It’s rare for an 18-year-old to step directly into the NHL, and even rarer so for it to be someone selected further down in the draft. While Sean Monahan made the Flames directly out of camp, and Sam Bennett may have as well had he not been injured, the Flames’ first pick in this upcoming draft will almost certainly not see any NHL ice time in 2015-16.
And that’s alright. While new talent is always exciting, patience is a virtue. Besides, it could end up being a few years yet before he’s ready, and it’s not as though the Flames will be hurting in the meantime.
We’ve been spoiled lately, anyway
Once upon a time, the Flames had no prospects to speak of. All hope lay on Mikael Backlund and TJ Brodie, because the only other choice was basically Greg Nemisz, and that just wasn’t happening.
Remember Roman Horak? He was fun, in part thanks to his making the NHL before Tim Erixon did. A major problem with that, though: Horak isn’t in the NHL anymore. And yet, just a few years ago, he was one of the better younger Flames available. It was sad.
We’ve seen better days as of late, though. Sean Monahan made the team right away, and while the Flames in his rookie season were pretty terrible, he was worth watching. First goals are always exciting, and Monahan not only got his quickly, but scored a bunch more to cement his spot in the NHL. That led to the countdown for a Flames rookie to score 20 goals, something that hadn’t happened in some time.
With Monahan’s rookie season behind us, though, the Flames didn’t have any shiny new toys… until an older one emerged. It wasn’t a certain thing that Johnny Gaudreau would be in the NHL for the entire 2014-15 season, but he made his case to stay, and so, we were treated to a second exciting rookie year.
The streak isn’t even ending there. A year of Bennett’s entry deal is gone, but his actual rookie season remains. What we saw in his time on Backlund’s wing in the playoffs was awesome; now, we get an entire year of that kid.
Hopefully someone will be ready to step it up for 2015-16 to keep it exciting rookie movement going, but even if that’s not the case, it’s been a pretty good stretch.
There’s still a lot more youth to go around
The Flames are a young team.
Monahan will be playing his third NHL season, and he’ll only be 21. Gaudreau, in his second, will be 22. Eighteen-year-old Sam Bennett will turn 19, and probably end up being the youngest player on the team.
But there are more young guys beyond them. Micheal Ferland’s NHL career may officially be underway, and he’s 23. Drew Shore has more to offer, and he’s 24. There are a handful of 25-year-olds, like TJ Brodie, Lance Bouma, Joe Colborne, and Josh Jooris (who isn’t 25 yet, but will be when the next season starts). And that’s without even counting guys who aren’t regulars yet but may soon push themselves there: your Markus Granlunds, Emile Poiriers, Kenney Morrisons, Tyler Wotherspoons.
At 33, Jonas Hiller and Deryk Engelland are the old men of the group. The Flames are an exceptionally young team, and getting even younger really isn’t a concern for them at all.
Draft for need, or best player available?
So, if you aren’t expecting your first round draft pick to challenge for a spot any time soon, do you take into account what position he plays?
The Flames are picking in a spot not only with a very wide selection of good players available, but with many of those players fulfilling roles they desperately need. Defence is an issue, so Jeremy Roy, Jakub Zboril, and Thomas Chabot will be there. Right wing is an area of weakness, but Travis Konecny, Nick Merkley, and Daniel Sprong could fill that hole.
Does that mean you discount someone like Evgeny Svechnikov just because he plays left wing, though? Or Kyle Connor, yet another left-shooting centre?
It shouldn’t. If a left winger or centre is the highest pick on the Flames’ scouts’ lists when it’s their turn, then they should probably go with that player.
We all know defence and right wing are the Flames’ weakest points. We also didn’t know Kenney Morrison or Drew Shore were to be members of their prospect pool, just as we didn’t know Josh Jooris would actually turn out to be the real deal.
The draft is one way to acquire necessary talent, but it’s not the only way. Smart trades will do it, as will free agency. What if the Flames sign Cody Franson and Michael Frolik in the off-season? The prospect depth in those positions is still rather thin, but those two positions in the actual NHL lineup don’t look like as big of a problem anymore.
If the Flames end up with too many high quality left wingers, it’s easier to trade one of them for a position of weakness than to draft a weaker player just because he’s a right winger.
That said, if they’re evenly torn between a lefty and a righty, the righty should win out on the basis of positional need. But if they like the lefty more, take the lefty. If they like the centre more than the defenceman, take the centre.
We have no idea what the Flames will look like a year from now, and with the 15th overall pick unlikely to make an impact until at least then, selecting based primarily on position makes little sense. If the organization’s favourite player happens to fill a position of need, then all the better. If he doesn’t, though, that’s no reason to discount him. Professional sports are both fickle and unpredictable, and approaching the draft – a time for futures – with an eye fixed on the present doesn’t account for that.