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.
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.