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The Calgary Flames’ drafting history under Tod Button and Craig Conroy: a statistical analysis

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Photo credit:Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Lacoste
24 days ago
This article is brought to you by bet365.
In anticipation of an exciting 2024 NHL Draft, we can look at past draft selections under a common management group to give us a sense of Calgary’s drafting vision and potential 2024 direction. There is always a chance to make new decisions, draft out of different leagues, or try different player archetypes, but teams will often draft who they believe will be future NHLers, and concrete philosophies from the same decision-makers can lead to drafting trends over a large sample. This article will outline the draft trends for the Calgary Flames including position, league, and other notes on Calgary Flames draft selections to help us understand the vision of the staff and attempt to predict their plan for the upcoming 2024 NHL Draft.
First, it is important to note that GM Craig Conroy has only been at the helm for one draft (2023), so in search of a larger sample, we will look at the history of the Flames’ amateur scouting staff. Specifically, the tenure of Tod Button will guide this draft stats project.
Tod Button was named director of scouting in 2001-2002 and has run the amateur scouting side of the Flames since ~2006. Craig Conroy was also an assistant general manager for the Flames from 2014 until his promotion in May 2023. With this in mind, all draft picks since the 2014 draft will be used. This covers modern NHL hockey while strictly focusing on drafts where Button and Conroy had significant input into the Flames’ draft process.

Process

All draft data was collected from HockeyReference on May 16, 2024, with all “regular seasons” completed in North American and European junior hockey leagues, offering full-season skater data because of this timing.
Each draft was downloaded into Microsoft Excel and all Calgary selections were grouped into position, league, and ‘league distinction’. I created a list of league distinctions that will be discussed later, combining leagues like the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL into “Canadian Major Junior,” for example, to give broader terms regarding where a team would be drafting “from.” This would eliminate splitting up Sweden-Jr. and Finland-Jr. leagues in conclusions, as another example.

Results

Since 2014, the Flames have made 60 NHL Draft selections. Here are some relevant statistics about those picks:
Draft stats (position):
  • Forwards = 38 (63%)
  • Defenders = 16 (27%)
  • Goalies = 6 (10%)
  • Total = 60
  • Selections per draft = 6.0
Top-100 Draft stats (position):
  • Forwards = 14 (52%)
  • Defenders = 10 (37%)
  • Goalies = 3 (11%)
  • Total = 27
  • Top-100 picks per draft = 2.7
Draft stats (age)
  • 18 = 53 selections (88%)
  • 19 = 4 selections (7%)
  • 20 = 3 selections (5%)
Top-100 Draft stats (age)
  • 18 = 25 selections (93%)
  • 19 = 2 selections (7%)
Highest Picks by Position + 19 y/o
  • Highest forward drafted: Sam Bennett (2014, 4th overall)
  • Highest defender drafted: Juuso Valimaki (2017, 16th overall)
  • Highest goalie drafted: Mason McDonald (2014, 34th overall)
  • Highest 19 y/o drafted: Hunter Smith (2014, 54th overall)
Top 5 Drafting Leagues:
  1. WHL = 14 selections (23%)
  2. OHL = 12 selections (20%)
  3. QMJHL = 9 selections (15%)
  4. Sweden-Jr. = 5 selections (8%)
  5. USHL = 4 selections (7%)
Top Draft League Distinctions
  1. Canada Major Junior = 35 selections (58%)
  2. Europe Junior = 10 (17%)
  3. USA Junior (USHL) = 4 (7%) AND Canada Jr. A = 4 (7%)
  4. US High School = 3 (5%)
Most Common Nationalities
  1. Canada = 23 selections
  2. United States = 11 selections
  3. Sweden = 8 selections
  4. Russia = 7 selections
  5. Slovakia = 4 selections

Top Picks

1st-Round Selections
  • Sam Bennett (2014, 4th overall)
  • Matthew Tkachuk (2016, 6th overall)
  • Juuso Valimaki (2017, 16th overall)
  • Jakob Pelletier (2019, 26th overall)
  • Connor Zary (2020, 24th overall)
  • Matthew Coronato (2021, 13th overall)
  • Samuel Honzek (2023, 16th overall)
Here is the league breakdown for the Flames’ seven 1st-round picks in the Button/Conroy era:
  • WHL = 3/7 (43%)
  • OHL = 2/7 (29%)
  • QMJHL = 1/7 (14%)
  • USHL = 1/7 (14%)
For the picks made in rounds 1 or 2:
  • OHL = 5 (29%)
  • WHL = 4 (24%)
  • QMJHL = 3 (18%)
  • 5 Leagues = 1 (6%)
  • Total = 17 selections

Notes

In the top 100 vs. the full draft stats, we can see some trends. Over the 10-draft sample, we can see that the Flames drafted more defenders in the top 100 than they did in the back half of the draft (10 of 16). Multiple conclusions can be made from this trend, where this could be seen as Calgary preferring to take chances on forwards later in the draft, risking top-100 picks on defenders, or securing quality defenders through top-100 draft slots which may arguably be harder to find than top-100 forwards. Looking at some of the defenders chosen, the list ranges in NHL value from Rasmus Andersson (2015, 53rd overall) to Brandon Hickey (2014, 64th overall). Keep in mind that the Flames have only taken one defender in the first round (Juuso Valimaki, 2017, 16th overall) since 2014, so it looks like CHL forwards are prime candidates for a 2024 Flames draft selection.
It is clear that the Button/Conroy scouting vision likes players from Canadian Major Junior leagues, and this is typical in the NHL scene. From 2018-2023, 42% of NHL Top-30 picks were from the CHL (OHL, QMJHL, WHL). The next closest league distinctions were European Pro (25%), and the USNTDP (13%).
Imagine, in a vacuum, that the only three options for top-end hockey talent are the CHL, European men’s leagues, and the US National program. When we compare this idea with Calgary’s drafting history since 2014, we still see a stronger inclination to draft players out of the CHL compared to a mix of Canada, the US, and Europe than other teams’ mixes (Calgary deviates from the league-wide trend).
This may seem like common knowledge when we witness the Flames draft multiple WHL players each year, but now we can understand that the historic draft stats prove this theory.

2024 Outlook

In a draft with 6 defenders in Elite Prospects’ 2024 NHL Draft Consolidated Top 15, including 5 in the consolidated top 10, as well as recent Flames defender departures like Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin, it would be interesting to see if Calgary finds themselves drafting a defender.
Regarding the CHL trends, there are 7 CHL players in EP’s Consolidated Top 15 and 14 in their Consolidated Top 30, which bodes well for Calgary, should they choose to continue their CHL trend.
Regarding goalies, it is unlikely that the Flames will draft a goaltender in the first three rounds, and I could only see it happening if they feel strongly about a draft pick falling below the consensus ranking and want to use their “extra” third-round pick on someone like. They have drafted a goalie in 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2023, all in the 4th round or later. Out of those four picks, three were Russian goalies, and the other was Dustin Wolf. The only two goalies that the Flames drafted before this streak were Mason McDonald at 34th overall in 2014 and Tyler Parsons at 54th overall in 2016. Since those two goalies, the highest pick used on a goalie by Calgary has been Daniil Chechelev at 96th overall in 2020.
With the recent success of Dustin Wolf, a 7th-round pick, as well as the streak of late-round goalie drafting mentioned above, I would guess that the Button/Conroy duo would prefer to take chances on goalies later in the draft, and perhaps not draft a goalie this year if better skaters are available.
In this fanbase’s eye, however, there is only one player who the Flames are allowed to take at 9th overall, regardless of what these historical trends indicate, and it’s Tij Iginla. I hope management is well aware of the consequences of passing on such a player because he will do what Filip Zadina hasn’t done yet to Montreal or Ottawa: Tij Iginla will “fill your net with pucks.”

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