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Flames late round forward targets

Over the past week or so, we’ve been looking at some of the Flames’ options at pick #16. There’s quite a swath of talent available, and even during a year when the draft class is considered weak, the Flames have pretty good odds of grabbing a high quality players.

But seeing as the Flames mostly have picks outside of the top 100, it seems a bit necessary to focus on those late rounds, especially since the Flames have started to really look for talent in low value areas. In the past two years, the Flames have picked up promising names like Andrew Mangiapane, Eetu Tuulola, Matthew Phillips, and Stepan Falkovsky.

So what could they find late this year?

Late round tendencies

To start off, we should look at how the Flames draft late, because the strategy is really different from the first round. Biases really show in the late rounds. You can’t really afford to play favourites early in the draft. Ask Darryl Sutter how that goes.

The late rounds is where they really lean on their scouts. With hundreds of eligible players and no clear choice, a GM is really going to have to take a scout’s word for it. If a scout’s opinion about one player has proven true in the past, they’ll go back to that scout, and it shows in the drafting record.

However, we only have three years, or 20 picks, worth of draft data to look at so these may not be solid or concrete trends, but they’re workable enough to whittle down the list.

Small, yet high producing

This is the obvious one.

The Flames clearly don’t mind shorter guys on their team given they can put up points. They nabbed Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Phillips in back-to-back years, and it appears to be paying off for them. The early results have been fantastic, so might as well find some more.

College-bound kids

Treliving seems to take his college gambles in later rounds, and he picks up at least one player every year.

Granted, two of them were defencemen, so they probably liked the free development that came with the pick. Mitchell Mattson, fifth rounder from last year’s draft, appears to be a long-term project player.

Belorussians, for some odd reason

I can’t remember much about Belarus in hockey besides them upsetting Sweden in the 2002 Olympics. They’re not much of a producer of high quality hockey talent.

Oddly enough, the Flames keep going back to them. They selected Pavel Karnaukhov in the fourth round of 2015 and wanted to select Stepan Falkovsky the same year, but lacked the footage (they nabbed him in the 2016 seventh round, in case you forgot). Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but Treliving has selected players from Belarus more than players from Finland or the Czech Republic (Sweden remains his favourite spot, picking up four players from there).

I can’t explain why they look for those players, but I feel they will look there again. Given Treliving’s tendency to build rapport between countrymen. hence all the Czech free agents and Swedish draft picks to complement the Swedes and Czechs already in the org, he might look for a Belorussian to complement Falkovsky, as Karnaukhov has left.

Absolutely no QMJHLers

The Flames haven’t selected a player from the Q since Mason McDonald in 2014, and perhaps that’s scaring them away. In late rounds, the Flames have always gone for OHLers or WHLers, so don’t expect anyone east of Ottawa.

Trey Fix-Wolansky

Height Weight Position (Shoots) Birthday Team (League) Statline (GP-G-A-P) NHLe
5’8″ 165 lbs RW (R) May 26, 1999 Edmoton Oil Kings (WHL) 70-24-30-54 17.08

This little ball of hate has mostly stayed off of scouts’ radars, and it’s clearly because of his diminutive stature.

But he should really get some more respect. Fix-Wolansky came in as a rookie fresh from the AJHL and finished second in scoring on a really bad Edmonton Oil Kings team. He got first line minutes and special teams time, which is rare for a kid as young as he is. The statline isn’t the most impressive, but in better circumstances he could probably hit at least a point-per-game. Fix-Wolansky’s also not afraid to step up and be physical when he needs to.

The Flames already have a similar player in Matthew Phillips which could perhaps dissuade them from selecting Fix-Wolansky, who is pretty much a bulkier version of Phillips. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they call his name in the seventh: he’s skilled, right-handed, and a pest. Three characteristics the Flames look for in drafting. He’ll have a breakout season next year.

Joseph Garreffa

Height Weight Position Birthday Team Statline NHLe
5’7″ 167 lbs F (L) Aug. 9, 1999 Kitchener Rangers (OHL) 68-25-35-60 23.15

Garreffa is another undersized guy who isn’t getting a lot of love from the scouts.

The multidimensional forward fell off of the Central Scouting list when the final edition came out, undeservedly so. He’s been a key piece on a barebones Rangers roster where it was pretty much him and Adam Mascherin. Garreffa is described as a hard working, skilled guy who is routinely the most athletic player on the ice. Always noticeable, Garreffa has distanced himself from other members on his team just by pure skill.

With an August birthday, Garreffa still has some developing to do. He has some promising production at a young age, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares when he gets an even bigger role with the team and physically develops a bit.

Ryan Hughes

Height Weight Position Birthday Team Statline NHLe
5’8″ 154 lbs F (L) July 27, 1999 Portland Winterhawks (WHL) 70-27-30-57 18.02

Another diminutive WHL product, Hughes has a bright future.

As a second liner in Portland, Hughes did some major work. He finished top 50 among the entire league for 5v5 primary points, and 10th among first time eligibles (with significantly less ice time than those ahead of him). Hughes is described as a creative player, able to make space when he needs to. He’s also considered one of the faster players in the draft, which is probably one of the first things you would notice about him

I would really like the Flames to pick up Hughes. Like Garreffa, he’s very young and very productive. He’ll have more exposure next year, and we’ll see a significant jump in his production totals.

Read his draft profile here.

Austen Keating

Height Weight Position Birthday Team Statline NHLe
6’0″ 170 lbs C (L) March 7, 1999 Ottawa 67s (OHL) 67-22-41-63 24.67

Keating is our first non-small guy on the list, but is just as underrated.

It’s quite a mystery as to why he’s slipping down the charts. He scored nearly a point-per-game in the OHL, mostly without the powerplay boosting him (44 5v5 points). His heatmap shows his tendency to work down in the high danger areas of the ice. He’s smart, speedy, and comes with a pretty deadly shot.

The criticism comes mostly from perceived “soft” issues. Keating has been raked over the coals for his unwillingness to fight in the corners or along the boards. And really, that can be coached out of him. He’s still a strong points producer with good hockey IQ and all the skills that translate well to the NHL. I really don’t care what he doesn’t do if he’s still scoring.

Read more about Keating’s season and his hidden gem status here, in Jeremy Davis’ excellent profile of him.

Kirill Maksimov

(alternatively spelt as Maximov)

Height Weight Position Birthday Team Statline NHLe
6’2″ 190 lbs W (R) June 1, 1999 Saginaw Spirit/Niagara Icedogs (OHL) 66-21-17-38 15.11

The big Russian-Canadian winger started turning heads when he was traded to Niagara, where he exploded with 15 goals in 29 games. Adjust that pace for a whole season, and that’s 35 goals.

Maksimov is an intriguing pick. He jumped up the list due to that scoring streak, but not a lot are convinced. His consistency, especially in Saginaw (to be fair, Saginaw is a really bad team), leads many to wonder if he’s truly realizing his potential or if he just got hot. Maksimov’s performance at the U18 WJCs seems to indicate the latter. He’s ranked to go around the fourth round, but it is possible he slides to the fifth or sixth. If he goes there, it’s a steal.

With speed and a hell of a shot, Maksimov has first round tools but seventh round production. He’s a gamble, but if he puts it all together, he’s a gamble that will really work out for whoever picks him.

Ostap Safin

Height Weight Position Birthday Team Statline NHLe
6’4″ 198 lbs F (L) Feb. 11, 1999 Sparta Praha (Czech) 8-1-1-2 12.71
Sparta Praha U20 24-6-12-18 NA
 Czech U18 (intl) 23-8-8-16 NA

The big Czech forward has been raising eyebrows in a draft friendly to Czech players.

Safin is all over the place. Some rank him high as 40, some don’t have him going until the seventh round. He’s a swing for the fences player. Safin has a lot of speed and shows off the occasional dangle, but at the expense of playmaking skills. Scouts note that he isn’t as hockey smart as his peers, and that he doesn’t allow the play to develop as much as he should.

Production-wise, there’s a lot of promise. Two points in eight games in one of the lesser European pro leagues may not be inspiring, but considering that he was a 17-year-old playing just over five minutes per night, we can call it a positive. His numbers internationally and in the U20 leagues also lend some hope.

Read his draft profile here.

Zach Solow

Height Weight Position Birthday Team Statline NHLe
5’9″ 181 lbs C (R) Nov. 6, 1998 Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) 56-18-51-69 28.29

If you could ever find another Johnny Gaudreau in the draft, Solow would be the guy. The parallels are too similar. Same height, same team, both highly decorated, both led their USHL team in scoring, etc.

Solow gets it done differently though. He’s more of a power forward, playmaker type rather than a pure goalscorer. He’s very good at puck possession and distribution. Solow is speedy and smart, two assets that helped him win the USHL’s Forward of the Year distinction. Based on his Central Scouting rank of 183, it’s quite clear that he’s super underrated. Just like Gaudreau.

Keep in mind that the comparison is not perfect. Gaudreau was a mid-August birthday, making him one of the youngest players in the 2011 draft. Solow is one of the older ones, which really plays into his numbers. Not to say that he isn’t good, but you should temper expectations if the Flames draft him.

Maxim Sushko

Height Weight Position Birthday Team Statline NHLe
6’0″ 179 lbs RW (L) Feb. 10, 1999 Owen Sound Attack (OHL) 54-17-15-32 15.55

To round things off, here’s our Belorussian.

Sushko came to Owen Sound on the heels of some very good performances in Belarus’ junior leagues. Sushko is not necessarily a complete player yet, but he has skills that came in handy on the Attack’s second line. He’s an impressive player who does his best work down in the slot, and also racks up primary points (17 at 5v5, 30 at all situations).

But he’s still a bit of an unknown quantity. Central Scouting appears to be high on him, but he rarely gets attention from alternative scouting services. He simply wasn’t getting the looks teammate Nick Suzuki was getting. He’ll be a faller, perhaps even going undrafted.

Final thoughts

Here’s where I would break down these picks by round. Multiple appearances indicate that they have a more than likely chance of being available in both rounds.

4th round 5th round 6th round 7th round
Kirill Maksimov Austen Keating Maxim Sushko Trey Fix-Wolansky
Ostap Safin Kirill Maksimov Joseph Garreffa Joseph Garreffa
Zach Solow Maxim Sushko
Ryan Hughes

Personal favourites of mine are Keating, Maksimov, Solow, and Fix-Wolansky, but if I had to place money on the Flames selecting one of them, I would have to go with Solow. The kid is just too similar to the team’s best player to pass on. He’s going to be available late, he will get free development at Northeastern, and he fills a lot of needs for the org.

The final rounds are hard as hell to predict, but there’s a pretty good chance that they’re going after one of these guys. We’ll find out soon.

  • buts

    Great article as there are diamonds in the rough each year. Detroit found Datzyuk, Zetterberg, the flames could do the same. The one thing about small players is that in order to survive, they are on the most part SMART and have a high hockey IQ. I’d take a small smart player over a big dummy any day. Look at Pittsburgh and Chicago, they aren’t the biggest yet they win with players that aren’t very big.

  • everton fc

    Zach Fischer, Medicine Hat Tigers. I’d take him if I were the Flames. Gerlach’s another interesting Tiger. And Cale Fleury is an interesting RDH from Kootenay. And I’m all with you on Texier if he’s still around into the 5th round…

  • Garry T

    Enough with the little guys. You can’t ice a ream of them. We need centres and right wingers in this draft and that is what I would focus on. Speed, skill and size 6 ft or better as we are being bullied and have no answers.