Looking back at the past 12 picks at 15th overall

Let’s face it, picking at 15th overall isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Flames still need high end talent yet, particularly in the areas of defence and right wing (the jury’s still out on goaltending, but that’s looking okay for the time being).

One of the most surefire ways to get that high end talent? Pick high in the draft. Calgary was in that position not too long ago, and received what looks to be incredible centre depth – Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett – for the troubles of their less-than-stellar seasons. 

Making the playoffs has taken them out of that position. While they have the lowest possible pick of any playoff team (and how awesome is it to beat the Vancouver Canucks and still pick before them?), halfway through the first round isn’t as likely to bring you that impact player to help get you over the hump from a team on the rise to a regular contender.

Here’s a look back at the last 12 players to be picked at 15th overall, dating back to that monstrous 2003 draft, and whether they ended up being helpful, or busting.

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2014: Dylan Larkin

It’s far too early to start making judgments about picks not even a year after, but so far, it’s looking good for the centre taken by the Red Wings. In his draft year, he was a point per game with the U-18 US development team. In the year since, he’s scored 47 points over 35 games as a freshman at the University of Michigan, where he’s the second highest scorer on his team. So are there potential impact players available at 15th overall? It’s looking good.

Really, the only fault one can find here is the fact that David Pastrnak, taken 25th overall, has already made the NHL, and has scored 27 points over 46 games as an 18-year-old. That’s it. Good players are available throughout the first round, even if you’re picking later. It’s just a matter of choosing correctly, and so far, last year’s 15th overall pick is trending that way.

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2013: Ryan Pulock

The huge defenceman selected by the Islanders has only just gotten his professional career underway, but it’s looking good for him so far. While he was never able to be a point per game player in the WHL, in his rookie pro year he’s already at over half a point per game, with 29 points over 54 games in his debut season.

There are a few players taken after him in the first round of the 2013 draft that have already made the NHL, though. Nikita Zadorov (albeit on a horrible Buffalo team), Curtis Lazar (though he really didn’t score much at all), and Andre Burakovsky (who spent time in the AHL this past season) are some of those first rounders who slipped past him, but have made their debuts ahead of him. Really, though, like with Larkin, it’s far too early to judge, but the early returns on him – and some later first rounders – are looking good.

2012: Cody Ceci

The Senators defenceman has made the NHL. Really, he made it the season before, but this past year, with 81 games played, he’s a full timer. He’s been alright – after all, it took him not even two full years after being drafted to make it, and stick – but there were a couple of other first rounders taken after him who are bringing greater impact to their respective teams.

Tomas Hertl, Olli Maatta, and Tanner Pearson are some of those guys, and it looks like Teuvo Teravainen is joining that list. (Not Mark Jankowski, sorry.) Maatta, the only other defenceman mentioned here, was 22nd overall, and it took him just one year after being drafted to make the NHL fulltime. He’s already providing outstanding impact, and looks far better at this point in time. Again, not to say Ceci was a bad pick; more to point out that there’s a wealth of good players, and the Flames shouldn’t have to worry about running out of quality by the time it’s their turn.

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2011: JT Miller

The Rangers’ left winger is just starting to cement his spot in the NHL, and he’s doing a good job of it thus far. He’s putting up points, and was a decent contributor in New York’s playoff run. He’s not looking like a superstar or anything, but at 15th overall four years ago, the Rangers appear to have scooped up a serviceable player. Having your guy actually make the NHL is important – see past blunders involving Chuckos and Pelechs and Irvings and Nemiszes – and getting an NHLer at 15th overall is important. That happened in 2011.

Besides, looking at first rounders that came after Miller, it’s hard to imagine who should have gone earlier than him, if anybody. Considering what was available, the Rangers look like they’ve nailed their first round pick for the 2011 draft class. (Guys like Nikita Kucherov and Johnny Gaudreau falling are everyone’s fault.)

2010: Derek Forbort

With five years to look back on, we can start judging draft picks with greater certainty, and the Kings’ pick really isn’t looking too good at the moment. Forbort, a defenceman, has played his past two full seasons in the AHL, and has yet to make his NHL debut.

You know who has made his NHL debut, though? The 16th overall pick from that draft, Vladimir Tarasenko. Some other guys that came later in the first round who, in hindsight, would likely have been higher picks include Nick Bjugstad, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Charlie Coyle. While there are a number of names taken late in 2010 who don’t look like they’re about to amount to much, there were some definite gems to be found well after 15th overall – and players definitely better than the guy who was taken there.

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2009: Peter Holland

Originally taken by the Ducks, Holland is now a centre for the Leafs. It’s taken him a lot longer to actually make the NHL – really, this past season was his first as a regular – and he hasn’t exactly been high scoring. At 24, he hasn’t truly hit his peak yet, but it’s fast approaching.

The 2009 first round offers its fair share of busts later in the first round – Tim Erixon, anyone? – but there are also a handful of later guys who are looking to have some very nice careers. Nick Leddy is doing well for himself, as are Chris Kreider, Marcus Johansson, and Simon Despres. While it’s definitely better to be picking higher up, with the benefit of hindsight we’re seeing a lot of good players be passed over at 15th, only to fall to a lucky team further down the pack. 

2008: Erik Karlsson

And then, there’s this guy. Typically, at 15th overall, you’re not expecting an elite player. Sure, it’d be nice, but those guys are more reserved for higher up.

The Senators struck gold with Karlsson, though. If the Flames manage to get someone of his caliber at 15th overall in this draft, then it’s time to celebrate this past season as the absolutely perfect year in which expectations were exceeded on every facet. It’s probably not happening, but hey, it’s possible.

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2007: Alex Plante

Bless the Oilers. They’ve been after defence for some time now, and Plante was… not the answer. Never really was. As a 25-year-old, he spent this past season in Norway, to give you an idea. A 15th overall pick can completely bust out on you.

And extremely good players can be taken after him. Do names like Max Pacioretty and David Perron ring a bell? Mikael Backlund certainly should. There weren’t a ton of names following Plante that turned out to be far better first round selections, but just enough to make you cringe. Hindsight has not been kind to the Oilers in this draft.

2006: Riku Helenius

Who? Basically. This former Lightning first round pick spent the past season playing goalie in the KHL. Before that, he was in the AHL, ECHL, throughout Europe… Helenius played not even seven minutes in the NHL, and that was it. So basically what I’m taking from this is, do not select a goalie at 15th overall. (Not that that’s a concern this year.)

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First rounders taken after Helenius include Claude Giroux and, uh, actually another goalie in Semyon Varlamov who, in a professional situation at least, things worked out much better for. Giroux taken at 22nd overall is massive though. Again: it’s possible to bust at 15th, and while it’s less likely, you can end up leaving elite talent on the table for someone else to scoop up.

2005: Ryan O’Marra

It has been 10 years, and so, enough time has passed to look at the Islanders for choosing this centre and judge them, hard. O’Marra put together a nearly point per game season in the EIHL this past year, so that’s something, but not really what you want to happen to your 15th overall pick. He did manage to get an NHL goal, though. Just one, but hey, it’s more than any of us are probably ever gonna get.

At the same time, guys like Tuukka Rask, TJ Oshie, Andrew Cogliano, and Matt Niskanen were left on the table, from 21st overall down, so… again, you can bust and leave good NHL talent for others. There are good players throughout the first round, you just have to be sure you nab them. Things are less certain at 15th, but still more likely than 16th, 20th, 25th. It’s just not a guarantee.

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2004: Alexander Radulov

This wasn’t a bad pick by the Predators; rather, Radulov was looking good, right up until he left, never to return, except for that small handful of games when the Preds were trying to make a playoff run. And then scratched him for being out late. And… held out for an extra game. Taking Radulov in the draft was a worthy gamble; excessive scratching was not.

There were a couple of good players taken after Radulov – most notably Cory Schneider and Mike Green – but really, not that many. For where he ended up, Radulov was a great pick. Sometimes things just don’t work out, but they still worked out better for the Preds than most of the first rounders taken after.

2003: Robert Nilsson

And here, we come to that ridiculously stacked 2003 draft class, where every first rounder played an NHL game (shoutout to Hugh Jessiman!) and several became All-Stars. The Islanders’ 15th overall pick, who has spent the past few seasons in Switzerland, was not one of them.

He put together a few decent seasons, but never really amounted to much NHL-wise. Guys who were drafted after him? Perhaps most notably Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, though Zach Parise, Brent Burns, and Ryan Kesler are pretty good, too, as was Mike Richards for a long while. Nilsson was one of a handful of blunders to come out of that first round.

2015: ?

This year’s draft is a good one, and there’s a giant mishmash of worthy players available at 15th overall. Recent history tells us the Flames will, in all likelihood, not be getting an impact player. (Flames history, on the other hand, tells us they will, because the Flames have only selected 15th overall once before in their history, and they chose this guy named Al MacInnis, and you can draw your own conclusions from there.)

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As we go further and further back through time, though, we see more and more busts. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Scouting has gotten better over the years, and with it, teams’ abilities to make good picks, and,
  2. New draft picks always look fresh and rosy, but history may not be kind to them at all.

Serviceable guys get taken at 15th overall. So do busts. Hopefully the Flames get the former, not the latter… although pulling another Erik Karlsson out would be the ideal outcome. Knock on wood.


    When you look at old scouting reports of Karlsson it looks like Oliver Kylington or Jacob Larsson fit the bill… although Kylington has dropped out of the top 30.

    • Christian Roatis

      Yep, Kylington and junior Karlsson are nearly identical with exception of Karlsson’s flow.

      I also wonder what value draft history has, if at all? As Ari pointed out, it shows more the improvement of scouting over the years rather than provide any value to a team about to pick 15th.

      • The GREAT Walter White

        Initial reports of Kylington were very promising, but he has fallen out of favor after a bad Five Nations tournament..

        Not much was known of Karlsson either until he than he had a good World Junior tournament..

        That’s a small sample size to judge a player on if you ask me.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    A review of the Flames mid first round picks paints an ugly picture…(Baerchi, Backlund, Jankowski) probably more relevant for an article like this.


    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      Umm… If I get a chance to take another Backlund with my 15th pick I do it…..

      Baerchi was a reasonable pick.

      Jankowski looks to be utter garbage.

      • Burnward

        Still need more time to see how things play out, but at this point I’d say all three players look pretty good. I’m thinking Jankowski turns out the best of the three, but we’ll have to see.

        • Ramskull

          The list of guys taken after Backlund in that draft that have had more success than him is pretty short and only one (PK Subban) was taken within 30 spots after him. You should really go back and look at that draft history before you say Backlund should have been a third round pick.

        • Burnward

          Walter, now that Lambert has been reassigned to the full FN, you seem to be rushing into that void…. too bad.

          As for Backlund, what’s wrong with a very good-elite shutdown/possesion 2C with additional offensive contributions? I’d say that’s pretty much a home run at any point except the top handful of picks.

          Just because we see he has additional untapped offensive potential doesn’t mean we shouldn’t appreciate what he does bring. Can he be better? Yes, it seems. Is he still very good? Yes, yes he is.

        • Christian Roatis

          Getting a bonafide NHLer – possession beast to boot – at 24th overall is an overwhelming success. The superstars don’t fall that far and the late bloomers are few and far between. Your expectations may be too high.

          • Christian Roatis

            Yes sir. It ended up being Backlund and Negrin (3rd rounder) for Ian Cole (Flames’ 1st to St. Louis). Sutter traded down a lot, if I remember correctly.

          • Christian Roatis

            He did it every damn year. And he wouldn’t have had to if he didn’t keep flipping those 2nd rounders in the first place (somehow he never managed to recoup those 2nd rounders though, in spite of all the trades down).

          • The GREAT Walter White

            Again, how does that make Backlund a bust? Even if he wasn’t one of the better players in his draft (he is) he’s still a full time NHLer, and an above average one. There are far better examples of busts the flames traded down for (Greg Nemisz, Tim Erixon, Matt Pelech, Leland Irving, Kris Chucko). This isn’t about the Flames being bad at drafting in the middle of the first round, it’s about them being a historically poor drafting team.

        • The GREAT Walter White

          Since when is 24th overall a mid first?

          Seriously. You get a full-time shutdown center who can play up and down the lineup at the end of the first round and you’re laughing. That’s exactly what the Flames did.

          Besides, Backlund was probably the 10th or 11th best player taken that year. 2007 was a brutal draft.

  • KiLLKiND

    Damn was I ever wrong about Erixon. Pains me greatly, but excellent trade by Feaster there; his best actually.

    Kylington doesn’t have Karlsson’s brain, full stop. Comparisons stop and end at their skating as far as I’m concerned.

    Any player who will play as many games in the NHL as Backlund has/will can’t be considered a bust regardless of when they’re picked.

  • McRib

    Funny in 2011 when we drafted Baertschi I really wanted us to take JT MIller. Not that Baertschi was a bad pick and more of bad player development by a new management team that gave up on the previous regimes pick.

    I actually think its funny people think we might draft Timo Meier, highly touted Swiss prospects are always over confident, because they know if playing in the NHL doesn’t work out they can go play in front of 12,000+ people in Switzerland every night for good money. Not the route our management is going.

  • McRib

    Every time someone brings up Greg Nemisz’s name all I can think of is literally my favourite draft eligible player in the WHL that year going the next pick…. Tyler Ennis….

    Trading down out of the Top. 20 is a very very bad idea and something Sutter did waaaayyy too often!!! The talent level drops off significantly in that range in all but incredibly deep, once in a decade draft years. If we selected 14th in 2012 we couldn’t have gone wrong with the next eight picks… Teuvo Teravainen, Tomas Hertl, Zemgus Girgensons, Cody Ceci, Tomas Hertl, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Scott Laughton, Tom WIlson. Then the draft like usual fell off a cliff (outside of Olli Maatta).