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Calgary Flames 2020 draft preview: Dark Horses

Pending significant change, all signs point to the NHL moving forward with an early-June 2020 NHL draft. While we don’t know exactly what this will look like, how the final draft order will be determined, or what will happen with the unresolved conditional picks, it looks like the Flames will be picking somewhere around the middle of the first round. If the order is determined by points percentage at the time of the pause, the Flames currently would own the 16th overall selection. A familiar position where they struck gold in 2017 with Juuso Valimaki.

There are lots of great draft resources out there, so we took the liberty of consolidating all those rankings using a mean rank, and putting together the players who will likely be selected after the Flames’ selection, but are dark horses to go in the first round. The Flames will probably not opt to select these players with their first round pick, but could offer huge upsides for the teams that do select them.

Perhaps one of the five players below becomes a Flame with a later round pick, or GM Brad Treliving could go off the board to select one given the right fit:

1. Yaroslav Askarov

Mean RankLow RankHigh RankPos.Ht.Wt.TeamLeagueGPGAASV%
10129G6’-3″163 lbsSka-VaryagiMHL182.450.920

The highest rated goaltender in the draft, Askarov is projected to go early in the first round. Playing in the VHL, the Eurasian second division, he posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.45 goals against average in 18 games. He even played a game in the KHL last season, which is incredibly rare for a teenage goalie prospect.

Askavor is a good sized goalie at 6’3″, and is recognized for his incredible reflexes. He plays a butterfly style and is quick on his feet. Scouts have also raved about his positioning – always in the right place for the shot. Unlike most NHL goalies, he catches with his right hand. The one thing that he has to work on is he goes down too early, leaving the top part of the net exposed. That being said, it is a teachable skill that a goalie coach could help fix.

He is a dark horse pick for a number of reasons. The Flames likely do not need a goaltender, with a number of strong options already in the prospect pipeline. More importantly, projecting goalie performance is notoriously difficult. No NHL team has selected a goalie in the top ten since the Canadiens picked Carey Price in 2005. There have been a number of first round goalie busts such as Brent Krahn for the Flames in 2000, that the team may be wary of Askarov. That being said, if he does fall to them either at 16 in the first round or even in the second round, they may be willing to take a swing at a guy with so much potential upside.

2. Emil Andrae

Mean RankLow RankHigh RankPos.Ht.Wt.TeamLeagueGPGAP
339816LHD5’-9″183 lbsHv71SUPERELIT40112738

Emil Andrae is an incredibly talented defenceman playing primarily in the J-20 SuperElit. He led the league in points by a defenceman, and even got some games in the Swedish men’s league, the SHL, but did not post any points.

Scouts rave about Andrae’s overall game. He is an impressive skater, with a quick first stride and smooth acceleration, allowing him to keep up with even the fastest in the game. He has good vision, and makes quick crisp outlet and stretch passes. On top of that, his edgework and ability to move in tight is something that sets him apart from other defencemen in his age group.

On the defensive end, he is not afraid to play in the corners. He is comfortable throwing hits and playing a physical style, despite his 5’9″ frame. He also has an active stick to go along with a strong understanding of the game, which helps him to make smart defensive plays at both ends of the rink. He has however been guilty of making dangerous offensive gambles, which have led to odd-man rushes against. That being said, if he can learn to tighten up his defensive game, he could be a strong defensive option for a team like the Flames in a few years.

The big knock on him is his size. Teams have always been wary of smaller players, and especially smaller defencemen. While he probably isn’t getting any taller, he will need to bulk up over the coming years to help stop forwards from muscling over him in the NHL. If he can do that, he could be a steal for whoever picks him in the draft.

3. William Wallinder

Mean RankLow RankHigh RankPos.Ht.Wt.TeamLeagueGPGAP
365123LHD6’-4″192 lbsMODOSUPERELIT3751924

Wallinder is a big-bodied defenceman who, like Andrae, plays in the Swedish League. Putting up a strong 24 points in 37 games, he spent most of the year with the U-20 team but was never promoted to the SHL.

Scouts have disagreed about their assessments of him, but the word that is thrown around with him is rough. He will need a few years of conditioning to make it into the NHL, but his underlying potential is there. He is built like a hockey player at 6’4″ and just under 200 pounds, but has the speed and agility to keep up with smaller sleeker guys. He also has a great set of hands and a booming shot. He is comfortable quarterbacking the powerplay, and rarely misses the net with his shot or makes plays that result in odd-man rushes going the other way.

The downside that scouts have noticed is he puts the offence in offensive defenceman. He struggles on the back-end to breakup plays or defend in his own zone. Jokke Nevalainen, a scout for Dobber Prospects, went so far as to say that he sometimes appears disinterested in defending and rather waits for his team to regain possession so he can jump into the play. This is a red flag for a lot of teams, but if a team looks at this as teachable, he could become a standout offensive defenceman in the league. With the Flames’ defensive prospect depth lacking currently, he may be a player that they look at.

4. Topi Niemelä

Mean RankLow RankHigh RankPos.Ht.Wt.TeamLeagueGPGAP
408424RHD6’-0″163 lbsKarputLiiga43167

Aside from having an excellent hockey name, Niemela is a fighter. He has succeeded against the odds at every level of hockey that he has played. Starting the season as a 17 year old in the top Finnish league, nobody bet on him succeeding but even a modest seven points in his first season of men’s hockey is impressive.

A well-balanced defenceman, he plays a tight defensive game and is not afraid to throw his 6’0″ frame around with older players. Offensively, he makes quality outlet and stretch passes, as well he possesses a good set of hands to help get the puck into the offensive zone.

Niemela seems to be a jack-of-all-trades type of defenceman. He has strong hockey IQ, decent offensive ability, and good defensive skills, but does not excel at any one skill that helps him stand out among the crop of defencemen. That being said, scouts have almost always watched him as he played against older players. Against players his own age, Niemela put up three assists in three games in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and played as Finland’s number one defenceman in the Five Nations Tournament.

Niemela seems to have some strong intangiables, especially his will to win and hockey IQ. If he can fine-tune his skills, he could be a strong defenceman for whichever team drafts him. If he is available in the second round, the Flames should look closely at him

5. Jake Neighbours

Mean RankLow RankHigh RankPos.Ht.Wt.TeamLeagueGPGAP
456026LW5’-11″201 lbsEdmontonWHL64234770

Neighbours is a local kid who has played up the highway in Edmonton. The Flames have no doubt had an eye on him for longer than many of the others in this draft. He seems to be a strong 200 foot player, who is competent at both ends of the ice. The factor that scouts rave about with him is not his ability with the puck but his play without it. He seems to always be in the right place at the right time. He has good vision, which has translated into him being a point per game player in the WHL.

Although he measures at just shy of six feet, he is not afraid to go right through defencemen on the rush. He is not the fastest guy on the ice, but he has a good first stride, which allows him to beat players to the puck from a standing position.

Some scouts project him to be a middle six winger, who can play up and down the lineup. While he is not likely to be selected at 16 by the Flames, he could be taken by them in the second round, as he has the skills and smarts to be an NHLer in a few years.

Photo Credit: The Puck Authority

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