The 2021 NHL Entry Draft is just over a week away, and here at The Win Column, we have put together a series of profiles on everyone the Flames have to choose from with their first-round selection.
We’ve put together a roundtable asking TWC writers who they think the Flames should select, who they should stay away from, and who their dark horse pick is. In the 2020 NHL Draft roundtable, Karim Kurji correctly anticipated that the Flames would take Connor Zary in the draft, but this year, it’s anyone’s game. Check out what our writers had to say this time around.
1. Who do you think the Flames select in the draft this year?
I think it comes down to two players for the Flames. If Cole Sillinger is available, they’ll likely take him, but I have a feeling he’ll be long gone by the 12th pick. Personally, I’m holding out hope that Fabian Lysell is available but he too will likely be gone by 12. That being said, if both players are gone by 12, I think they’ll take Aatu Räty, swinging on a guy who was expected to be in the mix for first overall just a year ago. There are a lot of reasons why Räty hasn’t maintained that pedigree that we discussed in our draft profile on Räty, but I’m willing to bet on him and I think the Flames are too.
I think they’ll have a massive incentive to take a swing for a high-reward type of prospect. Flames general manager Brad Treliving has a lot riding on this draft and I suspect he’ll want to make the most of this relatively high pick. For that reason, I suspect they’ll take a long look at Aatu Räty. They desperately need help down the middle and Räty has the pedigree of once being considered a strong bet to be the first pick in this year’s draft. That’s no longer likely to be the case after his underwhelming last two seasons but he’s still a player with NHL-ready size who has undoubtedly been on the team’s radar since his outstanding 2018–19 season.
I think the most likely pick will be Cole Sillinger given the team’s current needs as well as who will most likely be available by the time the Flames are on the clock. Sillinger is one of the best pure goal scorers available in the draft this year, which is a skill the Flames desperately lack in their organization right now. That said, if someone like Chaz Lucius or Fabian Lysell slips to 12th, the Flames should without question snap them up. In such a strange draft year it’s been harder than ever to predict how each pick will play out, however my bet would be on Sillinger donning the Flames sweater come draft night.
If he’s available, I think (and hope) the Flames will take Cole Sillinger. That being said, I suspect he’ll already be off the board when Treliving is called on to make his first pick, leaving the team a more difficult choice. If that is the case, Corson Ceulemans shouts Calgary Flames. The organization is thin on right-shooting defensive prospects, and he fills that need. He had an impressive season in the AJHL, putting up 11 points in eight games with the Brooks Bandits. Playing so close to Calgary, the team is sure to have a detailed scouting report on him too.
This draft could be a year of reaches, where teams just accept the oddities in prospect evaluation during the pandemic and make decisions that favour their guts a bit more. With where the Flames will be making their pick— barring any trades—it almost feels certain that at least one team ahead of them would go off the boards. This opens up the possibilities that a player like Fabian Lysell would be available come the Flames’ turn. If he is available I think the Flames would take him. Treliving has no issues selecting players from Europe, and Lysell fills some key needs in the organisation.
1: I’m going to go off-script here: my bet is the Flames trade down a few spots and take Logan Stankoven. The right-handed centre in Kamloops this season tied the all-time rookie goal scoring record and would have broken it were it not for the pandemic. He has constantly impressed in his role and has been a driver of play without playing with Connor Zary. A right-handed shot who is hard working, a strong skater, and can score tons of goals sounds like exactly what the Flames need.
2. Who do you think the Flames should stay away from?
Zachary L’Heureux. His history of disciplinary issues and downright unnecessary penalties that have led to suspensions makes him an automatic no from me. There are tons of players around the same tier so there’s really no reason to go down this road.
Well, Räty, largely due to his iffy numbers in the Finnish Liiga and his apparent regression in the country’s U-20 junior league. As a 15-year-old, Räty scored 17 goals and 31 points in 41 games with Kärpät’s U-20 team; in the two years since, he’s tallied just five goals and 28 points in 38 games with the same team. In addition to Räty,
I’d say the Flames would be wise to do as much homework as possible on Matthew Coronato. He’s a very appealing prospect who scored at a record-breaking rate with USHL Chicago last year… but he’s also a New York kid heading to Harvard. The Flames have had success with signing many of their NCAA prospects in the past, but one doesn’t have to look far on the NHL’s 2021 Awards page to find a pretty notable example of a one-time Flames prospect from the Crimson who wouldn’t sign with the team—or the Carolina Hurricanes, for that matter—and ended up winning the Norris with his hometown Rangers.
Adam Fox was well within his CBA-guaranteed rights to create such an outcome for himself but the Flames will want to make sure they don’t lose out on their first-rounder this year if Coronato also has a destination he desires above all others.
The first name that comes to mind is Räty, who is one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft. It’s easy to forget that at one point Räty was being mentioned as the potential first overall pick in this year’s draft, however that seems like ages ago. He’s seen his production rapidly decline over the past couple seasons since lighting it up with Karpats U-20 team, posting 31 points in 41 games as a 15-year-old back in 2018–19. Over the past 2 seasons Räty has managed just 10 points in 47 games in Liiga, and 28 points in 38 games for the U-20 team. He also didn’t even make Finland’s World Junior team for the 2021 tournament.
I understand the intrigue with Räty given the potential he has shown in the past, but at 12th overall the Flames shouldn’t be using their pick on a boom or bust reclamation project. There will be a handful of better options who are more of a sure thing available at 12th overall, and the Flames aren’t in a position to be passing them up for a huge risk like Räty.
Sebastian Cossa. While it should probably go without saying the Flames shouldn’t be using their first pick on a goalie, Treliving has made tons of picks over the years I thought it went without saying he should avoid. Most of those picks were either goalies, big skaters, or big goalies—like Cossa. Some scouts rank Cossa very highly in this draft, even ahead of the other big-name goalie, Jesper Wallstedt. If the Flames are of that mindset, they may take him as the “best player available” option despite not really needing another goalie in the system, and come to regret it down the line when his path to the NHL is blocked by Jacob Markstrom.
I’ll go with a more all-encompassing answer here: Defencemen. The Flames stand to benefit more from putting more of their eggs into offence to get some bona fide goal scorers. In 24 draft picks between 2016 and 2019, they selected just three defencemen: Juuso Valimaki, Adam Fox, and Stepan Falkovsky. Then in 2020, they selected four defenders, three of which were consecutive selections in Yan Kuznetsov, Jeremie Poirier, and Jake Boltmann, with Ilya Solovyov rounding out their draft. It’s a good time for Treliving to steer back towards forwards and use this draft as a whole to increase their chances that they get NHL-calibre offence out of their prospect cupboard down the line.
One player who has slipped substantially, and risks being available when the Flames draft at 12 is Simon Edvinsson, and he is someone I would pass on. A left-handed defenceman who is ranked as high as 5, those who have seen him play like his all-around game but do not like his decision making skills. You can teach a lot of things, but it is very hard to teach someone to be smarter with the puck. Even if he drops to 12, I think he’s worth passing on.
3. Who is one player that the Flames should take in the later rounds of the draft?
A later round pick I’d be interested in the Flames targeting is Finnish forward Samu Salminen. He’s ranked 72nd on TWC’s consolidated draft rankings but is ranked all over the place depending on what board you look at. He captained the Finnish U-18 team and put up seven goals and nine points in seven games at the tournament.
He also dominated the Finnish U-20 league with 26 points in 17 games, outpacing fellow countrymen Räty, Samu Tuomaala and Ville Koivunen, all projected as first- or second-round picks. At 6’3″ and 190 lbs, he’s also physically ready for the NHL already and the most important thing about him in my eyes is his birthday. He’s born in April 2003 which makes him one of the youngest players in the draft. He’s definitely worth a look as early as the second round.
I’m going to go with Samuel Helenius, a 6’6″ centre who placed 44th on our consolidated rankings. He’s the son of Sami Helenius, a Flames draft pick from 1992 who played 155 NHL games as a massive defenseman. Samuel has his dad’s size but also demonstrated some pretty impressive scoring ability in the Finnish Liiga last season, scoring seven goals and 14 points in 54 games. Among first-year draft-eligible (or younger) Liiga players, only Brad Lambert (a projected top-3 pick in 2022) outscored Helenius. It’s been a while since the Flames took a flier on an absolutely massive forward—he’s even two inches taller than Adam Ruzicka—and Helenius has the two-way billing and draft-year production to make him a potentially appealing target.
I think Oliver Kapanen is a player that is really flying under the radar right now and could be a potential steal in the second or third round. TWC had him ranked 93rd on our consolidated rankings. Kapanen has posted some very solid numbers the past couple seasons over in Finland. In 2019–20 he had 50 points in 44 games for the KalPa U18 team, and this past season in 2020–21 as a 17-year-old, he posted 41 points in 37 games for the KalPa U20 team. He also won’t even turn 18 until six days after the draft takes place, making him one of the younger players available this year.
Kapanen has a very solid two-way game for a player his age and has a great hockey IQ which makes him effective in all three zones. Despite being mostly touted for his two-way play, he also brings some offensive upside to the table as well, showing some goal scoring ability during his junior career so far. It also doesn’t hurt that he comes from great hockey bloodlines as his uncle is former NHLer Sami Kapanen, and his cousin is current Pittsburgh Penguin Kasperi Kapanen. Kapanen has the tools to become a second line player in the NHL one day if his development goes well, or at worst a solid two-way third line centre. He would be a great value pickup for the Flames in the second or third round.
To me, Olen Zellweger has the potential to be a sneaky good pick later in the draft. At just 5’10”, he’s small enough to be in a category of players generally underrated by teams at the draft. With 13 points in 11 games in the WHL this season, he took a giant step forward, albeit in a small sample size. He also impressed at the under-18s with Canada, scoring eight points in seven games. Ranked 99th on our consolidated rankings, he scored at a higher pace than many of the defenceman ranked ahead of him, and is only ranked as low as he is due to size. The Flames would be smart to take a chance on him.
Kyle Kukkonen. He’s a smaller player out of the USHS system, but there’s a lot to like about him as a late-round pick. First of all, he had a pretty good body of work in 2020–21 with lots of games played across three different teams. In each situation he was able to score goals and flaunt his offence. The caveat here is that his competition wasn’t exactly first-class. However, he’ll be a player entering the NCAA this upcoming season to play with Michigan Tech. It’ll be a long way to go before he can look towards the NHL, but playing the NCAA will help his development and take any pressure of time off of him. He can work on his own game and add some mass to his body over the coming years to get himself as NHL ready as possible.
I have a soft spot for small, hard-working players who can score goals, and Florian Elias fits that bill to a tee. A one-year over-ager, Elias was the rookie of the year in the DEL this season while playing against much older and more skilled men. This award was previously won by Tim Stutzle and Moritz Seider, so Elias finds himself in great company after leading all rookies with eight points in 34 games. He also had nine points in the World Juniors, good for sixth in the tournament. Would I take him in the first or even the second round? No, but if he’s available in say the fourth or fifth round, he is worth the risk.
Drafting up the results
These predictions as made by our writers cover a lot of different bases with justifications for each opinion. When the NHL draft rolls around, we’ll see who, if anyone, had correct prognoses on the Flames’ drafting strategy. The first round is on July 23, 2021 followed by the rest of the draft on July 24. You don’t want to miss this draft as it is one for the ages.