Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

How well have the Flames drafted in first rounds? A partial Mark Jankowski retrospective

The Calgary Flames’ selection of Mark Jankowski in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft was, at the time, somewhat of a curious decision.

It was a bit confusing that the Flames, a team with historically bad luck in the first round, would take a flyer on a lanky kid from Stanstead College who barely fit into the jersey presented to him on the stage.

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Far from a sure thing, this was a player who was cut from AAA in Ontario, was playing Canadian high school hockey, and was known to be a “long term project”. What made things worse was that the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted Olli Maatta with the 22nd selection, the pick immediately after Jankowski. Maatta was touted for his strong two-way game and, had he not missed the World Junior Championships and the Top Prospects Game, would likely have been taken in the top 10. He definitely looked like a sure thing.

Now far removed from the Feaster era, the Flames are reaping the rewards of his great gamble in a big way. After an impressive rookie campaign in the AHL last season, Jankowski emerged as one of the Flames’ best prospects. He may not have been in the lineup on opening night, but he’s solidified himself as an NHL regular and was told to make Calgary his permanent home prior to the Christmas break.

The Flames may have been rewarded for their choice to reach for Jankowski in the first round, but over the last decade, reaching hasn’t always been the case. More often than not, the Flames saw their first round picks wasted on players like Leland Irving and Greg Nemisz. Jankowski may have turned out well, but what if the Flames had made the simple choice and selected Olli Maatta, a player ranked higher thank Jankowski on the draft board? What if the Flames had always selected the highest ranked player? Is Jankowski an anomaly, or were the Flames just destined for sadness? Let’s take a look.

All rankings used below were taken from the consolidated ISS rankings.

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2006 – Sutter

The Flames selected Leland Irving with the 26th pick. He was a promising prospect who had just put up 37 wins with a 1.92 GAA and .925 SV% for the Everett Silvertips. He only managed to squeeze into 13 NHL games with Calgary, bouncing around the AHL and Europe for the rest of his career.

The best available player was 15th-ranked Ondrej Fiala who was coincidentally teammates with Irving in Everett. He was actually selected 40th overall by the Minnesota Wild. Fiala was a decent junior prospect who put up 53 points in 61 games in the WHL, but never played a game in the NHL.

Grade: PASS

2007 – Sutter

One of the most relevant drafts to the current Flames team, 2007 is the year that Calgary traded down from 18th to 24th with the St. Louis Blues and ended up selecting Mikael Backlund. The Blues took Ian Cole at 18, now an NHL veteran of 367 games.

Regardless of whether the Flames had opted to make a selection at 18 or trade down to 24, the best available player would have been Maksim Mayorov, actually taken 94th by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Mayorov played just 22 games in the NHL, tallying three total points over four years. At the time, Mayorov was ranked eighth overall by ISS but fell largely due to the Russian factor, which gives him an asterisk in this list. Surprisingly, Columbus had no problem bringing him over from Russia to play in the AHL, where he consistently put up 30 points. He wasn’t able to establish himself as an NHL regular and ended up back in the KHL.

Excluding Russian-born players, the best available player was Backlund, so the Flames actually followed the draft rankings for once. Backlund is still one of the team’s best ever first round selections and was clearly the better choice than Mayorov.

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Grade: PASS

2008 – Sutter

The Flames sent the 17th selection to the Los Angeles Kings in the trade that brought Mike Cammalleri to Calgary. The Flames regained a first round selection in the trade that saw Alex Tanguay go to the Montreal Canadiens, and used that pick to draft Greg Nemisz 25th overall.

This pick looks bad on the surface, but Nemisz was just removed from a 77-point season for the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL and had just competed for Canada in the U-18 tournament. He was solid in his first professional season in the Flames’ AHL affiliate Abbotsford Heat, but was never able to translate his game to the NHL level. He finished his NHL career with 15 games for the Flames, a single assist to show for it.

At 17th overall, the best available player was defenseman Luca Sbisa, actually taken two spots lower at 19 by the Philadelphia Flyers. Sbisa jumped into the NHL as a 19-year-old for the Flyers, playing 39 games. Currently a member of the Vegas Golden Knights after being selected in the expansion draft from the Vancouver Canucks, Sbisa is a veteran of 488 NHL games with 98 total points. He has plateaued as a serviceable bottom pairing defenseman.

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At 25th overall, the best available player was Russian forward Kirill Petrov. He was actually the second ranked European skater by Central Scouting, ahead of Erik Karlsson and Roman Josi, and only behind Nikita Filatov. The Russian factor was again in play; Petrov was taken 73rd by the New York Islanders. He never played in North America. Not including Russians, the top ranked player would have been defenseman Colby Robak. Playing 47 NHL games and tallying a total of four assists, Robak was far from an NHL regular. Funnily enough, he made his way to the Flames organization, currently a member of the Stockton Heat.

Grade: FAIL

2009 – Sutter

The Flames swapped first rounders with the New Jersey Devils, giving away the 20th pick for the 23rd. The Flames selected Tim Erixon who infamously refused to sign with the team before going on to have a largely ineffective NHL career after being traded following the draft.

At both spots, the best available player was Drew Shore, actually drafted 44th by the Florida Panthers. Though not currently in the NHL, Shore spent last season in the Vancouver Canucks organization, playing in 14 games for the big club. Previously, he was a member of the Flames for two seasons, playing a combined 13 games and tallying four points. Shore has 94 NHL games to his name and now plays for Zurich in the Swiss league. Shore still would have been a better pick solely due to how much of a disaster the Erixon saga was.

Grade: FAIL

2010 – Sutter

Calgary did not pick in the first round. Their first round selection (13th) went to the Phoenix Coyotes as a result of the trade that brought Olli Jokinen to Calgary. Phoenix selected Brandon Gormley with the pick who logged five points in 58 NHL games. He currently plays in Sweden.

Grade: N/A

2011 – Feaster

The Flames selected Sven Baertschi with the 13th pick. He played brilliantly during an emergency call-up but never really fit into Bob Hartley’s system. He was traded to the Canucks and is now a fixture in their top nine.

This is the first real fun situation: the best available player was defenseman Oscar Kelfbom, who was taken six picks later by the Edmonton Oilers. Klefbom is one of the few bright spots on the Edmonton blueline right now, and has steadily improved his play in each professional season. Think about all the scenarios that could have happened if the Oilers didn’t have Klefbom. Maybe the Hall for Larsson trade wouldn’t have been one-for-one.

Grade: FAIL

2012 – Feaster

The Jankowski year!

Grade: PASS

2013 – Feaster

The Flames selected Sean Monahan with the sixth pick.

Valeri Nichushkin would have been the highest ranked player at the time so it’s probably safe to say the Flames made the right choice. He’s currently playing in the KHL.

Grade: PASS

2014 – Treliving

The Flames selected Sam Bennett with the fourth pick. Despite being ranked first by Central Scouting, Michael Dal Colle was actually ranked ahead of Bennett on ISS. Dal Colle has struggled since this draft, being cut from Canada’s World Junior squad and failing to make the NHL in three consecutive years. The Flames made the right call with Bennett over Dal Colle.

Grade: PASS

2015 – Treliving

The Flames traded their first round pick in a package to the Boston Bruins for Dougie Hamilton. The top ranked player available at 15th, where the Flames would have selected, was Travis Konecny, actually taken nine spots later by the Flyers. He’s currently playing on the Flyers’ first line. Konecny is pretty good, but so is Hamilton; I’ll take Dougie any day of the week.

Grade: N/A

2016 – Treliving

Matthew Tkachuk. Definitely a successful first round.

Grade: PASS

Final Grades

Sutter: 2-2-1

Feaster: 2-1-0

Treliving: 2-0-1

Sutter wasn’t known as a good drafter during his tenure as Calgary’s GM. Despite missing the mark in both 2008 and 2009, he did manage to snag Backlund in 2007 and selecting Irving in 2006 wasn’t worse than the best player on the board at the time. With an average record, Sutter isn’t someone you’d necessarily want calling the shots for your team at the draft table.

Feaster was much better than Sutter, only really making a poor choice in 2011 when he took Baertschi over Klefbom, though he was only the GM for three drafts.

Treliving looks to be a significant improvement over his two predecessors. With no real misses so far, his body of work is impressive even when considering the fact that he had higher picks to work with. With no first round pick this year, we might have to wait another year to see what Treliving can do.

  • Flint

    I don’t follow how you’ve determined the pass/fail. Sure in a time machine who wouldn’t pick Josi over Nemisz, so I agree on the fail. But all things considered in 2009 what we got for that total bust Erixon in trade was pretty good – Granlund, Wotherspoon and Horak. Yes, it’s a huge miss to not get Ryan O’Rielly @ #33 or Jakob Silfverberg @ #39, but Erixon had a well respected pedigree and as such commanded a lot as an asset (thus a smarter pick than on first blush.)

    Erixon ended up playing 93NHL games and is a bust, but that reputation of his netted us Granlund (a serviceable NHL who has played 171games (@ .37ppg), Wotherspoon (24yrs old) who is too good for the AHL and is still in our system, and well, Horak provided slightly less than Erixon has/ever will.

    I guess, going on memory doesn’t serve well, because looking it up Johansson and Palmieri would’ve been better picks. I guess I’m just always weary of doing the revisionist history thing. Maybe we pick Palmieri instead but lots of teams picked Schroeder, Paradis, Olsen and Ashton in that range. And considering what Erixon returned it’s far from the worst picks in the #22-32 range that 7 other teams made.

    • Flint

      And Bennett was the top ranked NA skater. Will he grow into what we want? Remains to be seen, but if we’re doing revisionist history Ehlers looks sure to have been the better pick in the #4 spot than where he was taken at #9. He’s got almost twice as many goals and points.

    • cberg

      Agree with your assessment. If the PASS/FAIL is solely on the Flames actual pick(or trade target) vs the ISS top-ranked player at our draft slot, its a pretty clear PASS right across the board. 2008, Cammalleri vs Sbisa=PASS. 2009, Erixon (see above) vs Shore=PASS. 2010, Olli Jokinen vs Gormley=PASS. 2011, Baertschi vs Klefbom=PASS (arguably so, but close). 2015, Hamilton vs Koneckny=PASS.

      The author started with a reasonable premise but veered off his own stated goals midway through the writing. Clearly the Flames scouting staff through all these years was doing a much better job than the ISS rankings. Now, if you want to play the unfair revisionist game of compare the Flames’ actual pick with the eventual best player that they COULD have chosen, then Yes, the ONLY draft we won is likely Sean Monahan and perhaps Dougie Hamilton. Having said that, we also won a couple drafts outright, again (arguably) with Sean Monahan and later with Johnny Gaudreau. Mathew Tkachuk gets honourable mention in that game, as does TJ Brodie and of course Mark Giordano never even was drafted.

    • Greg

      Ya, I don’t follow the pass/fail criteria either. I mean, Irving in 2006 is a pass? Even ignoring the unpredictability of later round home runs (Lucic, Marchand), you could have had Reto freaking Berra in the 4th round instead, and he ended up doing more in the NHL level. If you’re thinking of blowing a 1st round pick on a goalie, anything other than trading down for more picks is a fail.

      And Erixon is a fail because you could have had Drew freaking Shore? lol.

      Scoring GMs on one round drafts is… well it’s fun to do, but sample size, what-ifs, etc make it a fools errand.

  • Fan the Flames

    I am always more impressed with a scouting staff that can find gems in the lower rounds that turn out to be solid NHL players . Brodie , Gudreau , Andersson, Kulak teams that draft well in lower rounds usually have the ability to be contenders year after year losing players to free agency in a cap era.

  • JoelOttosJock

    Just curious..but how is Jankowski’s draft considered a pass but Svens a fail? Janikowski has jad a cup of coffee in the league, he took his time to get here and seems like more on potential and hope that he does pan out. Sven was and is a solid player, mis management by that donkey Burke is more what happened.

    • Broken

      Rumor was Bart pouted about having to attend summer camp (a sense of entitlement), so that got him off on the wrong foot that season. Baertschi also forced Treliving’s hand and told him he wouldn’t re-sign with the Flames. We can say the team mishandled him, sure, but I don’t know why you’d lay the blame entirely on Burke.

  • supra steve

    The draft is always a roll of the dice, I will grant that. However, how anyone can give a passing grade to Sutter’s regime for the selection of Irving in 2009 is puzzling.
    What about the other two firsts from the 2013 draft…you included the 2008 first acquired from MTL, so why not the 2013 firsts obtained from PIT and STL?

  • The Beej

    2014 and 2016 were no brainers. It will be the Valimaki selection and some of the later round selections that will determine how history holds up Treliving.

    I would give Trev one get out of jail card for the rest of the 2014 draft since he had just joined the team.

    Other than that things are looking promising no?

  • freethe flames

    The early draft picks were pretty obvious and have turned out fine although Bennett is taking a little longer to materialize. once you get past the top say 10 in every draft it is often a huge guess as to who will turn out; some take longer to turn out. The article also fails to discuss Klimchuk and Poirier drafted in the first round as well. How have they faired compared to guys taken later in the first round?

  • Justthateasy

    The difference between Hamilton and Koenekny in 2015 at the actual time is huge. Hamilton was a proven commodity and the young drafty is always unknown. The Flames took the sure thing. Good move obviously.

  • buts

    Other than the top 4 or 5 ranked players the rest of the 2018 class looks very very dicey. So trading our 1st away for Hamonic might not be all that bad but BT still paid too much. Sutter couldn’t evaluate talent and it looks like BT is the same regarding coach’s.

    • Off the wall

      In all fairness to BT, it was Conroy who did the Grouse Grind with our future coach GG.
      I’m sure Conroy would have also been very involved in the coaching decision.
      I don’t believe Treliving’s all to blame for this..