Drafting the Troika – Flames and Three First Rounders



Since 1995 only eight teams have had three or more 1st round picks in single year. I decided to take a look at those teams, the players chosen, the draft year in question, and then find the most appropriate historical fit for the Flames current situation.

By chronological order, those teams are the Avalanche in 1998 with 4 picks, the Islanders in 1999 with another 4, then the Capitals in 2002 with three, L.A. in 2003 with three, the Caps again in 2004 with three, the Oilers and Blues both in 2007 with three each, then the Panthers in 2010 with three and finally the Senators in 2011 with three.

Here is a breakdown of those teams and their picks:

The closest historical match to the Flames current situation is perhaps the Panthers in 2010 or the Capitals in 2004, where the teams drafted in the top three and then had two "depth picks" around the bottom ten. That being said, based on some recent reports on this draft class (something about which I will elaborate on later) it is difficult to believe that the Flames can realistically expect to find three bona fide NHL players with all three 1st round picks.

The history of teams picking more than twice in the 1st round suggests that the best case scenario is that the team finds a top six player with their first pick and then uncovers a potential bottom six forward and 2nd pairing defenseman with the latter two.


Pulling the Hat Trick is Hard

The best result from any of these teams was probably the 1998 Colorado Avalanche who managed to essentially "hit" on all four picks. The worst is perhaps the Islanders in 1999 who found a top six player in Connolly, then selected an eventual 4th line player in Pyatt 8th overall and essentially blew the final two picks. It should be noted, however, that 1999 was a relatively poor draft year with only 15% of selected prospects eventually becoming NHL players – the league average between 1995 and 2006 was 18.5%.

Even in the fabled 2003 draft, where the Kings had three picks at 13, 26 and 27, they found only one high-end NHL player in Dustin Brown. Of the remaining two, one is a decent defenseman while the other is plying his trade overseas in Zurich of the Swiss League.

The evidence would suggest that having a significant number of picks in any given round is not a guarantee of success, but that it is important to hit on the ones you have, rather than approach the draft board with a sense of luxury or recklessness brought on by a surplus of selections.


Hitting the Draft Table with Aces in the Sleeve

Teams have in the past seemed to believe that getting a number of 1st round selections will allow them to garner a windfall of talent that will shortcut a long rebuilding process. Historically this has proven to be a false belief. Rebuilds take time, patience and development. A team that feels they can do an end-run around the process through the draft probably doesn’t have the wherewithal or infrastructure to do it well. Only one team has managed to draft well enough in this situation such that they were able to find success through it (the Avalanche) and it had as much to do with their existing roster talent at the time and the ability to bring along an influx of new talent in a supporting role. They also got incredibly lucky at the draft.

Of the teams listed, L.A. is the only other team to have won a Cup in recent years, and that roster had only one player from that draft windfall still on it in Brown.

Don’t misunderstand this article to mean that I believe that multiple picks in any given round is a bad strategy. It isn’t. But draft boards need to be run in such a way that every pick needs to be the concensus best projectible player available. Too often when teams have multiple picks in a round you can see the scouts or GMs making selections almost as though they were inviting failure, be it through reach or off-the-board picks. After picking a potential star, teams might start "picking for need" instead of looking for viable assets.

If the Flames take the best player they feel is available with their first pick, then wait and cross off the names of others selected to take the next best player still available with their second and third picks, each time reassessing the players available, and stay away from the temptation of drafting according to present need, then they may find some good players.

The danger lies in that Feaster and the Flames management seem intent on taking these three picks and using them to forestall any pending rebuild. The language and messages coming from the organization are that they will accept this one year, maximize their time at the draft (be it by selection or to trade) and expect to return to the NHL’s inner circle the following season.

We will have to wait and see if this approach bears fruit.

  • supra steve

    Best case scenarios:

    Calgary finishes with the fifth worst record and wins the draft lottery to pick first overall. Based on the fact that our veterans are held out due to injuries and our young players play well and try to showcase themselves for next year. First overall pick gives us all the options on who to pick and what trades are available.

    Philadelphia finishes in 7th spot. This provides the potential to do a trade to swap picks and get Couturier. While still giving us a chance at Lindholm or Monahan.

    Columbus finishes in 8th spot. This provides the potential to do a trade to swap picks and acquire the first round picks from the Rangers and Kings. Still gives us the opportunity to draft Lindholm or Monahan.

    St. Louis makes the playoffs in 8th place and then loses out in the first round. Higher the pick the better, and they deserve to lose in four straight because Calgary got raped in the Bouwmeester deal.

    Pittsburgh losses out in the first round. Higher the pick the better, and Iginla deserves to lose out in the first round after deciding he wanted to go to Pittsburgh when the best hockey deal for the Flames would have been to Boston.

    Boston and Toronto meet in the conference finals with Toronto losing because of bad goaltending. This is for Kiprusoff because he would be able to look at this and realize with regret that had he gone to Toronto and returned assets to us he would have been able to play better than Reimer and help the Leafs get to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    Boston wins the Stanley Cup. This one is also for Iginla to realize that he completely chose the wrong horse to back and should have let the organization make the best hockey deal.

    • RexLibris

      Re: best-case scenarios

      Spite, resentment and vengeance. Welcome to the dark side my young paduan. Your hatred will give you strength.

      Funny, now that Bouwmeester and Iginla are playing for other teams there are some Oiler fans I’ve spoken to who are hoping they meet in the Cup finals. Can’t imagine why.


      Seriously, though, I’d ballpark those two picks as being in the 19th and 26th range. Both teams have had goaltending issues and the additions from the Flames, while shiny and dramatic, haven’t really dealt with some underlying problems (Pittsburgh needs defensive depth and better play from Fleury, while St. Louis needs one of their goalies to raise his level of play).

        • RexLibris

          I was thinking in the playoffs. They’ll need Halak to play like he did with Montreal, or Elliot to play like he is right now.

          They won’t be able to afford a goaltending slump.

      • loudogYYC

        Cause Couturier hasn’t been playing offensive minutes in Philly this season. They’ve been burying him and he’s handling it like a champ. 32% offensive zone starts make goals and assists a little tougher, so as long Hartley doesn’t do the same with him here, he would/could be that big top 2 centre we need.

        • Victoria Flames Fan

          Not saying he is no good but I sure would not give up a top 5 pick for him. I don’t see him as a top 3 player and not worth the risk of giving one up.

          • beloch

            Not 1 for 5 or later. The top 4 are considered potential superstars this year. I wouldn’t swap a potential Toews or Tavares or Pronger for 2 O’Reilly level players. We need to take our chance at landing a star.

  • supra steve

    Pens pick doesn’t mean that we will be picking late… If they are booted in the first round that pick can be alright.

    Lets hope Pens and Blues are out early.

  • icedawg_42

    This write up pretty much sums up why I would have preferred Feaster go after high(ish) end prospects instead of picks during the Iginla and Bouwmeester trades.

  • RexLibris

    No matter what happens come draft time, I am extremely excited…

    3 first round picks, tons of capspace (and willingness to spend to it), as well as the cap going down provides Calgary with an unprecidented opportunity to make some organizational defining moves…and no matter how it pans out we will have at least one top end prospect to add to the cupboards

    Can’t wait

  • SmellOfVictory

    “Too often when teams have multiple picks in a round you can see the scouts or GMs making selections almost as though they were inviting failure, be it through reach or off-the-board picks.”

    Agree with this completely and have to logical reason why teams do this. You are right Rex that they will make a good smart safe pick and then treat the other picks like they are leprechaun gold that has no real benefit but to spend it haphazardly. The organizations that tend to do this style of drafting do it the majority of their draft years with their first round picks regardless of how many that they have. They are like teens that dont understand the value of money other than what new toys they can spend it on.

  • RexLibris

    “Don’t misunderstand this article to mean that I believe that multiple picks in any given round is a bad strategy. It isn’t. ”

    The term “crap shoot” for the draft is only used by people that don’t know what they are doing. There are a lot of variables in drafting young players, but certain teams are able to consistently do it well, and others are horrible at it. The first round seems to cause organizations to swing for the fences more and look at potential whereas in the 2nd-4th rounds they are looking for players with skills that can play in the league.

    If you are able to draft well then having multiple picks in the first round should enable your franchise to develop a base of young talent in one year that might take three years doing it one pick at a time. That has to accelerate the process.

    It is like playing poker. If you are good at it you know its a skill and something that can be won at. If you are not good then it is just a game based on lady luck and that your outcome is left to the fate of the cards.

    That is why if it were me and we secured the first pick and Columbus ended up around #8 I would swap picks with them in exchange for the Rangers and Kings first round picks. The talent difference between Jones and Lindholm, Monahan, or Nichushkin is not that much compared to the top six or nine talent that I can bring in with the extra two first round picks and probably a good prospect in their system.

    • supra steve

      “It is like playing poker. If you are good at it you know its a skill and something that can be won at. If you are not good then it is just a game based on lady luck and that your outcome is left to the fate of the cards.”

      But, like poker, sometimes the best player at the table gets beat (often actually). The draft IS a “crap-shoot” because even the best scouting staffs in the league don’t bat anywhere near 1000, even if you only look at the first round.

  • loudogYYC

    This draft looks to be at a high end for the top ten picks and then another group of players from 11-25, then it is “deep” in going from 26-90. The more you read about the prospects the more it looks like some very specific tiers. Though the middle tier might be more in how I would rank players than the general view of the prospects because there is quite a swing from the #12 through the second round in how prospects are ranked by Button, MacKenzie, Central scouting, or ISS. Mid teens for one guy is late 20’s for another.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Presuming the Blues make the playoffs, package the other two firsts and try to move up. Or maybe take one of those firsts + the second (do we have one this year?!?) to move up, since Pitt’s first pick is going to be so close to our second pick.

    Anyhoo I’m not expecting miracles from Feaster.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Washington is actually quite amazing. In the years from 2002-2006 (5 years) they had 11 first round draft picks, with 2003 being the lone year with only 1 pick. That is how you do an organizational rebuild. Two out of three years they had three picks in the first round. Amazing that the best year for the draft in 20 years (2003) had to be when they only had one pick.

  • SmellOfVictory

    The Flames’ first pick should be as close to a slam dunk as it could be; they’re almost certainly picking top 5, and the entire top 5 in terms of rankings is almost guaranteed NHL success.

    I’m curious as to what you’re saying about this draft, however. Everything I’ve heard on it is that it’s deep as crap in the first round.

    • RexLibris

      I’m working on something about this draft and the perceived depth.

      Probably once the season ends. The actual season, not like when the Flames are mathematically eliminated. 😉

      • Willi P

        Probably once the season ends. The actual season, not like when the Oilers (who have only 2 more wins than the Flames) are mathematically eliminated. 😉

        • RexLibris

          That ship has sailed. Departure time was theoretically last night. In actuality they were finished at the Anaheim game.

          They may make things interesting for a few games here, Saturday comes to mind, but I suspect they’ll finish no higher than 21st overall, perhaps lower.

          Fine by me. Worst thing for a mediocre management group to accomplish is early, and undeserved, success like the Avalanche in 2010. Mistakes that have been made need to be illustrated in order for change to occur.

  • marty

    i really hope that the flames get the first one right. with the other 2 i have a few thoughts. 1 – package a late rounder and a player for a young player from another team. Who i don’t know. i keep hearing coutourier is potentially available in philly, Why? i don’t know but if that or something to the effect was available getting a bonified young nhler for a first takes the guess work out of it and helps the team now. 2 – if possible package the 2 later firsts to move up? 3 – keeping them and using them is not a bad option but i think i prefer the other 2 options but who knows.

  • schevvy

    I think this is by far Rex’s shortest article… 🙂

    Honestly, I’m very terrified of becoming like the Oilers. The similarities are there. They had 3 1st’s when they sucked in 06-07. We have three 1st rounders this year. Edwards wants this team in the playoffs next year. Yikes.

    Please, please do not be like the Oilers.