Calgary Flames

Taking a look back at the Calgary Flames’ disappointing 2014 draft class

It finally happened, the Calgary Flames have traded Sam Bennett. After years of underachieving and false hope, the Flames finally pulled the trigger and moved on from the struggling 2014 fourth overall pick during Monday’s trade deadline. With his trade request at the beginning of the year, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Bennett was no longer a Flame.

Another less talked about outcome of the trade is that with Bennett finally gone, the Flames now have nothing to show for their entire 2014 draft class. The team no longer has a single player selected during that draft on their NHL team, or even in their entire organization. Shoutout to Kent Wilson for the depressing reminder of just how bad that draft has turned out for the team.

Hitting on draft picks every year is incredibly tough and pretty much never happens, but not having a single player still in your organization just seven years after a draft isn’t exactly a great look. Let’s take a look back on that draft, who the Flames picked, and how the careers of each player have gone so far.

Sam Bennett – 1st round, 4th overall

Notable players picked later that round – William Nylander (8), Nikolaj Ehlers (9), Dylan Larkin (15) David Pastrnak (25)

Obviously the Flames’ first pick in the draft and the one most fresh in our minds is Sam Bennett. Bennett wasn’t just the highest draft pick for the team that year, he was the highest draft pick in franchise history and still is to this day. The 2014 draft marked the first time in Flames history that they ever held a top five pick in the NHL draft. Before 2014, the highest they had ever picked was sixth overall.

Given that fact alone, there was a ton of hype going into this draft for the team and its fans, and that hype was dialed up even more when the team landed Bennett. Going into the draft, Bennett was actually the number one ranked North American skater by Central Scouting, ahead of even Aaron Ekblad. In fact, you would’ve been hard pressed to find a single draft ranking from any source that had Bennett lower than third overall.

It’s easy to go back and say the team should’ve picked someone else, but at the time Bennett was by far the clear pick. When he slipped to fourth, it was thought the team finally had their first franchise centreman since Joe Nieuwendyk and Doug Gilmour. We all know how that turned out.

Bennett actually had a very promising start to his career too. After returning from major shoulder surgery, he tore up the OHL before being recalled to the Flames right before the playoffs in 2014-15. He would go on to score three goals and four points in 11 playoff games as an 18-year-old. Thus began the “18-year-old Sam Bennett” era.

The next season he continued the hype train full speed ahead as he put up 18 goals and 36 points in 77 games as a rookie in 2015-16. The total bested fellow top draft pick Sean Monahan’s 34 points the year prior during his own rookie season. Going into the 2016-17 season, many expected a breakout year for Bennett and for him to establish himself as the teams top centre. That didn’t happen.

It was all downhill after his rookie year as Bennett has failed to ever reach those heights again. The 18 goals and 36 points he put up his rookie year both remain career highs seven years later. During the 2016-17 season Bennett put up just 13 goals and 26 points. However in what would become a trend he impressed in the playoffs once again, scoring two goals in four games.

Throughout his next four years in Calgary, Bennett best year capped out at just 27 points and 13 goals in the regular season, which he achieved in 2018-19 when the Flames were dominating. He would continue his trend of performing in the playoffs however, putting up five points in five games in 2018-19, and eight points in 10 games in last season’s playoffs after putting up just 12 in 52 during the regular season. He definitely earned the “Playoff Sam Bennett” moniker over the years.

The problem is, Playoff Sam Bennett never translated into Regular Season Sam Bennett. Despite his playoff success he was never able to show that same level of play in the regular season consistently. Bouncing around the lineup every season, Bennett never stuck at centre either and would play most of his time with the team on the wing.

In the end, the highest draft pick in franchise history never lived up to the hype, and his tenure was full of false hope, cool mustaches, and bad penalties. He ended his Flames career with 140 points in 402 games, and 19 points in 30 playoff games. Also, he had 319 penalty minutes. Without checking, let’s set the over/under at 90% of them being offensive zone penalties. Most fans might take the over based on what we know about Bennett.

Say what you want about Bennett though, no one can ever deny his effort or how much he wanted to succeed. Unfortunately he could just never put it together and it was clear it just wasn’t going to work in Calgary. Sometimes players who dominate the junior level can’t translate it to the professional level and that has been the case with Bennett. We wish him the best in Florida.

Mason McDonald – 2nd round, 34th overall

Notable players picked later that round – Thatcher Demko (36), Alex Nedeljkovic (37), Vitek Vanecek (39)

Bennett was clearly an incredibly disappointing pick, but at least he turned into a full time NHL player. The rest of the draft class is much more bleak. That starts with goaltender Mason McDonald. The Flames were in the first year of the post-Kiprusoff era and desperately needed some young talent at the position going into the 2014 draft.

They filled that need by using their second pick of the draft at the very beginning of the second round on McDonald. It wasn’t a terrible pick at the time as it certainly filled a need in the organization and McDonald was widely regarded as the second best goalie in the draft. The problem is the consensus best goalie in the draft Thatcher Demko was still on the board when the Flames made this pick.

Demko ended up going just two picks later to the team’s divisional rivals the Vancouver Canucks. It’s not really fair most times to go back to previous drafts and look at who a team could’ve picked instead because hindsight is 20/20. In saying that however, when you decide to select a goalie and completely pass over the consensus top option, you deserve to be criticized when it doesn’t work out.

To make matters even worse, the 2014 draft class produced a ton of NHL goalies picked after McDonald. Demko would go 36th, Alex Nedeljkovic went 37th, Vitek Vanecek went 39th, Jonas Johansson went 61st, Elvis Merzlikins went 76th, (here’s a good spot to take a breath and remember to breathe before continuing), Ilya Sorokin went 78th, Ville Husso went 94th, Kaapo Kahkonen went 109th, and Igor Shesterkin went 118th.

From the moment he was drafted it was pretty much nothing but downhill for McDonald. In his next two years in the QMJHL, he posted save percentages of .906 and then .902 in his final year in junior. He did get selected to Canada’s World Junior team in 2016, however he played just two games and put up an .861 save percentage.

Following the end of his junior career in 2016 he then had some absolutely disastrous seasons in the AHL and ECHL. In 2016-17 he played one game in the AHL, allowing six goals on 33 shots. He also played 29 games in the ECHL that year, putting up an .897 save percentage. The next year didn’t go much better as he posted an .894 save percentage in 27 games in the ECHL and an .875 save percentage in 4 AHL games.

Since the 2017-18 season, McDonald hasn’t played above the ECHL. He did seem to have a career resurgence in the ECHL in 2018-19 posting an impressive .917 save percentage over 36 games, however despite this the team did not tender him a qualifying offer due to their crowded goaltending depth chart and he was released.

He would go on to sign a one year deal with the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL team in 2019-20, but played all 17 games that year in the ECHL, where he posted an .890 save percentage. He is currently a free agent. Meanwhile, Demko has a .917 save percentage in the NHL this year and recently signed a five-year extension.

Hunter Smith – 2nd round, 54th overall

Notable players picked later that round – Brandon Montour (55), Ryan Donato (56), Christian Dvorak (58)

If there was ever a Flames draft pick that had Brian Burke written all over it, it was this one. The 2014 draft was Brad Treliving’s first with the team, as he was hired just two months prior. There’s no doubt Burke had a heavy influence on the teams draft class this year because of this, and this pick proves it.

Hunter Smith had absolutely no business being picked this high. He was ranked 74th by The Hockey Writers and 93rd by Future Considerations. He was also ranked 39th among just North American skaters on the Central Scouting final rankings.

So why did the Flames reach so far to take him? I’ll give you two reasons why. One, he is 6-foot-7 and two, he weighed 220 pounds. That’s pretty much it. Smith had done absolutely nothing to warrant being a second round pick that year.

To make things look even worse, Smith was actually an over-ager that year in the OHL and 2014 was the second year he was eligible for the NHL draft. In his first two seasons in the OHL he put up one point, yes one point, in 45 games leading him to go undrafted in 2013. In 2013-14 he had a breakout year, but still put up just 40 points in 64 games for a powerhouse Oshawa Generals team as an 18-year-old.

That led to the Flames picking Smith in his second go at the NHL draft with their second pick of the second round. Smith did actually have a decent D+1 year, putting up 49 points in 57 games, and 18 points in 21 playoff games as the team would go on to win the Memorial Cup. Still though, as a 19-year-old on the CHL’s best team, putting up under a point per game is very underwhelming.

Smith’s professional career was predictably very bad. He would spend just two seasons in the AHL for the Heat, playing a total of 88 games and putting up 19 points playing mostly fourth line minutes. He then spent one year with the Flames’ ECHL affiliate in 2017-18 putting up 17 points in 35 games. Following the 2017-18 season, he wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer and was released.

He signed a contract with the Avs’ AHL team the next year in 2018-19 but was cut and played in the ECHL that year putting up 14 points in 40 games. He is currently a free agent. He’s still very big though.

Brandon Hickey – 3rd round, 64th overall

Notable players taken later that round – Warren Foegele (67) Elvis Merzlinkins (76), Ilya Sorokin (78), Brayden Point (79)

The Flames picking Brandon Hickey at 64th overall, their first defenceman picked in the draft, was also a pretty big reach. Going into the draft, Hickey was ranked 92nd by TheHockeyWriters, 104th by Future Considerations, and 63rd among North American skaters by CSS.

Once again going against the consensus, the Flames used their fourth pick of the draft on Hickey early in the third round. Hickey was selected out of the AJHL where he had spent three seasons prior to being drafted. His first two years he put up just seven points over 57 games and no points in 16 playoff games.

In his draft year however, he broke out for 22 points in 49 regular season games, and five in 13 playoff games. He was also committed to play at Boston University the following year. During his time at Boston University, Hickey played some solid hockey and looked to be a potential great pick by the Flames.

During the 2015-16 season and his second at BU, Hickey was selected to play for team Canada at the World Junior Championships, a rare occurrence for a player playing in the NCAA. He would play all five games for Canada, but collected no points.

Throughout his first three seasons at BU, Hickey put up 40 points in 112 games while playing a solid two-way game, drawing comparisons to fellow Flames pick and current Flame at the time T.J. Brodie.

The next season however, and his last before becoming a free agent, Hickey still had not signed his ELC with the Flames just one month before he could become a free agent. This created some concern he could wait until July and walk away from the team as a free agent.

Fearful of this, Brad Treliving ended up packaging him in a trade to the Coyotes for Mike Smith. He never played a game in the Flames organization. After finishing up his last year in the NCAA in 2017-18, he was traded to the Sabres and signed an ELC with them. He’s since suited up for 69 AHL games across three seasons, putting up 11 points. He signed an AHL contract with the Chicago Wolves this season and has yet to play in the NHL in his career.

Adam Ollas-Mattsson – 6th round, 175th overall

Notable players selected later that round – Sammy Blais (176)

The Flames next pick in the draft didn’t come until late in the sixth round as they had traded their fourth round pick for Joe Colborne, their fifth round pick for Kris Russell, and their sixth round pick for Lane MacDermid the previous year. They re-acquired a sixth round pick by trading Tim Jackman. With the pick, the Flames selected big Swedish defenceman Adam Ollas-Mattsson out of the Sweden U20 league.

Ollas-Mattsson’s draft ranking was all over the place depending on who you asked. TheHockeyWriters ranked Ollas-Mattsson 108th, while Future Considerations had him 195th. CSS had him as the 15th ranked European skater.

Throughout this draft you can pretty much tell whether the pick is a Treliving pick or a Burke pick. This one was definitely a Burke pick. Ollas-Mattsson is huge. He stood at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds going into the draft. Unfortunately that was one of the only things going for him as he was the prototypical bruising physical defenceman.

After being drafted, Ollas-Mattsson spent three seasons in the SHL, putting up 10 points in 108 games. He also represented Sweden at the 2016 World Junior Championships. Following the 2016-17 season he came over to North America and proceeded to play for the Heat for parts of three seasons under AHL only contracts.

By his third season in the league he was a regular with the AHL club, getting into 65 games. Unfortunately though he still had not received an ELC from the Flames and he opted to return home to Sweden for the 2019-20 season where he currently still plays.

Austin Carroll – 7th round, 184th overall

Notable players picked later that round – Pierre Engvall (188), Ondrej Kase (205)

This pick has Burke written all over it once again. I get it’s the seventh round of the draft and every pick at this point is a literal crapshoot, but picking overage players because they’re big isn’t a good strategy in any round.

Austin Carroll was actually 20 years old when the Flames picked him. No that isn’t a typo. He was passed over in both the 2012 and 2013 drafts. When the Flames took him in the seventh round in 2014, it was his third time being eligible for the draft. Doing the math on that, he was passed over 603 times before being picked by the Flames.

Carroll put up just 57 points in 70 games for the Victoria Royals during the 2013-14 season before the Flames picked him that year. It was his third season in the WHL and one that he finished as a 20-year-old. He did put up 34 goals, but he was listed at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds playing against 16 and 17 year old kids.

I get drafting overage players sometimes considering some players breakout after their original draft years (see Andrew Mangiapane) but when a player posts just 57 points in 70 games in their second season after going undrafted, it’s fair to conclude they probably aren’t worth picking. For comparison Mangiapane put up 104 points in 68 games in his first year after going undrafted when the Flames took him in the sixth round. That’s the type of overage player you gamble a late round pick on.

The following season Carroll would post 77 points in 69 games in the WHL in his 20/21 year old and final junior season. During that season, the Flames signed him to an ELC. He would then play three seasons with the Heat, posting 35 points in 151 games.

Following the 2017-18 season he wasn’t given another contract and was released. He would sign an ECHL contract with the Utah Grizzles and then an AHL contract with the Manitoba Moose before going over to Germany to play one season in 2019-20. He’s now a sales representative at a real estate agency.

A draft to forget

The Flames organization will certainly want to forget the 2014 draft class now that Bennett has officially moved on. It’s very rare you hit on more than a couple picks a draft, but to swing and miss on all six picks you make isn’t a great look at all. This draft class for the Flames was full of questionable choices, truculence, and flat out bad luck.

All in all, of the six players the Flames picked in 2014, only one has played in the NHL so far. If you want to find the last Flames draft class that had only one make the NHL, you’d have to go all the way back to the 2006 draft where Leland Irving was the only pick to have played in the NHL. In fact, if we skip the three most recent drafts for now, the 2014 and 2006 drafts are the only two drafts in franchise history where only one player picked played in the NHL.

Only three are currently still playing hockey, with McDonald and Smith currently free agents, and Carroll retired. Of the six picks made, only two (Bennett and Carroll) received ELCs from the team. For comparison, three players from the 2020 draft class have already received ELCs.

Luckily for the team, their drafting has been much better in recent years, and they have strayed from the obsession with size and truculence. On an unrelated note, Burke left the organization prior to the 2018 draft. Here’s hoping the team continues their recent strong drafting for years to come.

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