Calgary Flames

Revisiting the best and worst drafts in Calgary Flames history

With the 2021 NHL Entry Draft just a week away now, the talk of who the Flames should pick this year continues to heat up. Coming off what looks to be a highly successful 2020 draft in which the team picked up Connor Zary, Yan Kuznetsov, Jeremie Poirier, and Ryan Francis, among others, the team will be looking to once again come away with a strong draft class. A repeat of last year is no guarantee though, as the Flames have shown in the past that some drafts can be complete misses.

Conducting their first draft as a Calgary franchise in 1980, the Flames have come away with some incredible draft classes when it’s all said it done, however they have also come away with some awful ones too. Let’s take a look at some of the best drafts in team history, and some of the worst.

I will be basing the judgement on each draft class based off of the players achievements in the NHL throughout their careers, and not just their contributions with the Flames. I won’t consider any draft after 2016 as it’s still too early to make judgements on those classes.

The Best

1984 draft

Notable selections: Gary Roberts (12th), Paul Ranheim (38th), Brett Hull (117th), Gary Suter (180th)

The 1984 draft was without a doubt the best in Flames history. When it was all said and done and each player had retired, the Flames ended up selecting four players with at least 1000 games played in the NHL. Since then, the team hasn’t had a single drafted player with that kind of longevity, as every other draft class contained at most just one player with over 1000 games under their belt.

The group of players selected in 1984 ranks first among all Flames classes for games played, points, games played per pick, points per pick, and second for points per game. This is even more impressive considering that six of the 12 players they picked never even played in the NHL. They may have missed on half of their picks, but the ones they hit on, they really hit.

Gary Roberts—selected 12th overall—is a Flames legend who played the first 10 years of his career with the team. He would help the team win their first and only Stanley Cup in 1989. He ended his career with 909 points in 1224 career games. With the Flames he posted 505 points in 585 games.

The next notable pick from this draft was Paul Rainheim at 38th overall. Ranheim would only play six seasons for the Flames, however he was also a part of the 1989 cup winning team, putting up 54 points in 80 games that season. He would go on to have a career spanning 15 years across different franchises, putting up 360 points in 1013 games.

Ready for some pain now? The next notable pick the Flames would make in 1984 would go down as one of the best draft picks in NHL history. Unfortunately for the Flames it wasn’t because of his accomplishments with them. Yes, it was Brett Hull, who the Flames took in the sixth round, #117th overall.

Hull would play just 57 games with the Flames, registering 51 points, before they shipped him off to the St. Louis Blues. We all know what happened next. Hull would go on to have one of the best careers in NHL history, registering 1391 points, including 741 goals, in 1269 games. Hull currently sits fourth all time for goals, and 23rd all time for points. Fun fact, his 741 goals alone are higher than any other draft class combined in Flames history.

They weren’t done there though, as the team picked up Gary Suter in the ninth round, 180th overall. Suter, a crucial part of the teams 1989 cup winning team, would play nine seasons for the Flames, registering 564 points in 617 games. He also won the Calder trophy in his rookie season for the team. Suter would play another five seasons for the Blackhawks, and four for the Sharks, ending his career with 845 points in 1145 games.

Other picks to play in the NHL were Jiri Hrdina who registered 130 points in 250 games at 159th overall, and Ken Sabourin at 33rd overall who played 74 NHL games, posting 10 points.

1981 draft

Notable Selections: Al MacInnis (15th), Mike Vernon (56th)

The 1981 draft produced another draft class that had major contributions to the Flames one and only Stanley Cup in 1989. The 1981 draft was just the second in Calgary Flames history, but boy did they hit the ground running. The team came away with two absolutely crucial members of the 1989 cup run.

The class ranks sixth for games played, fifth for points, first for points per game (not including goalies), third for games played per pick, and third for points per pick (not including goalies).

The Flames made nine picks this draft, with only four playing in the NHL. However what makes this draft class so great is the first two picks of the draft for the Flames: Al MacInnis and Mike Vernon. Both are Flames legends and both have their numbers hanging in the Saddledome rafters.

MacInnis is the best defenceman in franchise history, and would spend parts of 13 seasons in Calgary, racking up 822 points in 803 games. That total ranks third all-time in Flames history, and first for defenceman by a wide margin. MacInnis was a huge part of the 1989 team, as he would win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP after posting 31 points in 22 playoff games.

MacInnis would also have a highly successful 10 year stretch with the Blues after being traded by the Flames, including winning the Norris trophy in 1999. He would end his career with 1274 points in 1416 games which ranks third all-time among defencemen in league history. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.

Vernon meanwhile, a third-round pick in 1981, is the only goaltender in Flames history to lead the team to the Cup. Vernon spent parts of 13 seasons with the Flames, playing 527 games and posting a 262-188-13 record. His 262 wins sit second in franchise history behind only Miikka Kiprusoff. His 43 playoff wins are first all-time in Flames history, as are his 81 games played by a goaltender in the playoffs.

Vernon would also spend three seasons with the Red Wings where he won the Conn Smythe in 1997, four with the Sharks, and one with the Panthers. He ended his career with a 385-273-92 record in 781 games played and a .890 save percentage.

Other picks to play in the NHL from this class are Dale DeGray—picked 162nd overall—who played 153 games registering 65 points, as well as Bruce Eakin—picked 204th overall— who played 13 games putting up four points.

2016 draft

Notable Selections: Matthew Tkachuk (6th), Dillon Dube (56th), Adam Fox (66th)

This may seem a little premature, bit given the talent that the Flames picked up in the 2016 draft I don’t think it’s a stretch to proclaim it as one of the best in Flames history already. The other options were the 1992, and 1996 drafts however even though the Flames got a lot of NHL games out of those drafts, the classes don’t have the star power that the 2016 class does.

Despite being just five years ago, the 2016 class already ranks ahead of 10 Flames draft classes that came before 2016 in games played. It also ranks 17th all-time among Flames draft classes for points and will only continue to climb in the coming seasons.

Headlining this draft is obviously the Flames first-round pick of Matthew Tkachuk at sixth overall, seemingly redeeming the franchise after selecting the unrelated Daniel Tkaczuk sixth overall 19 years prior. Still just 23 years old, Tkachuk has already logged 349 games and 278 points in his young career and seems bound to be a star in the NHL for a long time.

He has already established himself as one of the best players at his position in the league and is arguably the Flames’ most important player. It’s still very early but Tkachuk has a real shot at becoming one of the best players and draft picks in franchise history.

Picked 56nd overall, Dillon Dube may not have the star power or potential of Tkachuk but he still looks to be primed for a long and decent career as an NHLer. Dube made his NHL debut in 2018–19 and has since suited up for 121 games and posting 43 points—his role on the team growing each year. He already ranks third among Flames second-rounders since the 2000 draft for games played and points. He may never develop into a star player, but Dube has the skill and potential to play a key role for the Flames for years to come.

Then there is Adam Fox, who is already well on his way to being the second best player in team history drafted by the Flames who achieves his success outside of Calgary. Fox—selected 66th overall by the Flames in 2016—has already established himself as one of the best defencemen in the NHL. Through the first two seasons of his career, Fox has posted 89 points in 125 games.

He also just won the Norris trophy as the league’s best defenceman for his 2020–21 campaign. He is just the second player ever drafted by the Flames to win the Norris trophy—the other being Al MacInnis. At least they learned their lesson to never draft New York-born college players again.

Outside of those three, the Flames also picked up Matthew Phillips at 166th overall. Phillips has put up some great numbers in both the WHL and AHL, and looks to be poised to make his debut as a lineup regular for the Flames next season. Whether or not his success can translate to the NHL is yet to be seen, but he has the potential to be a solid NHL player in the future. A great find in the sixth round.

Honorable Mention: 1983 draft

The Flames were very good at drafting in the 80s. In 1983 the team held the most picks in franchise history with 14, tied with the 1982 and 1991 drafts. The difference is in 1983 they made good use of them. The team ended up drafting six future NHLers, tied for the third most in team history.

The Flames drafted Dan Quinn 13th overall, who went on to post 685 points in 805 games. With their next pick they took Brian Bradley 51st overall. Bradley would put up 503 points in 651 career games. Next at 55th overall, Perry Berezan would play in 378 NHL games, posting 136 points. Also playing in the NHL from this draft was Kevan Guy, picked 71st overall, Igor Liba picked 91st overall.

Finally Sergei Makarov who was picked in the 12th (yes, the 12th) round. Perhaps the best 12th-round pick ever, Makarov would put up 384 points in 424 games. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. The 1983 draft ranks fourth in Flames history for games played, points, and points per game. Overall it was a solid draft by the Flames, capped off by one of the biggest steals in Flames history in Makarov.

The Worst

2006 draft

Notable selections: None

The 2006 draft is truly the stuff of legends for the Flames, and not in a good way. As I’m sure we all know by now, Darryl Sutter was not a good general manager and was brutal at the draft. His history of drafting is very ugly, but the 2006 class stands out as his worst and the worst in Flames history.

The Flames had eight picks going into the draft, including 26th overall. Before getting into who the team took, here is where this class ranks among all draft classes in Flames history. Last for games played, last for points, last for points per game, last for points per pick, last for games played per pick, and last for players to make the NHL.

The reason they rank last for every major category? The Flames didn’t get a single NHL point or game played from a forward or defenceman in this draft. That has never happened in another draft year in Flames history.

The only player selected who played in the NHL was goaltender Leland Iriving, who was taken 26th overall. He played just 13 games in the NHL posting a 3-4-4 record with a .902 save percentage and 3.25 GAA. He did however register 1 assist which makes him the highest scorer of this draft class. Two picks later the Ottawa Senators took Nick Foligno who has 957 games played and 486 points.

Of the nine players selected, only Irving and three others even played for the Flames AHL affiliate at the time, the Abbotsford Heat. John Armstrong, taken 87th overall, played 177 games for the Flames AHL team, registering 44 points. Aaron Marvin, taken 89th overall, played three games for the teams AHL squad, getting zero points. And finally Hugo Carpentier who was taken 118th overall played 61 games in the AHL and put up 12 points. The rest of the draft class either never played in the AHL at all or never played in the Flames’ organization.

1997 draft

Notable Selections: None

Before switching to seven rounds in the draft starting in 2005, the NHL draft used to be nine rounds starting in 1995 meaning teams had more chances to hit on their picks. Unfortunately in 1997 that wasn’t the case for the Flames, in fact it was the exact opposite. They found a way to somehow miss on every pick they had despite having a boat load of them.

The Flames went into the draft with 12 picks, something that is almost unheard of these days. Since this draft in 1997, the Flames have never had more picks in one year, only tying it once in 2002. The team even held the sixth overall pick, tied for the highest pick in franchise history at the time.

With the sixth overall pick the Flames took Daniel Tkaczuk, a centre out of the OHL. Tkaczuk had put up some solid numbers in the OHL, however that never translated into NHL success. He would end up playing just one season with the Flames in 2000–01, getting into 19 games and putting up 11 points. Following that season he never played in the NHL again, bouncing around between the AHL and various leagues in Europe before retiring in 2011.

He is arguably the biggest draft bust in franchise history. The very next pick the Tampa Bay Lightning took Paul Mara who would play 734 NHL games, right after that the Boston Bruins took Sergei Samsonov who posted 571 points in 888 career games. Marian Hossa at 12th overall and Daniel Cleary at 13th overall were also taken in the first half of the first round and had successful NHL careers.

The rest of the draft class was just as ugly. Only three other selections of the 12 the Flames made ended up playing in the NHL, and only one of them with the Flames. John Tripp, taken 42nd overall, played 42 NHL games split between the New York Rangers and LA Kings, putting up nine points. Erik Andersson who was actually 26 when the Flames took him 70th overall, played 12 NHL games with Calgary and registered three points. Ryan Ready was taken 100th overall and played seven games with the Philadelphia Flyers, getting one point.

Of the other eight players the Flames selected, only one would ever play in the Flames organization. Chris St. Croix played two seasons with the Saint John Flames between 1999 and 2001, putting up 25 points in 144 games. The other seven never played for the Flames AHL team or in the AHL at all.

2005 draft

Notable Selections: None

Yet another draft under Darryl Sutter, the one directly before his disastrous 2006 draft wasn’t great either. The 2005 and 2006 drafts quite frankly set the Flames back years, as they didn’t bring a single notable prospect into their organization. This is also the most Sutter draft of all Sutter drafts. The Flames used five of their eight picks on WHL players, and the other three on OHL players. All eight players selected were Canadian born.

The Flames had eight picks going into the draft, including 26th overall, identical to the 2006 draft. Just like the 2006 draft, they missed on every single pick. Among all Flames draft classes the 2005 draft ranks second last for both games played and points, trailing only the 2006 draft in both categories. It ranks sixth last for points per game, and third worst for both games played per pick, and points per pick. Of the eight picks they made, only three played in the NHL.

With their first pick, 26th overall, the Flames took Matt Pelech out of the OHL. At the time he was drafted Pelech had posted just 16 points across 93 games in the OHL. Pelech would go on to play just five games with the Flames, posting three points in 2008–09. He would play another eight for the San Jose Sharks between 2012–14, getting one point. In the end his NHL career totals were four points in 13 games played. Two picks after the Flames took Pelech, the Dallas Stars took Matt Niskanen. Seven picks later the San Jose Sharks took Marc-Eduard Vlasic.

Only two of the remaining seven picks would play in the NHL. Matt Keetley, a goaltender picked in the fifth round, 158th overall would play one NHL game for the Flames getting into just nine minutes of action. In the sixth round at 179th overall the Flames would take Darryl’s son, Brett Sutter. He would play just 18 games for the Flames registering two points. He also played 36 games for the Carolina Hurricanes, and six for the Minnesota Wild in his career. His career ended with 60 NHL games played and 10 points.

Dishonorable Mention: 2014 draft

I couldn’t write a piece about the Flames worst drafts without mentioning the infamous Brian Burke draft in 2014. I broke down this disaster of a Flames draft earlier this year, and I think it deserves to be mentioned here. It may not be as bad as Sutter’s back to back catastrophe’s in 2005 and 2006, or the embarrassing 1997 draft, but it still sucked.

It’s still early, but it appears as though Sam Bennett will be the only pick from this draft to play in the NHL. The other five picks have either been stuck in the AHL, gone over to Europe, or retired and became sales reps. Hunter Smith is also one of the worst second-round picks in team history. When taking Bennett fourth overall is your best pick in a draft, you’ve had a bad draft.

Which group will 2021 join?

The Flames have made some great picks throughout their 40 year history of drafting, however they have also made some very bad ones too. The good news is Darryl Sutter is only behind the bench and Brad Treliving has been a decent drafter thus far in his tenure with the Flames.

Treliving has shown the ability to get solid value out of his first-round picks so far, Bennett aside, while also finding some hidden gems in the later rounds. Whether or not that will continue this year is yet to be seen, but with the 12th overall selection, and six more picks in the draft, the 2021 class will look to become one of the better ones in team history, and hopefully not one of the worst.

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