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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2012 – Feaster
The Jankowski year!
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.
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.
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.
2016 – Treliving
Matthew Tkachuk. Definitely a successful first round.
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.