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Visualising the development of Calgary Flames draft picks made by Brad Treliving

The 2020 NHL Draft marks Brad Treliving’s seventh draft as the general manager of the Calgary Flames. Over the six previous drafts, the Flames have made a total of 35 picks. Each prospect that came through the Calgary pipeline went through their own journey into professional hockey.

Some were successful and made it to the big leagues, others… not so much. Yet others still are budding stars in the thick of their development with plenty of upside and can be household names in a couple years, and it’s a given that another subset of these picks will never see the light of an NHL game ever.

To see how well Treliving has done so far in terms of selecting players, I made a data visualisation to track the progress of every pick since 2014. It shows where a player spends the majority of any given season, and tracks every year that has elapsed since their draft year. The premise is that it should provide a high-level look at where prospects are selected and their development trajectories.

The visualisation was designed to be a way to evaluate the draft work of Treliving and the Flames as a whole rather than the development of individual prospects. As such, players are not directly labelled (although the progressions of some players are definitely obvious), and instead the year-by-year status of each player is shown.

How to read the visualisation

To see the progression of every pick, I made a modified alluvial diagram with the x-axis showing years. The first column indicates the league a drafted player played in prior to being selected by the Flames. Every sequential column thereafter shows where the Flames’ picks played in the following years.

While every player is technically represented, they were grouped based on year-by-year progression. The leagues were roughly arranged based on typical development paths, with the NHL being placed highest as it’s the ultimate goal. The order does not reflect any definitive ranking between leagues, but rather serves as a means to simply label different subsets of leagues.

The AHL, KHL, and ECHL were listed first as players tend to develop in these leagues after being drafted. CHL leagues are grouped altogether, followed by the NCAA, and European leagues such as the SHL, Liiga, HockeyAllsvenskan, etc. making up the European subset. Lower leagues in Canada, the United States, and Russia make up the last sets of leagues.

Each player’s path is traceable by moving across each column horizontally and following the path. Whenever a path truncates, that indicates where the most recent season was played (i.e. 2019-20 seasons).

All prospect data was retrieved from by Khalid Keshavjee (@KMKeshavjee), and the visualisation was created with R and modified with Adobe Illustrator. The R “tidyverse” and “ggalluvial” packages were used to create the visualisations, and the colour palette was adapted from Carto.

Observations from the dataviz

From the visualisation, we can start to see how the draft picks during Treliving’s tenure have turned out or are turning out. We can see trends, possible development paths that the Flames put their players on, and some players can even be individually singled out.

  • Not only have most of Treliving’s draft picks have come from the CHL, almost all of the Flames’ homegrown NHL players were drafted after playing there: Sam Bennett, Rasmus Andersson, Andrew Mangiapane, Matthew Tkachuk, Dillon Dube, and Juuso Valimaki all played in the CHL in their draft years
  • Only Oliver Kylington turned into an NHLer being drafted from the SHL (Europe).
  • One player from the USA/NCAA track developed into an NHL regular: Adam Fox, who finished his first year in the NHL with the New York Rangers after being a part of the trade that brought back Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin from Carolina.
  • Tkachuk was the only Flames draft pick to immediately make the jump to the NHL in his D+1 year. Sam Bennett played one regular season and a number of playoff games with the Flames in his D+1 year, but had more games with the Kingston Frontenacs that season
  • The Flames have avoided drafting out of Russia, with Ilya Nikolayev being the sole player drafted from the MHL in Russia. Pavel Karnaukhov is still technically a Flames prospect and is playing in the KHL, but was drafted from the Calgary Hitmen
  • Flames prospects that end up in the ECHL as a part of their development haven’t had success cracking the Flames’ roster
  • Of the players who have played their D+6 years, i.e. players drafted in 2014, only Bennett made it to the NHL.
  • Among the players who finished D+5 years, i.e. players drafted in 2015, the Flames found three more NHL players in Andersson, Mangiapane, and Kylington.
  • Seeing that no NHL paths truncate in D+1 or D+2 columns, that indicates that no Flames draft pick in the past two years has made it to the NHL yet.

These are just some of the observations that can be made by looking at the chart. Try and see what you can determine for yourself. If you’re interested, the data used to create the visualisation can be downloaded here:

Picking needles from haystacks

Whenever a team drafts a player, proper development is in the team’s best interest. NHL executives will work with the players, their agents, etc., to figure out the best path for a player to give them the best chance of making the NHL.

Treliving has managed to turn a few of his picks into regulars on the Flames’ roster. While both Bennett and Tkachuk were givens, the Flames were able to develop Andersson, Mangiapane, Dube, and Kylington. Valimaki has plenty of upside still but his development was haltered by his injuries.

The Flames have a lot of Calgary-drafted players filling out their roster in most positions. Treliving’s been responsible for a handful of those and with any luck a few more will make the jump in the coming years.

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