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Adam Ruzicka’s departure closes the book on the Calgary Flames’ 2017 draft class
By Mike Gould27 days ago
Less than seven years later, the Calgary Flames officially have nothing to show for their 2017 NHL Draft class.
Mere weeks after being swept in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Anaheim Ducks, the Flames selected just five players in seven rounds at the 2017 draft.
Why only five? The Flames had made sent away their second- and third-round picks at the previous trade deadline in exchange for Curtis Lazar and Michael Stone, respectively. So, after they made selection No. 16 in the first round, the Flames had to wait all the way until No. 109 overall to pick again.
Making fewer than seven picks in a single draft year was a recurring theme of Brad Treliving’s tenure as general manager. The Flames made six picks in 2014; five in 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019; and just three in 2022. They made up a bit of ground in 2016 and 2020, but not quite enough to overcome that deficit.
We’re now here in the first month of 2024. Of the five players the Flames drafted in 2017, two left the organization without being signed to any sort of deal. One earned a single AHL contract. And the other two appeared in roughly 100 NHL games with the Flames before being lost for nothing on waivers — coincidentally, both to the same team in consecutive years.
Here’s a brief retrospective on the Flames’ 2017 NHL Draft class.
The Flames selected Valimaki with the No. 16 overall selection in the 2017 draft. The 6’2″ blueliner looked to have all the tools to become a bona fide top-four defenceman during his years with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, offering a tantalizing blend of offensive ability, defensive awareness, and strong physicality.
Valimaki made the Flames out of training camp as a 20-year-old in 2018-19. He looked excellent in the early goings of what would be a banner year for the organization. But a high-ankle sprain sidelined Valimaki for much of the year, and by the time he was ready to return, Oscar Fantenberg had supplanted him as the Flames’ third-pairing left-handed defender.
Then, disaster struck when a torn ACL erased Valimaki’s entire 2019-20 season. Although the big Finn showed promise with Ilves in the Liiga to start the following year, he never looked at ease with the Flames after that. Valimaki struggled to gain the favour of head coach Darryl Sutter in the 2021-22 season and found himself on waivers at the end of Calgary’s 2022 training camp.
The Arizona Coyotes swooped in and put in a claim for Valimaki, who proceeded to spend much of the 2022-23 season in a second-pairing role with power-play time for his new team. Valimaki racked up a career-high 34 points in 78 games with the Coyotes, earning himself a one-year extension with the club. Although his production is down this year, Valimaki remains a capable No. 5 defender for a Coyotes team jockeying for playoff positioning in the West.
Big. Skilled. Inconsistent. Those three words pretty much sum up Ruzicka, who became a Flames prospect by way of the fourth round (No. 109 overall) of the 2017 draft.
Even during his OHL tenures with the Sarnia Sting and Sudbury Wolves, Ruzicka just always left you wanting more. He’s a 6’4″ natural centre with decent skating ability and a terrific shot. Far less gifted players have gone on to have outstanding NHL careers. For whatever reason, Ruzicka never unlocked that next level during his time in Calgary.
Ruzicka turned pro with the AHL’s Stockton Heat in the 2019-20 season, collecting 27 points in 54 games. He established himself as Stockton’s No. 1 centre the following year, tying for first in team scoring and running shotgun with Matthew Phillips in what ended up being a very up-and-down season. By the time the 2021-22 season rolled around, it had become evident that Ruzicka was too good for the AHL.
But save for a red-hot stretch in the first half of the 2022-23 season, Ruzicka seldom looked the part of a difference-maker in the NHL. He managed just 14 goals in 114 career games over parts of four seasons with the Flames. And with the club looking to promote the likes of Cole Schwindt and Adam Klapka into the NHL, Flames GM Craig Conroy ultimately opted to waive Ruzicka on Wednesday.
In an odd bit of déjà vu, the Coyotes took advantage once again and claimed Ruzicka from the Flames on Thursday. Perhaps being reunited with Valimaki in the desert will give Ruzicka the spark he needs. Maybe changing teams will be enough. In any event, the next chapter in Ruzicka’s career is about to begin.
Now, we’ve arrived at the three players from this draft class who did not earn NHL contracts with the Flames. Fischer, who was selected by the Flames in the 2017 fifth round (No. 140 overall), did sign an AHL deal with the Stockton Heat for the 2018-19 season. But he lasted just two games with the Flames’ affiliate before being cut loose at the end of the year.
Fischer was billed as a prototypical power forward who made up for his average build (6’1″, 196 pounds) with a real willingness to throw ’em. He managed 34 goals, 63 points, and 145 penalty minutes in 62 games with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers before being drafted by the Flames.
There was just one problem: Fischer turned 20 less than a month after being drafted. In his actual draft year, he managed just four goals, 10 points, and 23 PIMs in 54 games with the Tigers. The Flames clearly hoped Fischer would be a late bloomer, but it’s usually a better bet to try and sign those guys later instead of using a pick on them. In any case, Fischer hasn’t played professionally since 2019.
Unlike Fischer, Joly was actually in his first year of draft eligibility when the Flames nabbed him with the No. 171 pick in 2017. He had a fair amount going for him, too.
The 6’3″ forward had scored at a respectable clip (16 G, 48 P in 66 GP) with the QMJHL’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar the previous year and seemed to be trending towards earning an ELC after taking a solid step forward in his D+1 year. But after falling from 68 points in 55 games in 2017-18 to just 49 in 64 the following season, Joly fell off the Flames’ radar and was not tendered an offer before his exclusive signing rights expired.
Joly ultimately suited up for four QMJHL teams: Baie-Comeau, Gatineau, Rimouski, and Halifax. Upon the conclusion of his Major Junior career in 2020, he began attending Brock University before turning pro with the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits midway through the 2021-22 season. Joly has spent the last two years playing in the Oberliga, the third tier of German professional hockey (which, quite frankly, I had never heard of before writing this profile). He has 75 points in 57 career Oberliga games with the Erfurt Black Dragons and the Tilburg Trappers.
The 5’11” Sveningsson managed 29 points in 37 games with HV71 in Sweden’s U20 level as a 17-year-old in the 2016-17 season. For comparison’s sake, Flames 2021 second-rounder William Stromgren had 36 points in 44 games at the same level as an 18-year-old. For someone taken with the No. 202 overall pick in the 2017 draft, that’s a pretty strong scoring rate.
Two years later, it looked as though Sveningsson was on the verge of breaking out with IK Oskarshamn in the Allsvenskan league, Sweden’s second tier of professional hockey. He managed 15 goals and 27 points in 43 games, which was more than enough to put him firmly on the radar as a prospect to watch.
Unfortunately, Sveningsson never really took another step forward. He managed just four points in 29 SHL games the following season and returned to Allsvenskan immediately thereafter. In his most recent four Allsvenskan seasons, Sveningsson has yet to equal the 27 points he scored as a 19-year-old in that league.
None of the players taken after Sveningsson in the seventh round have amounted to much — Phil Kemp is probably the best of that group — but it still would’ve been nice to see him build upon his early successes as a Flames prospect. But that’s the way she goes.
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