Flames Draft Probables

2014-nhldraft

Over the next few weeks we’ll be breaking down possible draft options for the Calgary Flames at each of their picks in late June, and although after the first 15 or so players in this draft there’s mass controversy where everyone else fits, it’ll still be fun to get a gist of what could be coming Calgary’s way at the annual event.

Starting at the top, the Flames hold the 4th overall holler – the highest in team history – and are guaranteed (unless they go way, way, way off the board) an elite prospect from it. The consensus top five or six guys have been public knowledge for a long time now, but the order in which they go is an interesting component to analyze. Dale Tallon has publicly been shopping his first overall pick – somewhat aggressively according to Panthers beat writer George Richards. Will the Panthers deal the pick? Could the Flames move up? Tons of intrigue around that situation. 

Talk out of Edmonton is that Oiler brass is in love with Leon Draisaitl and are lining up to snag him a pick before the Flames, at 3. There’s endless scenarios that could play out and the only sure thing from a Flames perspective is they’re working tirelessly to construct their list, and won’t deter from it when they go to select.

The Likely Candidates

Sam Reinhart, C, WHL, (Ranked 4th by FutureConsiderations)

Meandering around the internet, mock draft to mock draft, I’m beginning to see with more frequency Sam Reinhart falling to the Flames. Reinhart is pegged by almost everyone as a Top 2 player in this draft class, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get selected as such. It’s not out of the realm of possibility he’s available when the Flames stroll up to the podium, and if he is, there’s no mistaking whose name they’ll call.

Right off the bat: without a doubt, the best eyes and brain in the draft. No one thinks the game at higher level than Sam Reinhart and the device between his ears is tailored specifically for hockey – and tailored well. He’s given us glimpses of his brilliance in virtually every game this season, sometimes making small, shrewd plays, while other times pasting himself on the ‘Honour Roll’. That’s the beauty of Sam Reinhart. His genius isn’t limited to highlight reel plays. He incorporates it into every little piece of his game, making him a dangerous player at all times. He played World Juniors as an underager as a result and performed well, considering the circumstances. 

In 203 career WHL games Reinhart has a solid 254 points, including 105 points in 60 games this year, 36 of those being goals. He’s captain of the Ice, one of only three 18 year old captains in the CHL (Ekblad being one of the others), and was named WHL player of the year. Not bad for a kid who’s still can’t enter a bar in his home province of British Columbia. 

The issue with Reinhart remains for me however, his ability to translate this high scoring offensive to the pro ranks. He will undoubtedly score, but I don’t see him being an elite scorer. People will argue, “how can a guy with that kind of vision not produce at the NHL?” My response is this: Reinhart hasn’t racked up points by dangling around people or ripping shots past goaltenders. He’s done it by simply out-smarting his opponents, not out-skilling them. To succeed as a scorer in the NHL, you need both, and in my humble opinion, only one of those tangibles is elite. A strong two-way center that contributes here and there seems a more likely projection for the youngest of Paul Reinhart’s kids.

If the 6-foot-1, 183 pound center does indeed fall to the Flames at 4, party at my house because the Flames just landed a cornerstone.

Potential: 

Top Line Center, although I think he settles into a 2nd center role

NHL Comparables: 

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mike Richards

When will/should he play in the NHL?

2015/16 at the latest, but probably next year 


Sam Bennett, C/LW, OHL, (Ranked 3rd by FutureConsiderations)

Well there was a ton of hoop-la over the fact he couldn’t do a pull up, but to me that just means his potential to grow is even higher than initially anticipated. As Aaron Vickers of Future Considerations and Calgary Flames.com mentioned on Sportsnet960 yesterday, Drew Doughty couldn’t do a pull up either. Bennett netted 36 goals and 91 points in 57 games without the strength of doing a pull up? What will he do when he undoubtedly acquires that strength? I’d personally like to find out right here in Calgary. He’s probably one of the most likely guys to end up here come June 27th and I get the feeling Flames fans are more than alright with that prognostication.

Bennett is a pure offensive talent with an excellent shot and deceptive speed. He gets his goals through hard work and determination most of the time rather than flashiness. His primary weakness is obviously his lack of strength, but he’s bulked up considerably of late, tipping the scales at 181-pounds, a respectable number for a 6-foot, 17 year old (turns 18 on June 20th). As we’ve learned though, most of that bulk has probably come from his legs, because the upper body hasn’t much to work with. 

Bennett would be a terrific addition to the Flames’ prospect core and would continue to solidify that left wing position that already features a wealth of blue-chip prospects including Sven Baertschi, Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk. Bennett can also play center if need be, that’ll be up to the coaching staff to decide. He won’t pull a Monahan and play next year with his lack of strength and all, but when he does finally arrive, he’ll be well worth the wait. 

Potential:

Top 6 Forward, could be top line forward.

NHL Comparable:

Chris Kunitz, Claude Giroux

When will/should he play in the NHL:

1-2 years


Leon Draisaitl, C/LW, WHL, (Ranked 5th by FutureConsiderations)

The 6-foot-2, 210 pound Draisaitl seems to be everyone’s new favourite prospect as he’s garnered a ton of attention recently between being ranked high by everyone and talk of going 3rd overall to Edmonton. He also scored 38 goals and 105 points in 60 games for Prince Albert. 

I for one still don’t buy all the hype. I dislike his skating, I dislike his NHL upside and I dislike his compete level, although it’s not as a big a problem to me as some make it out to be. I pray Edmonton takes him so he isn’t an option for the Flames, also because a player I don’t like going to Edmonton is perfect. 

Don’t get me wrong, Draisaitl is a very good hockey player and a quality prospect; I just don’t think in 10 years he’ll be on same level as everyone else. If he can’t dangle through guys at the NHL level he has no fallback characteristics to make him an effective NHLer. If he can’t undress defenders standing still – as he’s done multiple times in every one of my viewings – in the show, he’s toast. 

Essentially if he can’t be the offensive force he is now in the WHL, he has no other qualities that will make him a valuable asset, and in my opinion his skills don’t have as a good a probability to translate as others do. It’s an unnecessary gamble to take for a team that can’t afford to miss with this selection. Many disagree with me and he might just turn into a 90 point guy, but that’s just my opinion on the “Deutschland Dangler”.

Draisaitl’s style of play mimics that of Pavel Datysuk almost to a “T” and if the Flames do end up taking him, he’ll be fun to watch …. at rookie camp. He can have the puck on a string on multiple occasions during a shift and his quick hands and shifty movements allow this lingering with the puck to occur without issue. Also like Datysuk, Draisaitl posses a tremendous ability to locate his teammates in obscure areas on the ice and feed them the puck through traffic. If the Flames end up taking Leon Draisaitl, I’ll mutter things quietly to myself in Romanian. 

Potential:

Top 6 Forward, could be a top line forward.

NHL Comparable:

Pavel Datsyuk, Big German Rob Schremp

When will/should he play in the NHL:

1-2 years


Michael Dal Colle, C/LW, OHL (Ranked 6th by FutureConsiderations)

I’ve often reffered to Dal Colle as the “Worst Case Scenario” for the Flames at the number 4 selection and I think that’s really unfair to the player because, as my press-box buddy Chris Ralph would say, “he’s quite good at the ice hockey”.

Dal Colle is your stereotypical “offense first” hockey player. He’s always looking to make a play and when the opportunity is presented he knows exactly what to do with it. Although some peg him as a shoot first player because of his lethal shot, Dal Colle dishes the puck with more frequency than he shoots it. He’s ridiculously fast and at 6’2, 180, he has the lethal speed and size combination NHL teams crave. 

As mentioned, Dal Colle’s greatest asset is his shot, with vision being not too far behind. His stick might as well have a trigger because he fires it with the best of them. Hard, accurate and consistent. The feeling from people I’ve spoken to in the East is he has no real weaknesses outside of strength, although his defensive game could use some refinement as well. Having said that, he doesn’t completely ignore those responsibilities and for an offensive dynamo, he cleans up his own end quite impressively. 

Should the Flames take him, I highly doubt he plays NHL hockey next year, with the new philosophy of developing prospects brought in my Treliving and the fact he’s just not ready – size wise or play wise. In a few years though he’ll likely be an integral part of Calgary’s offense alongside Monahan and Co. If he does indeed become the fourth overall pick, I for one won’t be complaining. 

Potential:

Top 6 forward with top line powerplay responsibilities

Comparable:

Patrick Marleau, Tyler Seguin

When will/should he play in the NHL:

1-2 years

The Faller

Aaron Ekblad, D, OHL, (Ranked 1st by FutureConsiderations)

He’s been number one on my list – and many others – all season and although the two Sam’s (Reinhart and Bennett) have closed that gap throughout the season, ‘Ek’; still holds down the top spot. He piled up a remarkable 23 goals and 53 points in 58 games in 2013/14. In addition, he wears the “C” in Barrie – a leadership role he also held down for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka U18 Tournament. To top off a tremendous first half of the season, Ekblad was selected to Canada’s U20 World Junior Championship team this winter as an underage defenseman – also a rare feat. He finished his year strong too, leading the Colts to the playoffs, where he added 6 points in 9 games, winning a round. 

Ekblad’s man-sized 6-foot-4, 216 pound and showed why he’s considered one of the most physically mature prospects in the class at the Draft Combine, performing remarkably well on all the tests. If you’ve watched any of his interviews, you’ll quickly see he’s not only physically mature, but mentally as well. He has a cool, calm demeanor and “shoots you straight” as it were. No BS, no dancing around questions, just honest and concise answers. 

Sounds like a pretty good hockey player, right? Well he is. The best in this draft by noticeable margin at this point and that’s why he’ll probably be long gone by the time Calgary picks, nonetheless, if Seth Jones fell last year, there remains the possibility Ekblad could too. Much like Sam Reinhart, if Ekblad is there at 4, there’s no mistaking whose name Treliving calls out at the podium. 

Potential: 

Number One Defenseman

NHL Comparable:

Victor Hedman

When will/should he play in the NHL?

Next year.

Off the Board


Jake Virtanen, LW, WHL, (Ranked 10th by FutureConsiderations)

Craig Button beat the tar out of Virtanen ranking him 43rd in his final rankings (although that’s where Jake’s been all year on Craig’s list) but I think there’s no doubt he goes Top 10. The powerful Hitmen forward nearly scored 50 as a draft eligible in the ‘Dub this year and alongside his wicked shot has the best skating ability in the draft. Forwards, backwards, with or without the puck, Jake proved he was the fastest of everybody at the Top Prospects Game in Calgary earlier this year. All this at 6’1, 210lbs. That’s a “Burke” player if I’ve ever seen one. 

I’ve personally witnessed the Flames president at a number of Hitmen games this season and Virtanen seems to perform well when Sonic – err – I mean, Burke, is looking on. The kid fights, scores and plays with all the truculence you could ask for…. about 60% of the time. The consistency in his play and desire is still a work in progress but has come a long way this season which shows he’s willing to work on it. Fix that and you’ve nabbed yourself a hell of a player.

If all 3 of Ekblad, Reinhart and Bennett are gone, I think the Virtanen factor comes into play for the Flames. The kid has all the tools to be the best player in this draft in 10 years (no Jankowski pun intended), all he’s missing is that consistency factor. I wouldn’t wager anything on Calgary selecting the local enigma, but if there’s a wild card at 4, it’s him. I’d rather the Flames go a safer route than Virtanen, but wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if he ends up wearing the Flaming C come development camp. 

Potential:

Top Line Forward, considerable risk.

NHL Comparable:

Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf 

When will/should he play:

1-3 years

Conclusion

Barring something really out of left field, the Flames will land themselves a high quality prospect come the 2014 Draft who will assist the rebuild in a big way down the road. It’s unlikely whoever they select will be ready to log NHL minutes right away – let alone put up Monahan numbers, but the wait for them won’t be too long either. 

Now we just sit around and wait in anticipation for the biggest draft selection in this franchise’s history since…. last year. 

    • McRib

      Not to mention he got better as the season went on he had 45 Points in Final 21 Games (2.14PPG). During the months of November (22 Points), February (26 Points) & March (19 Points) there is no doubt in my mind that Leon Draisaitl was by far the best prospect anywhere.

      • piscera.infada

        In all seriousness, I like him as a prospect, but not more than Reinhart or Bennett. I won’t go as far as Christian, as when I saw him it wasn’t his “dangling” that stood out to me. His vision was exceptional, his passes are crisp and he was an absolute beast on the powerplay. That said, he was completely lost in his own zone, to the point where he was just pickin’ cherries for the majority of the game. Perhaps it was because his team was getting beat pretty bad, or perhaps that’s just what his focus was from the coach. It still gives me pause though. Don’t get me wrong, if he’s there at 4, I think he’s a great pick (like any of the “top-4”). He’s just going to need some work to really thrive in the show – but none of these prospects really strike me as much different in that regard. I’ve just always been partial to draft-eligibles who can at least find their own zone on a map.

  • McRib

    Nice piece on Virtanen I would actually probably rather him over Dal Colle after hearing that he played injured (interview with Vancouver Province) for the entire second half of the season and the U18s where he was the most offensive player despite his shoulder regularly popping out!! He is the best skater and has the best shot hands down in the draft and even playing injured for half a season he managed to score 45 goals (tied for tops of all prospects with Fabbri who played on the first line of the deepest team in the CHL). I think the kid is going to score 55+ goals in his sleep next year in junior, as Mike Williamson had him on the third line some nights this year. I understand he only has an average Hockey IQ, but lets face it if he had a great Hockey IQ he would be the clear cut first overall pick this year. Absolutely worse case he reminds me of Max Pacioretty a guy that is going to score 35-40 goals for 10-15 plus seasons. Best case like you said Ryan Getzlaf or even a Steven Stamkos Lite.

    Although I am a little doubtful the Flames draft him as Craig Button’s brother as we all know is our Head Scout… Is Craig trying to down grade him for us or something (that 43 ranking is insane)?!?! I don’t buy it though maybe they just don’t like him… Craig Button is certainly doing no favours for the Flames in helping us get Travis Sanheim in the second round that’s for sure, just ranked him 8th in his final rankings!!

    • McRib

      Virtanen is certainly a more interesting pick than Dal Colle, no question… but I don’t think I could justify taking the Calgarian over the… where’s Dal Colle from again?

      Yes, that’s right. I actually said something that’s sort of close to praise about Dal Colle.

      I’d still take Draisaitl over either though. He looks like all his weight is in his core… skinny arms, skinnier legs.

      All that said, I still think Reinhart is the best fit for the Flames (at least of the forwards).