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The Calgary Flames’ first-round picks have almost always signed

2018 NHL Draft
Photo credit:Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports
Ryan Pike
11 months ago
First-round draft selections are high stakes picks. They’re the most heavily scouted players in their draft class and, as a result, the youngsters that scouts feel they can project most accurately. As such, they’re considered the guys with the highest potential impact, which makes drafting them and then signing them incredibly important for an organization.
The signing by the Calgary Flames of 2021 first-round pick Matt Coronato this weekend ended a period of moderate hand-wringing for Flames fans that was largely unnecessary, because first-round picks (even college players) almost always sign.
Over their 50 years of existence, the Flames franchise has gone to 51 drafts and made 47 first-round picks, with Coronato’s selection in 2021 being the 47th time the Flames have chosen somebody in the opening round. Of those 47 first-round picks, only two didn’t end up signing with the Flames.
The two non-signings were George Pelawa in 1986 and Tim Erixon in 2009.
  • Pelawa was a college-bound high school standout who was a wall of humanity, listed at 6’3″ and 235 pounds, who needed refining at college but showed incredible promise. A week before he was set to begin classes at the University of North Dakota, he was killed in a car accident.
  • Erixon was a very different situation, deciding following his selection that (a) he didn’t see a path to the NHL in the Flames organization and (b) he’d rather be somewhere else, perhaps with the New York Rangers, his dad’s former club.
So of all the Flames’ high picks dating back to 1972, only two players didn’t sign with the Flames, and Pelawa had reportedly indicated a high level of willingness to sign, following his planned time at college (and potentially an appearance at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary).
Four other first-rounders signed with the Flames but didn’t end up playing any games for the organization: Chris Biotti (1985), Bryan Deasley (1987), Jesper Mattsson (1993) and Brent Krahn (2000). Krahn, for his part, eventually played a period of NHL hockey for Dallas. Obviously so far neither of 2020 first-rounder Connor Zary or Coronato have played NHL games yet, but both seem like strong candidates to do so in short order. Heck, depending on what happens with the big club’s playoff hopes, we could see Zary brought up before season’s end.
Now, we hear you comments section: “It’s not a first-round thing, it’s a college player thing! That’s why we were so nervous!” But even that anxiety is largely unfounded, as a vast, vast majority of college-bound (or college-playing) first-round picks taken between 2010 and 2020 have signed with the club that drafted them.
By our rough count, in those 11 drafts (2010-20) there were about 64 or 65 players drafted in the first round that were either actively playing college hockey or had committed to a college team when they were drafted. Of those, all but four have signed with the team that drafted them.
  • Kevin Hayes (2010) couldn’t come to terms with Chicago and became a free agent, signing with the New York Rangers in 2014. (Chicago received a compensatory second-round pick in the 2015 draft.)
  • Josh Norris (2017) was traded to Ottawa by San Jose in the Erik Karlsson trade. He signed with Ottawa in 2019.
  • Jay O’Brien (2018, Philadelphia) and Ryan Johnson (2019, Buffalo) are just finishing up their senior college seasons now. They still might sign with their drafting teams.
That’s it. So the only team that had a college player walk in past decade or so is Chicago. If you look, you can probably notice that every Canadian team – except for Toronto, which didn’t take any college players in the first round in this span – drafted and eventually signed an NCAA (or NCAA-bound) first-rounder.
Teams do a lot of due diligence on first-round picks. They’re high stakes assets. But by the time a player is drafted that early, typically a team has a good handle on what they’re going to be doing. That’s why a vast majority of first-rounders sign with the team that drafted them, even if that player is headed to college or the team that drafted them is Canadian.

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