Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

A recent history of Flames first round picks

The Calgary Flames will select 26th overall in the first round of the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft. Since history is a pretty good teacher, let’s take a trip down memory lane and examine some recent first round selections by the Flames.

To keep things manageable, we’ll focus on first round picks made during the tenure of current head amateur scout Tod Button.

The Craig Button Era

2002: LW Eric Nystrom (10th overall)

Tod’s first NHL Draft at the helm came with his brother as general manager. The Flames traded down from 9th to 10th and took Nystrom – the 13th-ranked North American skater via Central Scouting – from the University of Michigan. Nystrom played three more years in college to finish off his degree, then spent parts of three seasons in the AHL before becoming a full-time NHL fourth liner in 2008-09. He left the Flames as a free agent during the summer of 2010.

The Darryl Sutter Era

2003: D Dion Phaneuf (9th overall)

The 8th-ranked North American skater, Phaneuf played two more seasons in the WHL before going pro following the 2004-05 lockout. He was productive early and contended for the Calder Trophy and later the Norris, but his development plateaued and he was traded to Toronto for Matt Stajan and some assorted spare parts.

2004: LW Kris Chucko (24th overall)

Some bad injury luck derailed things for the 29th-ranked skater in 2004. He went pro and was a productive AHL player, but suffered a couple nasty injuries – notably a concussion – and had to retire following the 2010-11 season.

2005: D Matt Pelech (26th overall)

Bad injury luck struck again for Pelech, the 41st-ranked skater in 2005. He suffered a laundry list of post-draft injuries – including a jaw injury after a shot block went sideways. He was a solid if unspectacular AHLer but wasn’t qualified by the Flames as a restricted free agent and left the organization. He’s since bounced around in minor pro and Europe, aside from a cup of coffee with the San Jose Sharks.

2006: G Leland Irving (26th overall)

The second-ranked goaltender in the 2016 NHL Draft didn’t struggle with injuries, but rather with consistency. He had some great post-draft seasons in junior, but he could never quite get a foothold in the NHL – he kept getting cups of coffee with the Flames, but couldn’t turn that into a longer stay. Eventually the Flames decided not to qualify him as an RFA and he’s since bounced around between the AHL and Europe.

2007: C Mikael Backlund (24th overall)

After three years of challenges in a row, the Flames hit on a first round pick in 2007. Backlund, the 2nd-rated European skater, came over from Europe midway through his first post-draft season and went pro the following season. After a few seasons of trying to find his footing, he gradually became one of the better two-way forwards in the NHL.

2008: RW Greg Nemisz (25th overall)

Nemisz was the 25th-ranked skater in 2008, but he was a bystander on a stacked Windsor Spitfires team – which probably boosted his draft status beyond what it should’ve been. He was a decent AHLer, but eventually the Flames ran out of patience and traded him for Kevin Westgarth. Nemisz retired in 2015 and currently coaches in the OHL.

2009: D Tim Erixon (23rd overall)

The Erixon pick is a great example of the Flames not doing their homework, but somehow making the best of a bad situation. Erixon, the fifth ranked European skater, really wanted to play for the same team his dad did. The Flames took him, realized he wouldn’t sign with them, and then traded him to the Rangers for Roman Horak and a pair of second round picks.

The Flames had no first round pick in 2010, as they traded it to Phoenix (along with Brandon Prust and Matthew Lombardi) for 75 games of Olli Jokinen.

Jay Feaster Era

2011: LW Sven Baertschi (13th overall)

Baertschi was the seventh-ranked skater in 2011 and was a scoring machine in the WHL. He came up to Calgary on an emergency recall, had an amazing two weeks and was touted as the next big thing. He never quite lived up to that hype – in part due to some really weird handling of his development by Feaster and Bob Hartley – and he was traded to Vancouver for a second round pick (that became Rasmus Andersson).

2012: C Mark Jankowski (21st overall)

The 43rd-ranked North American skater, Jankowski was drafted out of Quebec prep school – accompanied by a story about Flames scouts driving to watch him during a blizzard. He spent four years in college and then turned pro, turning into a pretty solid (if unspectacular) bottom six center.

2013: C Sean Monahan (6th overall), LW Morgan Klimchuk (22nd overall) & RW Emile Poirier (28th overall)

Thanks to some trades, the Flames had three picks in the first round! They selected the fifth (Monahan), 25th (Klimchuk) and 39th-ranked (Poirier) North American skaters. Monahan went pro right away and became the team’s top center. Klimchuk and Poirier played some junior, then puttered around in the minors before the team traded them to Montreal and didn’t qualify them as an RFA, respectively.

As Meat Loaf once sang: two out of three ain’t bad.

Brad Treliving Era

2014: C Sam Bennett (4th overall)

Bennett was the top North American skater available. He played NHL playoff games in his first post-draft season – after dealing with shoulder surgery and a brief return to junior – and he’s blossomed into a perfectly acceptable middle six winger. (And he’s only 22, so there’s probably still some upside there.)

The Flames had no first round pick in 2015, as they packaged it for Dougie Hamilton.

2016: LW Matthew Tkachuk (6th overall)

The second-ranked North American skater in his class, Tkachuk went right to the NHL and has become one of the top young shutdown forwards in the league. He’s about to get paid, big-time.

2017: D Juuso Valimaki (16th overall)

The 11th-ranked skater in his class, Valimaki played a year in junior and then split last season between the NHL and the AHL. He seems primed to be a full-time NHLer in 2019-20.

The Flames had no first round pick in 2018, as they packaged it for Travis Hamonic.

The rundown

As the head of amateur scouting, Button has made 16 first round selections. These picks have generally fallen into three categories:

  • Busts (Didn’t help the team): Chucko, Pelech, Irving, Poirier
  • Semi-Busts (Didn’t really help, but they got assets for them): Nemisz, Erixon, Baertschi, Klimchuk
  • Useful NHL Players: Nystrom, Phaneuf, Backlund, Jankowski, Monahan, Bennett, Tkachuk

(It’s too early to say with Valimaki, but he’s already nudging into the “Useful NHL Players” realm.)

There are a lot of reasons why drafting was so iffy early in his tenure, but it’s safe to say that the Flames have hit on a lot of their first round selections in the past few seasons. Time will tell if they can do that again at the end of June in Vancouver.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    “As Meat Loaf once sang: two out of three ain’t bad.”

    While the big man did sing that, I’m not really sure it applies here as-unless I got this wrong-the situation is one (Monahan) out of three?

  • 🐃💩

    Button is terrible. Look at the draft picks outside the top 10, only 2 that made it, 3 if you include Valimakki. This track record speaks for itself. Should have moved on from Button after the Monahan draft. 3 1st rounders and only 1 makes it? Terrible.

    • Jobu

      Look at the historical stats. Its a 1 in 3 chance the a first round player plays more than 200 games. Seems like par for the course to Jobu.

      But yes, Jobu’d like better results too

    • FLT

      It’s hard to tell how much of this garbage track record Button is responsible for though. The GM has the ultimate say, and I’ve always assumed that Sutter was largely responsible for his picks. The fact that Button has stayed with the team through several different GM tenures suggests that his assessments have been better than the Flames’ actual selections over the years.

        • BendingCorners

          The track record is about average, which is to be expected with something as random as guessing which prospect will become an NHL player. There are only about 200 impact players in the NHL and most of them have careers that last 10 or more years (feel free to work that out in Excel if you’re curious enough), and most of those come from the top 20 in the draft.
          In terms of top-20 picks, the Flames have 3 impact players, 1 support player and one bust, which is not bad. For later picks in the first round, the Flames have 2 impact players, 2 support players and 7 busts, which is again not bad, since most players picked after 1-20 don’t last long in the NHL or never make the NHL.
          There are probably some draft magicians out there than can consistently beat the average; Tod Button does not appear to be one of them but he does do a decent job. As a team, the Flames might have been better off finishing bottom-five for a few more years in order to pick higher, but that ship has sailed, and in any case foundered on the rocky head of poor management in Edmonton and Buffalo.

    • Rudy27

      Well you can’t really make that determination (terrible) without the whole picture. For example, how do the other team compare and what do the records look like outside of the 1st round pick. Seems to me we’ve had some success in the later rounds. Also, you have to take into consideration who the GM was at the time and how strong a draft field it was for each year.

      • Baalzamon

        Yeah. Like, for example, 2012 was an awful draft class, but the Flames got two full-time NHLers out of it (even if they traded one of them for no particular reason).

  • Puck Head

    When it comes to drafting I often feel like we are the runt of the litter fighting for scraps, hoping that we luck on players in lower rounds. This is primarily due to the organizations need to always ice the best (middling) team possible and never going through a proper rebuild from the ground up.

    • Jobu

      So… you’d rather rebuild as the Oilers have done?
      4th, 6th and 6th in 3 seasons sounds like a proper rebuild to Jobu – 2 are in the top 31 in scoring, all of which are playing regular minutes.

      • Puck Head

        Jobu, we have traded away so many picks over the years in order to ice bubble teams, even when it was obvious we had no chance. This was frustrating because it hampered our development team. Now the question is: will Tre go for it now or show reserve and also try to build a team for the future. If he can move a few guys and acquire some more picks in the top two rounds maybe he can do both?

        I think the team is still in the middle of the pack but if Tre can find 2 or 3 of the right guys I think we could vault into the upper tier of teams. Solid goaltending wouldn’t hurt either.

        I just hope we have something to look forward to on draft day.

  • The GREAT WW

    Garbage outside of the top 6.
    (Except Valimaki obviously).
    None of these forwards picked outside the top 6 picks are top 2 line quality…..

    And goalies…..forget about it…..


        • Raffydog

          Tkachuk is garbage. And until he can up his intensity in the playoffs, you’ll never convince me otherwise. I cringe at the thought of how much money he is going to get, just to watch him coast on the ice all year. He’s been involved in two playoffs series and has helped win a grand total of one game. If you cant bring it in the playoffs, whats the point? Go pollute some other team with your entitled attitude.

          • Kevin R

            So I guess by your thought process Nugent Hopkins is garbage because he obviously has no intensity in the playoffs & Taylor Hall is garbage because he sucks in the playoffs too. & may as well add Austin Matthews to that list. Well you just provided me with my head shake post of the day.

          • Raffydog

            It’s cool guys, keep your heads in the sand and fool yourselves in believing the Flames can win a cup with this “core”. Fact of the matter is, the core of this team is soft, heartless, and have zero intensity. They’ve managed one win in their last three playoff series. That’s pathetic. Never going to win a cup with this group. Trade what you can while they still have value, and start a proper rebuild with a competent gm. Until that happens, its just going to be more of the same.

          • SgtRoadBlock

            LOL Raffy if you think any Canada team going to win a cup again?? stop drinking that Kool aid and just do that math more USA teams better odds in the playoffs …. Oilers have a better odds winning 3 more 1st over all picks again in the next 7 years…

          • Rockmorton65

            Lol. What about the Oilers’ lone playoff series since the 90’s? If your boy Drysaddle didn’t carry McSaviour, they would have been out in four. Lol.

          • Mitchell

            Raffy…what team has ever begun a rebuild with a core as young as the flames? A rebuild will happen when the core ages or the GM thinks calgary is not competitive anymore. No GM in their right mind would start rebuilding their team after posting a season like the flames did.

  • The Red Knight

    Definitely has been better last few years but that’s from being probably the worst drafting NHL team since Flames founded . Was just looking back on Flames draft history list ,it’s so bad . some of these late rounders picked last draft ,prosipol ,roman,Peterson,zavgorny have had decent season s .

  • freethe flames

    For me drafting outside of the top 5/6 year is a crap shoot; who knows what a 17 year old will become. The next fools errand is comparing who you got with whoever was drafted before you; you had no say in the matter. If you are comparing guys you probably need to focus on the guys who were drafted 5-10 spots after your pick and decide why you made the decision you did. You can’t worry about guys who are drafted in the later rounds because everyone made that same mistake. How many teams passed on Johnny before he was drafted by the Flames.

    • Getpucksdeep

      Actually Conroy spoke at length years ago about Gaudreau. Size was still a thing in the draft just 8-10 years ago. You simply didn’t draft guys that small and this before he went to colledge for 3 years. About a dozen teams, no more were sort of “aware” of this tiny but talented US High School player. He said there was a thought to pick him even later but he and the scouts thought he was as good a gamble in the 4th as anyone left. They knew it was a big gamble. I can’t remember the team that stated they were just a couple of picks behind and had come to the same conclusion. I recall only a few teams were aware of Jankowski too. Say what you will Jankowski is playing in the NHL. He may not be a “top 200” but he’s still an asset and I’d like to see 1 more year of experience before they may or may not make him part of a trade..