The 5 best draft selections in Calgary Flames history

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
26 days ago
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Folks, the best way to build a team is through the National Hockey League’s annual entry draft. When every team is allocated the same number of picks – albeit in an order intended to promote competitive balance across the league – the best way to get ahead of your competition is by finding value in the draft where others don’t.
In the five decades of the Calgary Flames franchise at the draft, five picks stand out for really beating out the value you wouldn’t expect them to find with that pick. Here they are, in alphabetical order.

Theoren Fleury

Selected in his second season of draft eligibility, Fleury was taken by the Flames in the eighth round of the 1987 entry draft at 166th overall. A star with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors, Fleury was a talented but undersized player who played the game with a ferocity that made scouts go “Well, maybe he’ll be a star for our minor-league team.”
Well, it worked: Fleury was a star in the minor leagues, playing well well enough during the 1988 Turner Cup playoffs with the Flames’ International Hockey League affiliate in Salt Lake City that Flames brass had to agonize before deciding to sit him to preserve the first year of his contract. Playing as a pro rookie the following season, Fleury essentially forced his way onto the NHL roster by mid-season and never looked back.
Fleury wasn’t without his faults – on or off the ice – and we don’t need to litigate them here, but during some of the leanest days of the Flames franchise he was consistently a reason for fans to show up and see the little guy do something worth paying to see.

Johnny Gaudreau

Selected in the fourth round in 2011, 104th overall, Gaudreau was another supremely talented but undersized player. Rather than blessed with Fleury’s smash-mouth mentality, Gaudreau was incredibly nimble and elusive on the ice and somehow always avoided getting crushed with a big hit. But there’s no way he could do that in college or pro hockey, right?
Well, he did. Gaudreau emerged as one of the NCAA’s best players of the modern era – earning the nickname “Johnny Hockey” – and after a brief adjustment period, emerged as one of the most consistent offensive producers in the NHL despite being, well, small. Gaudreau was a point-per-game player over eight full seasons with the Flames and contended for several major awards before his departure via free agency in 2022.

Hakan Loob

Selected as a 20-year-old in the ninth round in 1980, 181st overall, Loob was a highly-regarded Swedish player at a time where Europeans didn’t always consider playing in the NHL. But after a couple post-draft seasons in Sweden, Loob arrived in Calgary in 1983 and had a heck of a run.
Loob only played six seasons in North America, arriving in 1983 and departing in 1989 to return to Sweden to play for the remainder of his lengthy career. In-between those dates, he was one of the Flames’ best all-around players. He scored 30 goals in each of his first three seasons in the NHL. He became the first (and so far, only) Swedish player to score 50 goals in NHL history when he did it in 1987-88. He was a key part of the Flames’ 1989 Stanley Cup win, with Game 6 of the Cup Final being his final game in the NHL.

Kent Nilsson

I wrote an entire chapter in On The Clock about how the Flames acquired Nilsson, because it’s a wild story. The Flames attempted to select Nilsson in 1975, but they had his birthday wrong and didn’t know he wasn’t eligible for selection and they ended up inadvertently drafting his national team teammate Torbjorn Nilsson instead. They selected Nilsson for real in 1976 (in the fourth round, 64th overall), except he opted to play in the World Hockey Association instead. And then they finally nabbed his rights when the WHA merged into the NHL via the 1979 supplemental draft.
After all that hassle to get him, Nilsson turned out to be a fantastic offensive player. Defensively he wasn’t anything special, but he tore up the Flames’ record books during his tenure: he had seasons of 90, 99, 104 and 131 points, with his 1980-81 performance still standing as a club record for points and assists.

Gary Suter

Selected as a 20-year-old in 1984, Suter was taken in the ninth round, 180th overall, after his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin. The Flames were banking that Suter’s role would expand in subsequent seasons and he’d meet his potential. They were right.
Suter played parts of nine seasons with the Flames and scored over 500 points, with more than two-thirds coming on the power play. While teammate Al MacInnis got more renown – having a slapper that scary will help build a reputation – Suter was no less impressive, using his vision, poise and passing ability to establish himself as one of the most effective power play blueliners in the game… and perhaps one of the most underappreciated players of his era.

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