Flames 2004 draft preview

By Lawrence Bailey

Flames Top 10 Prospects

1.Dion Phaneuf D
2.Eric Nystrom LW
3.Tim Ramholt D
4.Brent Krahn G
5.Andrei Medvedev G
6.Andrei Taratukhin C
7.Yuri Trubachev C
8.Curtis McElhinney G
9.Dany Sabourin G
10.Tomi Maki LW

Team Needs

After years of futility and frustration, the Flames ignited Calgary’s passion for NHL hockey again with an inspired and improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to fall just short. In the aftermath of that great run, it was clear that while heart and hard work will get you almost anywhere you want to go, when you run up against a club with the same work ethic and desire, the tiebreaker is skill.

Heading into the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Head Coach/General Manager Darryl Sutter and his team of scouts can look at their Vezina-nominated netminder and one of the best young defense corps in the league and see what this team needs clear as day: skilled players up front. Beyond Captain Iggy and a handful of kids who might turn the corner (Chuck Kobasew, Oleg Saprykin, Matt Lombardi), the Flames are a team of hard-working plugs, from the NHL level down through their system.

Organizational Strengths

The Flames are blessed with more heart, muscle and work ethic throughout their system than any team in the league. A pro club boasting the likes of Marcus Nilson, Shean Donovan, Rhett Warrener and Robyn Regehr sets a definite tone for the rest of the organization. Dion Phaneuf, Eric Nystrom, Jamie Tardiff, the list of Sutter-esque players is long. Unfortunately, with the exception of a select few, there isn’t a great deal of skill to complement that work ethic.

Despite the lack of overall skill in the system, the Flames do boast a youthful rearguard, a can’t miss top prospect in Dion Phaneuf combined with a trio of rising netminders and a revelation in new No. 1 Miikka Kiprusoff.

Organizational Weaknesses

The only true weakness in the Flames system is a glaring one. There are no players currently in the system who can be reasonably be projected as impact, first line forwards. While young NHLers Lombardi, Saprykin and Kobasew all have a greater offensive upside, none of them will be the centerpiece of a vaunted attack. Couple with the uncertainty surrounding the future on NHL salaries and Jarome Iginla’s rumored $8 million+ contract expectations and the Flames need to address this immediately.

Adding to that urgency, none of the better forwards currently climbing the ranks of the Flames depth chart will be able to fill that role either. Nystrom, Taratukhin, Trubachev and the like haven’t shown anything remotely close to dominance, despite having skills which could lead to substantial NHL careers — just not anchoring the top line.

Draft Tendencies

While tendencies don’t have the same significance in the case of the Flames due to this being only Darryl Sutter’s second draft with the club, last year saw two prevailing themes: size and a Canadian passport. It is unlikely Sutter and his staff will call the name of any diminutive picks come draft weekend, however they may wander from the true north strong and free with a bit more frequency.

One of Sutter’s stated goals when he accepted the job a year and a half ago was to make the team bigger, faster and more Canadian. He has certainly achieved that and there will likely be quite a few hulking Canucks taken in later rounds. However, Sutter is a shrewd evaluator of both needs and talent and won’t shy away from skilled European players in the first few rounds, provided they have the prerequisite size and work ethic.

Player most likely to be taken with first round selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Enver Lisin, RW