You may recall our ten part series showcasing the Flames best ever draft picks (Mister Number One Theoren Fleury even read the one dedicated to him), and you might have sat back in your chair and fondly recalled the triumphs and milestones achieved by one time Flames greats. You may have felt a chill run down your spine while recalling an Al MacInnis slap shot, or welled up with pride envisioning Gary Roberts charge down his wing, or gotten lost forever in the beautifully deep eyes of Hakan Loob.
It was good times.
Today, we’re heading in a different direction. This is going to be gut wrenching, but given the current turmoil of today’s Calgary Flames, we present the Yang to the Top Ten Draft Picks’ Yin, a snapshot of some of the worst draft picks to ever throw on a Flaming C or Horse Head Jersey (if they ever did at all). It’s a gutwrenching but thoughtful reminder that, hey, it can always get worse.
Now, we didn’t do a Top Ten list for this feature, because limiting it to ten was about as easy as limiting the Florida Panthers opposition to 8 goals or less. As Kent Wilson so aptly summed it up in the email suggesting the article, "you could choke a fully grown male walrus with the Flames terrible draft picks"
Putting aside the fact that I think any ten men could probably eventually choke a walrus, you get the point. So this is going to shake down over a few days or weeks or what will feel like a millenium here, with two or three "celebrants".
WARNING: YOU WILL CRY. With that inevitability out of the way, let’s get the wheels of this train wreck in motion, shall we?
Drafted: 6th overall in the 1997 NHL Draft. Career totals as a Calgary Flame: 19 GP, 4G, 7A, 11PTS,
If you think I chose Tkaczuk so I’d have the bust with the hardest name to spell done and out of the way early, well…
Daniel Tkaczuk had a promising career ahead of him in Calgary, I guess, after putting up a couple of 40 goal seasons with Barrie Colts of the OHL, and leading Canada in points en route to a gold medal losing World Junior Championship in 1999, the final WJC’s of the nineties, a decade in which hockey players’ talents and abilities continue to be the benchmark that players from other decades continue to haplessly try and emulate, but never will.
REMINDER: Daniel Tkaczuk was drafted 6 spots ahead of Marian Hossa.
I know that in hindsight it’s easy to look back and say that any team could have made the same mistake as Calgary by selecting Daniel over Hossa (and a host of other players with decent NHL careers), but every player taken in 1997 from 1 to 12, where Hossa was selected, played at least 250 games in the NHL. Daniel Tcakzuk himself played 19, so…oh wait.
The crazy thing about Tkac (which is what I’m calling him now, seeing as not only is it a hard name to spell, the sequential letters on a keyboard to type it out are all over the map. All over the map, of course, is also indicative of Tkac’s career, you’ll see) is that it wasn’t at the NHL level where things went sour for him. After earning a place on the AHL’s all rookie team in 1999-00, Tkac earned 19 games over a couple of callups with the Flames the following season, and, for a 21 year old rookie, performed rather well, collecting 11 points over that time. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough to crack the roster regularly on a very deep Young Guns roster, so he spent most of his time in St. John’s.
And would never see the NHL again.
On what is actually a pretty shrewd move by then Flames GM Craig Button (though it’s pretty inconsequential now, and no one ever really remembered he was a thing at the time), Tkaczuk and whatever still glimmering trade value he had as a young 22 year old prospect was traded to the St. Louis Blues as a part of the Fred Brathwaite deal that brought Roman Turek to Calgary, a move that shored up any goaltending consistency issues for the Flames for about…well, that’s another story for another day.
Tkaczuk’s is not one of the worst draft picks based on poor results over the course of his career in Calgary, it’s more because he never HAD a career in Calgary. Co-holding the title as the highest draft pick the Flames have ever had, to only have 19 games in a Flames jersey is unequivocally awful. Unequivocally awful, of course, is what Daniel became after being traded, as his game would regress at the AHL level and take him and his frustrations with his playing time to enough exotic locales to earn him one of those comically overstamped suitcases you see in travel commercials and nowhere else.
Daniel now runs a business called iHockeyTrainer.com, which is an online hockey development resource, which I’m sure is vastly successful, because nobody knows about development like Daniel Tkaczuk and the Calgary Flames. He’s also written a series of "from the player’s perspective" articles, for The Hockey News. I haven’t read them, because why would I, but if you want to see them, they can be perused here. I’m sure it’s riveting stuff.
Drafted: 6th Overall, 1998 NHL Draft. Career Totals as a Calgary Flame: 27GP, 0G, 1A, 1PT
Having the season previous earned their highest draft selection in team history with the 6th pick, it’s maybe not a surprise that the team, led by the exploits of stars like Marty McInnis and Hnat Domenichelli, lived up to expectations and skated to a 67 point season and found themselves back at the Draft Table with a repeat 6th overall pick.
With the same management and scouting staff going back to the same well, the Flames drafted Rico Fata, whose name is brilliant, from the OHL’s London Knights, and we all knew nothing could possibly ever go wrong this time around.
Indeed, at the time, it seemed like an alright pick. It was not considered a very deep draft, and any of the players that were selected after Fata have not necessarily been big impact players. I might have selected Alex Tanguay, who went 12th, but these things tend to work themselves out in the long run, don’t they? (although both Andrei Markov and Pavel Datsyuk went in the 6th round in 1998, so maybe a lot of General Managers have a lot to answer to on this one)
Fata was a shining star with the Knights, and was even called up during his final year of junior to play with the Flames. The results were predictably hilarious, as it can be said that the Flames ended his career right then and there. In 20 games as a 19 year old, Fata did…well, nothing. Truly a glowing tribute to the level of depth on the Flames St. John’s farm team at the time.
Fata would join St. John’s the following season and would win a Calder Cup with the Baby Flames the following season, which we can all agree is amazing thing. If you ever wondered how Jim Playfair became an NHL coach, it was because of this.
The interesting thing about the Flames back in these days is how relatively little patience the team had with it’s, er, hopefuls. Rico was indeed absolute human garbage during a couple of brief callups with the Calgary Flames, again, not able to beat out Ronald Petrovicky in the depth chart. Hey, the Flames needed GRIT, so Blair Jones feels your pain, Rico. But the Fat Man produced decently in the AHL with St. John’s, scoring over 20 goals in both of his campaigns there. Yet, the Flames gave up all faith in Rico, and he was placed on waivers as a 21 year old.
You could argue that this was a pretty reactive move and that if the Flames gave him a bit of time to mature, he might have lived up to the lofty goals placed upon a Top 10 draft pick.
The rest of his career laughs at your petty notion of reclamation.
Fata spent the next 6 years bouncing around various Eastern Conference teams and, more specifically, their AHL affiliates, before fleeing to Europe, where careers go to die; a life as a perennial Spengler Cup all star on the horizon.
Rico Fata, adorably and delusionally, is still making a kick at this professional hockey thing, plying his trade in the Swiss-A league with Geneve Servette, where he is about as productive as he ever was as a Calgary Flame.
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Stay tuned for many, many more…