The Calgary Flames have had a much, much better time drafting since Brad Treliving took over. The Jay Feaster and Darryl Sutter eras saw the team draft downright terribly, and bad draft decisions definitely set the franchise back many years.
As the 2021 NHL Entry Draft approaches, we took a look at all the times the Flames were victims of truly terrible luck. We break down the top-10 (or bottom-10) times the Flames saw a star player taken just one pick after them in the draft.
Oh, what could have been. Let’s get into it.
#10: 1995 Round 7 – Ryan Gillis (176th) over P.J. Axelsson (177th)
If you don’t know who Ryan Gillis is, don’t feel bad. The Flames’ seventh-rounder in 1995 did not play a single NHL game. After putting up just 35 points in 65 games for the OHL’s North Bay Centennials in his draft year, Gillis played professionally in the ECHL and UHL (United Hockey League) in the US until 2007.
Just one pick later, the Boston Bruins selected P.J. Axelsson. Axelsson played 797 games over 11 seasons in the NHL, amassing 103 goals and 287 points along the way. He also received votes for the Selke Trophy in six of those seasons, the Lady Byng in three, and finished 12th in Calder Trophy voting in his rookie year.
#9: 1999 Round 7 – Blair Stayzer (190th) over Martin Erat (191st)
Once again, don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Blair Stayzer. In 1999, the Flames took Stayzer with their seventh-round pick. Like Gillis above, Stayzer also had an incredibly underwhelming draft year where he scored 31 points in 62 games for the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. He played professionally for various teams in the ECHL, CHL, IHL, and EIHL. The closest he got to the NHL was in the 2001–02 season when he suited up for four games for the Saint John Flames.
Just one pick later, the Nashville Predators selected Martin Erat. The Czech winger played an incredible 881 NHL games over 11 seasons, scoring 176 goals and 545 points. Erat was still playing professionally until 2019–20 in the Czech Republic.
#8: 2001 Round 7 – David Moss (220th) over Johnny Oduya (221st)
Our final seventh-round miss, the Flames selected David Moss in 2001 with the 220th overall pick. Moss wasn’t a total bust by any means. Fans will remember his miracle 2008–09 season with the Flames when Moss hit the 20-goal plateau almost solely by cleaning up garbage in front of the net.
Because of this season, Moss is my go-to example of the difference between being a 20-goal scorer, or being a guy who scored 20 goals. Moss ended up playing a very respectable 501 games in the NHL between the Flames and Arizona Coyotes, and finished with 78 goals and 178 points.
Just one pick later, the Washington Capitals took Johnny Oduya 221st overall. The rugged defender logged 850 games in the NHL over 12 seasons, scoring 41 goals and 190 points. Oduya averaged just under 20 minutes of ice time per night over his entire career, and is a two-time Stanley Cup champion. Currently, Oduya is in Kenya with Flames defender Oliver Kylington working to grow the game. What a guy.
#7: 1991 Round 1 – Niklas Sundblad (19th) over Martin Rucinsky (20th)
Niklas Sundblad, the Flames’ first-rounder in 1991, was a complete bust. He was drafted out of Sweden and didn’t come over the pond until the 1993–94 season when he put up 32 points in 76 games for the Saint John Flames. He was stuck in the AHL for three seasons, and ended up playing just two NHL games in his career. Following the 1995–96 season, Sundblad went back to Europe and played in various leagues there until the 2008–09 season. Weirdly enough, he joined the Fischtown Penguins in the DEL-2 (Germany’s second division) for seven playoff games in 2012–13.
Just one pick later, Martin Rucinsky was taken 20th overall by the Edmonton Oilers. This definitely makes the pick hurt a little bit extra, as Rucinsky went on to play 961 NHL games over 16 seasons (only one with the Oilers, though). He scored 241 goals and 612 points, with his career-best season of 75 points in 78 games in 1995–96. Rucinsky was a solid player for a long time, and would have been a great selection by the Flames.
#6: 2001 Round 2 – Andrei Medvedev (56th) over Jay McClement (57th)
In 2001, the Flames took a swing and selected Russian goalie Andrei Medvedev (not to be confused with the Russian tennis player with the same name). Unfortunately for the Flames, their swing didn’t connect. Not only did Medvedev never come to North America, he stopped playing hockey entirely after the 2004–05 season. In the second round, you just can’t afford to miss that badly.
Just one pick later, the St. Louis Blues selected Jay McClement, a center out of the OHL’s Brampton Battalion. In his draft year, McClement scored 30 goals and 49 points in 66 games, making him a very worthy second-round pick. Can’t say the same for Medvedev. McClement was a consistent two-way forward in the NHL, and played 906 games over 12 seasons. He received Selke votes in four of those seasons, and was highly regarded as a reliable defensive centreman.
#5: 2013 Round 1 – Emile Poirier (22nd) over Andre Burakovsky (23rd)
The most recent one on this list, Emile Poirier was the second of three first-round picks the Flames made in 2013. They took Sean Monahan sixth overall, and must have felt good about themselves because they reached for Poirier at 22nd. Poirier was drafted out of the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques, and he scored 32 goals and 70 points in 65 games in his draft year.
It wasn’t a huge swing as Poirier was ranked 39th by Future Considerations, but the 2013 draft class was incredibly deep and the Flames missed out on a number of much better players, including Shea Theodore, Pavel Buchnevich, Jake Guentzel, Anthony Duclair, and Oliver Bjorkstrand, all of whom went in the first three rounds. Poirier played just eight NHL games and most recently played in Slovakia.
Just one pick later, the Washington Capitals took Andre Burakovsky 23rd overall. Ranked 25th by Future Considerations, Burakovsky was a much more on-the-board pick, and definitely the right one instead of Poirier. Burakovsky has 439 NHL games under his belt thus far, has scored 100 goals and 234 points, and is absolutely thriving with the Colorado Avalanche. He’s definitely a player the Flames would have loved to have in their top-six this past season.
#4: 1998 Round 1 – Rico Fata (6th) over Manny Malhotra (7th)
Rico Fata was one of the most anticipated Flames draft picks in the 90s, and was taken with the sixth overall selection in 1998. Fata was drafted out of the OHL’s London Knights, and he put up a very impressive 43 goals and 76 points in 64 games. He also had 110 PIMs (that mattered back in the day), and had all the makings of an NHL star. Unfortunately, he did not live up to the hype.
Fata played just 230 games in the NHL, only 27 of which were with the Flames, and he finished his NHL career with 27 goals and 63 points. He put up more points in his draft year in the OHL than he did in his entire NHL career.
Just one pick later, the New York Rangers took Manny Malhotra from the OHL’s Guelph Storm. A personal hero of mine due to his Indian heritage, Malhotra was highly regarded for his two-way play and incredible ability to win faceoffs. Malhotra used this skill to extend his NHL career and was often used as the faceoff man in key situations and would immediately go for a change after winning the draw. Malhotra ended up playing 991 NHL games, scored 116 goals and 295 points. He also received Selke votes in five different seasons and Byng votes in four.
#3: 1994 Round 5 – Frank Appel (123rd) over Marty Turco (124th)
This one is pretty upsetting. Another name you’ve probably never heard before, Frank Appel was the Flames’ fifth-round selection in the 1994 draft. In his draft year, he put up exactly zero points in four games playing for Düsseldorfer EG in Germany. He probably got drafted solely because he had a nice stat line in the U-18s that year, where he scored two goals and four points in five games for Germany.
Appel played the following season for the Calgary Royals in the AJHL, and then played for the Moncton Alpines in the QMJHL the year after. Then, he headed back to Germany and played there until the 2006–07 season. Zero NHL games for Appel.
Just one pick later, legendary (that might be a tad generous) goaltender Marty Turco was selected by the Dallas Stars. Turco is known for being one of the best puck-handling goaltenders of all time, and was the rock in the Stars’ crease for many years. He was a three-time NCAA champion, three-time NHL all-star, won the NHL Foundation Award, and was a runner up for the Vezina Trophy in 2002–03. On top of that, Turco received votes for the Calder in his rookie year, the Vezina in three seasons, the Hart in three seasons, and even got a Byng vote in 2007–08.
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#2: 1993 Round 3 – Dan Tompkins (70th) over Vinny Prospal (71st)
In 1993, the Flames selected Dan Tompkins with their third-round pick. Tompkins had a very good season for the USHL’s Omaha Lancers in his draft year, putting up 16 goals and 50 points in 43 games. Unfortunately, he only managed to make it as far as the ECHL, and stopped playing professional hockey by 2000. He never suited up for the Flames in any capacity.
Just one pick later, the Philadelphia Flyers selected Czech centreman Vinny Prospal. Prospal had a long, fruitful NHL career. He played 1108 NHL games for seven teams, scoring 255 goals and 765 points along the way. What makes this pick especially relevant to the Flames is that Prospal was traded by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the 2003–04 season to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Prospal won the cup with the Lightning that season as they eliminated the Flames in Game 7 of the final, and he was the team’s third leading scorer in the playoffs.
|Vaclav “Vinny” Prospal||L||1108||255||510||765|
#1: 2011 Round 2 – Tyler Wotherspoon (57th) over Nikita Kucherov (58th)
This one was a no brainer. Tyler Wotherspoon was a decent second-rounder, coming off a solid season with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. He represented Canada at the WJC in 2013 and looked to be at least in the conversation for a regular NHL roster spot. Unfortunately, he was never able to crack the Flames’ team full time, and split time between the NHL and AHL in four consecutive seasons. Since the 2017–18 season, he’s been playing in the AHL for various clubs.
Just one pick later, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected superstar Nikita Kucherov. This isn’t an indictment on Wotherspoon because at the time it wasn’t that bad a selection. But seeing Kucherov go next is crushing. He’s one of the most prolific scorers and dynamic players on the planet, and almost definitely the best right winger in the game. For a team that is devoid of talent on the right side, it would have gone a long way to select Kucherov and Johnny Gaudreau in the same draft. Imagine them on a line together!
There’s still lots of runway left on Kucherov’s career, and so far he’s a six-time all-star; winner of the Hart, Pearson, and Art Ross Trophies; and has 547 points in 515 NHL games. This was by far the worst miss by the Flames.
There were a few others that didn’t crack the top-10 but were still worthy of mentioning.
- 2011 Round 1 – Sven Baertschi over Jamie Oleksiak
- 2011 Round 2 – Markus Granlund over Joel Edmundson
- 2012 Round 3 – Jon Gillies over Chris Driedger
- 2013 Round 1 – Morgan Klimchuk over Jason Dickinson
- 2014 Round 6 – Adam Ollas-Mattsson over Sammy Blais
- 2015 Round 5 – Pavel Karnaukhov over Dominik Simon
- 2007 Round 3 – John Negrin over Evgenii Dadonov
- 2006 Round 6 – Jordan Fulton over Leo Komarov
- 2004 Round 7 – Jimmy Spratt over Troy Brouwer
- 2003 Round 9 – Kevin Harvey over Jaroslav Halak
- 1997 Round 1 – Daniel Tkaczuk over Paul Mara
- 1992 Round 3 – Mathias Johansson over Sergei Zholtok
- 1990 Round 2 – Vesa Viitakoski over Craig Johnson