or six picks in an entry draft. Drafting is not an exact science and despite a team’s best efforts, the odds are that the scouting braintrust will draft some flops. Calgary did a remarkable job avoiding that in 2011.

1st round, 13th overall: Sven Baertschi, LW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Status: NHL Player (Vancouver Canucks)
NHL Games Played: 138

Coming into 2011, the Swiss-born Sven Baertschi was a tantalizing offensive prospect that numerous teams had an eye on. After having started out in the junior level of the Swiss league, the Bern native made his way to Portland of the WHL in 2010. He posted back-to-back 30+ goal seasons. His inaugural season was monstrous by WHL rookie standards as Baertschi topped assists, points, and goals by a rookie that season. In 2011-12 he posted 94 points during the regular season, and a league-leading 34 points in the playoffs.

‏As strong as his junior career was, the young European prospect had some troubles adjusting to the AHL level once he turned pro in 2012-13. He spent 46 games in the NHL and 73 games in the AHL with Calgary and Abbotsford the next two seasons, jumping between standout performances and inconsistent overall efforts. Amidst a 2014-15 season where Baertschi again looked troubled with the NHL level, the Flames dealt him to division rival Vancouver for a second round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

‏Since being moved to Vancouver, Baertschi has played somewhat more consistently, although his defensive zone efforts still remain an area for improvement. He scored 15 goals and 28 points in 69 games during his first true season with Vancouver.

As far as the Flames go, they drafted standout puck- moving defenseman Rasmus Andersson with the 2015 second round pick. At this point that might even look like better value than the former first round selection.

2nd round, 45th overall: Markus Granlund, C, HIFK Jr. (Finland)
Status: NHL Player (Vancouver Canucks)
NHL Games Played: 102

‏At the time of his draft, Markus Granlund seemed like possibly a bit of a steal in the mid-second round. Ranked ninth overall among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting, the Flames jumped on the skilled center at 45th overall. Nevertheless, the skilled play that saw the young Finn excel with HIFK in Liiga and Abbotsford in the AHL never really blossomed at the pro level. After posting strong 30+ point seasons in Europe after his draft, and a marvelous 46 points in 52 games rookie season in the AHL, Granlund plateaued as he hit the NHL. The skill was challenged and limited as his time and space was more readily taken away. While once considered a strong two-way center, his defensive and possession game also came into question, not to mention a sub 45% face-off ability.

‏Much like with Baertschi, the Flames started to see diminishing quality in their second round pick and decided it was best to cut ties. They again looked to Vancouver as a trading partner, only this time it was Vancouver flipping a former first round selection to Calgary for their second round selection. The Flames got the highly rated Hunter Shinkaruk (24th overall in 2013) from the Canucks, and the winger has looked tremendous so far in the Flames system. Granlund recently signed a two-year extension with Vancouver and looks poised to be a bottom-six center option next season.

2nd round, 57th overall: Tyler Wotherspoon, D, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 26

‏That Tyler Wotherspoon was still on the board at 57th is not bad considering he was ranked 40th among North American skaters by CSS. After having gone to the Portland Winterhawks system to draft Baertschi, the Flames went back to the WHL juggernaut to grab the cool and collected Wotherspoon.

‏After his draft, the Surrey, British Columbia native posted two seasons of noted improvement. He jumped from 12 points to 28 in 2011-12, and then again from 28 to 37 in 2012-13. He was named to the WHL (West) All-Star Team that season and also won the league championship. Despite being runner-up in the Memorial Cup, it was an altogether wonderful final season of juniors for the Winterhawks’ alternate captain.

‏As Wotherspoon has ventured on into the pro level, the offensive game has dried up considerably. He has scored just five pro goals in 162 AHL games. While he never was an offensive juggernaut, he has found incremental improvement more difficult to come by. In 2014-15 he had a strong, 24-point season on the Adirondack back line, and in 2015-16 he was again one of the primary minute-eaters of the Calgary minor league club’s rear guard despite taking a step back in production.

His calm, low-flash game has earned him more of a defensive reputation than anything else, despite there still being spurts of skating and puck moving. At this point, he has turned into a fringe bottom-pair NHL defender, which is not bad but perhaps disappointing for a late second round selection. At 23, he still has plenty of time to grow more on the slow and often difficult defenseman development arc.

4th round, 104th overall: Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 160

‏How often can a team say they got an elite, franchise level talent in anything past the second round? Heck, even the third round? Calgary got the diminutive goal scorer Johnny Gaudreau in the late fourth round. Even at the time it seemed like a reach of a pick considering the USHL product was ranked 193rd in CSS’s rankings of North American skaters.

Despite being a huge point producer and offensive force with the Dubuque Fighting Saints, scouts were very concerned about his size and toughness. He was listed at 5’6” and 137 pounds at the time of the draft. Nevertheless, Calgary scouts must have seen what many did not.

In the following three seasons at Boston College, Gaudreau would become one of the most prominent collegiate scorers, accumulating 175 points in 119 games.  In 2011-12 he won the NCAA and the Hockey East championships while earning tournament MVP honors. In 2012-13 he was voted to the D1 All-Stars, was a Hobey Baker finalist, won U20 World Junior Championship gold with Team USA (including being named to the WJC All-Star team), and was also voted Hockey East Player of the Year.

However, the best was yet to come. After turning down going pro, his collegiate magnum opus came in his junior year in 2013-14. Gaudreau led the entire NCAA with 80 points and 36 goals, the highest point-per-game pace since 2003, and he was a Hobey Baker finalist for the second straight year, this time winning it. He was also named Hockey East’s Player of the Year for the second straight year.

‏The critics still remained staunch that Gaudreau, who now was more towards 5’9” and 170 pounds, was too small for the NHL. Again, the Salem, New Jersey native proved people wrong. As a 21-year old, Gaudreau scored 64 points and 24 goals in his 80-game NHL rookie season. He also tallied nine points in 11 playoff games for the Flames, and was a massively important player in a Calgary stretch run that saw them clinch a playoff spot over the likes of the San Jose Sharks and the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings. He was named to the 2014-15 All-Star team, a spot he would claim again in 2015-16, and was a finalist for the Calder Memorial trophy after tying for the rookie league lead in points with Mark Stone of Ottawa. He would lose out to Florida’s Aaron Ekblad. In his sophomore season, he flirted with being a point-per-game player in the NHL, with 30 goals and 78 points in 79 games.

‏Not bad so far for a fourth round pick who was too small.

6th round, 164th overall: Laurent Brossoit, G, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Status: Prospect (Edmonton Oilers)
NHL Games Played: 6

‏Laurent Brossoit has turned out to be a heck of a sixth round pick; the problem is that the Flames did not keep him. With the franchise searching for a replacement in the future for Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames scouts again went to the WHL, but this time to Edmonton. They selected the big, lanky netminder Brossoit. He posted modest numbers as a starter with the Oil Kings in his three full seasons, but always tended to come up big in the playoffs.

The Flames gave the 6’3” goaltender two pro games with Abbotsford where he posted an .824 save percentage and a 5.72 goals-against average before dealing him to Edmonton just one month into his pro rookie season. Brossoit would struggle the entirety of his 2013-14 at the various levels he played at, but settled in at the ECHL level with Bakersfield. In 2014-15 he made a tremendous improvement at the pro level, stealing the Oklahoma City Barons starting job from AHL journeyman Richard Bachman. While it was not a tremendous year at a 2.56 goals-against, .918 save percentage and a 25-22-4 record, it was a step in the right direction.

‏This season, Brossoit further established himself as a presence in net with the relocated Oklahoma City Barons (now Bakersfield Condors), despite suffering injury setbacks during the year. In his 31 games he posted a .920 save percentage and received a call up to the Edmonton Oilers where he struggled in five games. Given his incremental improvements and the slow learning curve of goaltenders, Brossoit may yet be a strong future goaltending candidate between the pipes in Alberta, just not for Calgary.

Hockey’s Future looks back at a pair of players chosen by the Flames at the 2011 NHL Draft, with this video featuring footage of top picks Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund from the 2011 NHL Combine.

Prospect Round-up + Prospect of the Month

‏The Calgary Flames prospects are done with competition at the moment. Over the last month or so, several finished up the 2015-16 season with their respective junior and development clubs. Some of the notables included Barrie Colts Andrew Mangiapane and Rasmus Andersson getting knocked out at the hands of Niagara in the OHL semifinals, while Mason McDonald backstopped his team to a second round series before getting knocked out by Shawinigan. Overseas, Rushan Rafikov finished his season by winning the MHL title with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

d_pribyl.jpgProspect of the Month, however, has to go to newly-signed Daniel Pribyl from Pisek, Czech Republic. The former 2011 Montreal Canadiens selection had an outstanding year with HC Sparta Praha (Prague) of the Czech league where he scored 45 points in 45 games and finished second overall in league scoring. He had five goals and 11 points in 9 playoff games with Praha before they lost out to Liberec in the league finals.