Every pick in the National Hockey League entry draft is a bullet. Early in the draft, there’s more information available and so teams can make educated decisions. Late in the draft, it’s more of a stab in the dark. Over the last while, the Calgary Flames have made some smart gambles in the late rounds.
As with our prior dives into Flames draft history, we’re focusing on the tenure of Flames head amateur scout Tod Button (and looking at the 2002 Draft until the present).
Gambling on goalies
As we’ve discussed, the Flames have had bad luck drafting goaltenders early. But in the later rounds – the fifth, sixth and seventh – they’ve oddly had better luck. Since 2002, they’ve drafted six goaltenders: Curtis McElhinney (2002), Jimmy Spratt (2004), Kevin Lalande (2005), Matt Keetley (2005), Joni Ortio (2009) and Laurent Brossoit (2011). Four of these guys managed to play NHL games, with McElhinney and Brossoit still kicking around the NHL.
Goalies, they saying goes, are voodoo. They’re hard to project. Rather than gamble one of your key early selections on a player with such an unpredictable development curve, why not just grab one later on with a lower opportunity cost?
Players that aren’t big
This is more of a trend under Brad Treliving’s leadership, but the thought process is that it’s tough to figure out if what makes smaller players effective at the junior level will translate to the pros. Thus, they’re often taken later on – unless a team gets really excited about them, as the Flames did with Johnny Gaudreau in 2011.
Under Treliving, the Flames have made a few savvy picks involving small human beings: Andrew Mangiapane (2015), Matthew Phillips (2016) and Dmitry Zavgorodniy (2018). All three are smaller than average, but they’ve all managed to score a ton at the junior level. Mangiapane ended up being one of the team’s more effective players down the stretch on the fourth line.
Players that are only big
The successful Flames late picks have been small guys that can play. They’ve also gambled on a few big guys that maybe could become players. Adam Ollas Mattsson (2014), Riley Bruce (2015) and Stepan Falkovsky (2016) all came into their draft years as big, big fellas. Their games could be classified as much less complete as the smaller players that were mentioned prior, but you could imagine scouts falling in love with their size and hoping they could round out and become fairly complete players. Sometimes they do, like Adam Cracknell (2003) or Micheal Ferland (2010). Sometimes they don’t.
If a team is going to gamble on size over skill and absolutely has to burn draft picks on a big body, late in the draft is the time to do it.