Musings on the alternate universe in which the Flames draft Olli Maatta

It wasn’t too long ago the Flames weren’t looking so great on defence. Not in regards to the quality of their play, specifically, but in regards to the future of the blueline. TJ Brodie was 24 years old last season, and… that was about it for guys in their mid-early 20s.

Of course, Calgary addressed this situation very recently. Not only did they draft both Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington in the second round to bolster their defence prospect base – which really wasn’t looking particularly great – but they acquired Dougie Hamilton at little cost to themselves.

But what if they’d done something a few years before that? In the 2012 NHL draft, the Flames traded down to the 21st overall pick and used it to select Mark Jankowski, a player still developing in college who may or may not turn out to be great. At 22nd overall, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Olli Maatta: now a 20-year-old who, despite a barrage of injury and health problems, is already almost at 100 NHL games, and has taken on a role in the top four of a perennial playoff team.

What if Maatta had gone 21st overall, rather than 22nd?

The forwards with Jankowski

When the Flames went with Mark Jankowski, they had very, very little centre depth in the organization. There was Matt Stajan, Mikael Backlund, and… Olli Jokinen? Mike Cammalleri the winger? It was pretty disastrous, with only a small handful of prospects, including the just-selected Max Reinharts and Markus Granlunds.

The Flames needed centres. Badly. And although he was going to be at least a college degree away, they chose to go with a centre they were very, very high on.

Here’s the problem, though – and this isn’t something the 2012 drafting staff could have predicted at the time – the lack of centres was fixed, rather quickly, before Jankowski had barely finished half of his collegiate career.

The year after Jankowski, the Flames drafted Sean Monahan. Backlund established himself. Two years after Jankowski, the Flames drafted Sam Bennett.

Monahan and Bennett already look – and project – to be very, very good. Backlund has proven himself an exceptional defensive centre. Stajan is a veteran rock who is probably going to find himself pushed out sooner rather than later, and then there’s still Granlund, or Joe Colborne, or Josh Jooris, or Bill Arnold, or Paul Byron, or– It goes on a while, now.

Now, Jankowski doesn’t have next to no competition against which to compete. He has a lot. A lot that have already proven themselves NHLers. And at least two he’s rather unlikely to pass, probably placing him out of the top six, if he makes it that far.

This isn’t to discredit Jankowski, or say he’s never going to make it, or the pick went horribly wrong. It’s to say that when he was drafted, he had a much, much easier route than he does in the years since – years the team knew he wouldn’t be contending for a roster spot.

Jankowski still has potential, but among this revamped centre group, he’s going to need a hell of a lot more.

The defence with Maatta

One year after being drafted, Olli Maatta made the NHL full time. Not just that, but he made the top four – and certainly would have been in the Flames’ top four by the end of his first season at absolute latest, as a 19-year-old.

For a team that was lacking in young, quality defencemen, he would have put a huge dent in that conundrum. He would have firmly been a top four defenceman in his sophomore year – this past season – and although he’s already had his own unfortunate luck with health issues and injuries (health issues unavoidable; injuries, who’s to say the same thing happens if he’s on a different team? That’s getting really alternate universe, though), he would have greatly helped when available – especially when Mark Giordano went down.

At the same time, there’s a potential downside to this: do the Flames still trade for Dougie Hamilton if they already have Maatta? Maatta looks good, but Hamilton is a bigger, right-shooting defender who has already performed at a higher level in more difficult circumstances, while only being a year older.

You take Hamilton over Maatta, so the way things have worked out for the Flames isn’t so bad, after all.

Can you imagine?

Still, Maatta alone wouldn’t have fixed the defence. And if Hamilton was still available at the price at which the Flames got him – just three picks, without a single roster player involved – then you make that trade. Every time.

Giordano would be the oldest member of the top four, at nearly 32; rounding it out would be TJ Brodie (25), Hamilton (22), and Maatta (will be 21). That would be… incredibly set for the future on the blueline. 

That isn’t the route Calgary went, though. Instead, they went after centres, an area that already looks incredibly impressive in year three of the rebuild. There’s Backlund (26), Monahan (soon to be 21), and Bennett (19): an established group down the middle for years to come. If Jankowski reaches the potential first seen in him in his draft year, then that group becomes all the more impressive.

That’s still an if, though. Jankowski may never make the NHL to begin with – and there were other players available in 2012 who already have. 

We’ll see. But it’s fun to think about.

  • redhot1

    Other teams are probably having the conversation: Imagine if we drafted TJ Brodie one pick before the Flames in the 2008 fourth round? We could have had one of the best youmg dmen in the league!

  • T&A4Flames

    Always love reading your stuff Arii. I always hate re-hashing the coulda’,shouda’ with Janko and players that were there for us at 14 and then again at 21, but in hindsight we could have used Maata more at this point. Saying that though, and yes you said we may have still picked up Hamilton, would our team have finished low enough in the next 2 years with Maata to grab Monahan and then Bennet? Would we have still had the assets we did to grab Hamilton? There are so many ifs in these scenarios. I think it’s best just to be happy with how things played out. We are on the right track to become perennial contenders for the SC. And, C is always a position in demand. If Janko does develop into that player, then we have so many options to make moves to keep adding to a strong and deep organization.

  • supra steve

    Looking at the many surprising or “reach” picks that occurred in the first round of the 2015 draft, I think we’re in for more of these types of selections in the future rather than less. JumpJet brought up Gaudreau and how other teams coveted him. Those same GM’s and chief scouts may be more likely in the future to just take the guys they REALLY take a liking to rather than following the consensus or “safe” picks. Boston was another club that had eyes for Gaudreau, and they made some “interesting” selecting in the first round just a few weeks back.

    Also I will say again, what makes anyone believe that the Flames would have taken Maatta at #21 if Janko had never been born? Also, why would they have traded down if Janko wasn’t there as a target?

    Lastly, bye-bye Bennett, if the Flames had an extra legit top 4 D during that season.

    • Brent G.

      Today I saw they are selling McDavids Oiler jersey framed. Previously I wanted him to fail miserably because f*ckthe Oilers, now it’s because they are hyping the sh*t out of someone who hasn’t even officially worn the jersey. He looks good but is by no means established at all.

      • The GREAT Walter White

        McSuck&luck 2015 will be a good NHL player, no doubt.

        But will he be Gretzky, Crosby, Lemieux good? No way.

        Will he be Stamkos, Tavares, Toews good? Unlikely.

        Probably more like Iginla, Kessel, Hull good.

        Don’t get me wrong; a very good player….but expectations are out of control up north.

        “McDisappointment”….

        WW

        • supra steve

          I’m really not in a position to judge this, but all indications are that he may well be Gretzky, Crosby, Lemieux good. I will add Lindros into that group as well, and we all know what can happen to any player if misfortune/injury strikes. I hope McDavid is all he is hyped to be, but framing his jerseys is a lot premature, and immature.

          • The GREAT Walter White

            I have read a lot of McStats and have seen a lot of his highlights.

            But I have only seen him play on a regular basis on 2 occasions:

            The World Juniors and OHL Finals.

            The World Juniors: not only was he not the best player of the tournament, he wasn’t even the best player on team Canada (He did come back from injury so that may have been a factor?).
            The only points he got were on the power play and secondary assists.

            OHL finals: he was neutralized by Smith and Castles …..2 players who may never play in the NHL…

            You may have seen it differently?

            WW

          • supra steve

            Just unusual to see you even entertaining the thought that you could be wrong. Also your “sample size”. I get my kicks from the little things I guess.

            My position is this was a 17 year old kid, playing in a 19 year old tournament (World Jr). Just back from injury, and the kid just got better and better as the tournament progressed.

            As for Memorial Cup, hey he got there, that is no small feat.

          • The GREAT Walter White

            It was his second appearance at World Juniors. Surely a generational player can do better….

            He never got his team to the Memorial cup final.
            That’s the point…surely a generational player can do better….

            WW

          • T&A4Flames

            As for the Memorial Cup, McDud didn’t even get there…you are embellishing his junior years greatly!

            And already making McExcuses for McDud, when he isn’t even in the NHL yet!

  • Brent G.

    If you have seasons tickets you should give the Oiler games away to someone that can enjoy McDavid ripping your team and defence apart . Spare yourself the agony/erroneous predictions and give those tickets away . Not all Flame fans have callouses over their eyes – they know what real talent is .

    • Rockmorton65

      I don’t know of a fan from any team that says McDavid isn’t talented. That’s not it. It’s Oiler fans making silly comments about how he & he alone is all the Oilers will need to become a dynasty. He’s good, but the days where one or two elite players can lead a bad team to glory are long gone. Look at Pittsburgh. Two best centres, and a patchwork of middling players. They have decent regular seasons, but are exposed easily in the playoffs. Now look at LA & Chicago. They have an elite player or two, but their supporting cast is rock solid.

      None of your former first rounders have reached their full potential. So now along comes McDavid and suddenly everyone will, not only meet, but exceed expectations? Please.

      Tell me, when facing the Kopitar’s, Getzlaf’s, Toew’s, on a nightly basis, does The Nugget continue to get his head kicked in or will it be McDavid?

    • Ken V.

      If you have Oilers season tickets be prepared to see McDavid out for the season because he didn’t see Ferland coming in the Penticton tournament. Book that E-Town trolls!

  • The GREAT Walter White

    Who’s to say Maatta would’ve signed with us let alone developed the same way, a million things could have changed had we drafted, regardless that would be a filthy top 4, my other favorite alternate universe is the one where we trade engelland to the pens for depres.

    • Brent G.

      McDavid is nothing more than the recent draftee by Shelbyville that the fans can put all of their stupid little hopes and dreams into, ultimately destroying the poor b@stard in the process. That’s not to say McDavid won’t be a really good, skilled, hockey player but reality will set in, in 4 months, and we will see how one 18 year old prospect won’t right the ship for the Oilers; you will once again be living in Calgarys shadows for the 2015/2016 season. A couple Oiler fan buddies of mine honestly believe they will win the cup this year, completely overlooking forward depth, mediocre (at best) defense, and unproven goaltending.

      I agree with WW. He will be really good but is extremely over-hyped. No single player can change a teams results that much anymore. For a kid who hasn’t even officially worn the jersey it is premature to buy his # for your own wearing purposes and incredibly stupid to buy framed. Remember when everyone ran out to buy Svens jersey after he played one game? How’d that turn out..?

      • Cfan in Vic

        Let me explain my comments on McDavid . They are what they are , irrelevant on any club he may have gone to . My favorite clubs are Oilers and the Flames by the way , because I am an Albertan . Oilers have a long ways to go even to get up one spot from last year even with McDavid . I , as a hockey fan , am really looking to see such a talent , as he looks like the super talent all say he is . He stands an excellent chance therefore to press the likes of Gretzky and Crosby first years in league if he is that good . Eyeball wise I agree he is that high level of a talent . I look forward to his first year regardless , even if he were a Saber . First and foremost it’s about McDavid not the Oilers . Having such high expectations has little to do with destroying him a or anyone else . Hoe did you even put Sven in the conversation with a talent like McDavid is mystifying . Are you the other side of WW ?

      • Rockmorton65

        Here is the thing that matters going into next season. Despite the experts, Flames made the playoffs on performances of young players we looked toward for the future. Sort of our McDavids so to speak. We go into next year with expectations & more hope & dreams. We hope our young future core players like Monahan, Gaudreau & Bennett make even more progress & take further steps to establishing themselves as elite players in this league, we expect our defence to be even better & more lethal than it was last year & the dream to make a deeper run in the playoffs with confidence. I don’t think anyone would deny this perspective of the 2015-16 Flames..

        Oilers go into next season loaded with question marks , reluctant expectation & a boat load of pressure on one very good 18 year old hockey player to change what has been a perpetual disappointing season by the end of November year after year. You have a great opportunity to pour more salt into the wounds of your Oiler fan buddies that are expecting a SC. You lucky sod. The Oiler fan buddies I know are smart enough to say that they are just looking forward to seeing what kind of player McDavid turns out to be & things can’t possibly be worse than these last two years. It’s no fun when they have the wounds covered up like that. Have fun with them this fall you lucky dog.

  • zachg

    Will if we hadn’t of picked Jan Ko I would have never experienced the ” who the f$$$ is that” moment followed by extreme drinking. Never ever have I been so mad water hinges a Draft. Lol good times

  • Cool Story, Brodie!!!

    Every thread from now until the season starts is gonna have some oiler douche beakin off about McDavid. It’s the same off-season conjecture they throw at us every year at this time and at this point it’s just background noise.
    Now as far as the article is concerned Maatta was probably the better choice at the time but I like how things have worked out regardless.
    Say what you will about jankos disappointing development trend but the fact of the matter is the kid is a winner. He’s risen to all the challenges put in front of him and done everything that’s been asked of him. He’ll be a great addition to the team when he’s ready. No rush

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    This is a useless exsercise.

    Imagine the alternate universe where calgary drafts Martin Brodeur at #21 in 1990 instead of trading their first round selection in 1990, Detroit’s second round selection in 1990 (previously acquired)which could have been Sergei Zubov, and Minnesota’s second round selection in 1990 (previously acquired) which could have been Doug Weight to the New Jersey Devils for the Devils’ first and second round selections in 1990.

    For all those players they could have had, they drafted Trevor Kidd.

    The Jankowski pick and moves to do it are NOWHERE near the blunder of the 1990 moves.

    Woulda, coulda, shoulda