Unlike the 2016 Draft Class, the Calgary Flames had just five picks in the draft, including the 16th overall selection. When you have less choices, you need to make sure that those picks land in order to help build out your NHL club. Here is how they looked at the time and how they’ve panned out since.
16th overall: Juuso Valimaki
Without a game-breaking blueliner in their prospect pool, the Flames took Juuso Valimaki with their 16th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft. The Finnish blueliner was the fifth defenceman taken that draft, and was coming off of an impressive 61 point season with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. Having come over from Finland just two seasons before, Valimaki quickly adapted to the North American game, and was the seventh-best defenceman in the WHL that season.
Standing 6’2″, Valimaki was touted as having an NHL-ready frame and was able to use this to his advantage. He was quite strong offensively, able to carry the puck through the neutral zone or to make strong outlet passes. He had a heavy slap shot from the point that could beat goalies clean, but was not overly flashy in the way that he played. He just did what he needed to do to help his team win.
On the defensive side, he was quite good, able to use his body to keep opponents to the outside. He also had good gap control and smooth skating to help him shutdown plays. The one thing that scouts liked about him in particular was his discipline, as he was unwilling to get out of position to go for a big hit. He did a lot of little things well.
The problem is that now five years later, Valimaki still does not look like an NHLer. He has shown flashes of brilliance over the years, earning himself 82 NHL games and putting up 16 points in that time. However, he spent almost the entire season this year in the AHL, and was not able to show that he was an NHL-calibre player.
Valimaki spent most of the season on the bottom pair, ending the year with 18 points in 35 games, good for 16th on the team and fourth among defencemen. The Heat didn’t have a particularly good blueline to begin with, so this is really not a great sign.
On top of that, while the Flames did have a very healthy year, Valimaki was the third guy on the call-up list behind Michael Stone and Connor Mackey. This is really not a great sign for a former first-round selection.
Valimaki has one more year left under contract, and what happens to him will be a story to watch. He needs to reset the book on his game, training hard this summer and coming to camp showing that he is still an NHL player. If he can at least get himself into the conversation, there is a chance he can develop into an NHLer for this team. If not, he may end up looking for something else somewhere else, which will be a big disappointment.
109th overall: Adam Ruzicka
Adam Ruzicka was projected to be a bit of a project, one of those prospects that could be really good or a total bust depending on how his development went. The answer is slowly appearing to be the former.
A large power forward, Ruzicka was drafted out of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, where he was playing his first season in North America. Standing 6’4″, the Slovak forward was a bit of a mixed bag, with some scouts praising his defensive game while others questioned its existence entirely. The Flames liked that side of his game a lot, and felt he had a lot of offensive potential as well.
Ruzicka took a huge step forward in the back half of his draft year, and just kept growing his game, being an over a point-per-game player in his next two seasons in the OHL.
This season, he started in the AHL, putting up 20 points in 16 games and earning a call-up to Calgary, which he made the most of. Although he only got into 28 games, he was a great option for the team on the fourth line, adding both grit and energy, but also offensive ability and making his linemates better.
Ruzicka is likely going to be given a shot to earn a spot on the Flames again next year, but will need to compete for that role against older, more established veterans—the Flames are not going to hand it to him. But if he can show that he belongs, the Flames may have found themselves a decent NHLer out of this draft.
140th overall: Zach Fischer
An over-age right winger, the Flames took Zach Fischer after a breakout season in the WHL for the Medicine Hat Tigers. He put up 34 goals and 63 points in 62 games for the Tigers and at one point led the league in penalty minutes.
He then had a fine next year, recording 36 points and 113 penalty minutes in 46 games in the WHL, but had his season cut short due to injury in February of that year. His production as an over-ager in the WHL was just not very good at all, and the Flames opted not to qualify him. He did play season in the organization, but spent most of it in the ECHL with the Kansas City Mavericks. He no longer plays pro hockey.
171st overall: D’Artagnan Joly
Another right shot right winger, the Flames drafted D’Artagnan Joly in the sixth round from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar after he put up 48 points in 66 games. A pretty unknown commodity, he exploded in the following season, putting up 66 points in 55 games in an injury-shortened season. He also helped Baie-Comeau to the playoffs, and added six points in five games in the postseason.
The hope was that he would be able to repeat this the following year, but he really struggled to even get ice time with the team. Joly was scratched repeatedly, given a minimal role, and called out for his effort by his coaches. He was then traded to Victoriaville who flipped him to Rimouski where he played a depth role on a stacked team for the rest of the season.
He was subsequently not qualified by the Flames as he really did not progress much over his few years in junior hockey. He spent this past season between the ECHL and Brock University of USports.
202nd overall: Filip Sveningsson
The Flames took a gamble on Filip Sveningsson who was always going to be a bit of a project. The left shot winger who can play both sides had a good draft year, spent mostly in the Swedish J-20, where he put up 29 points in 37 games. The following year was more of the same in the J-20, being above a point-per-game, but could not translate that into the SHL, where he played 11 games but did not record a point.
He has carved out a nice role for himself in the Swedish HockeyAllsvenskan, the second tier of pro-hockey, but really never had the chops to make the jump to North America. The Flames did not retain his rights when they lapsed in 2021, and he still plays in the Allsvenskan.
A mixed bag of Calgary draft picks
The Flames made a tactical choice in this draft—to go for bigger players with upside potential. Everyone they drafted was at least 6’0″, and they all had put up good offensive totals in their draft year. On the whole, however, this was a pretty forgettable draft. Fischer and Sveningsson never showed much promise while Joly had one excellent season but was then completely passed in the depth chart.
Valimaki is the most perplexing. He was deemed at one point to be too valuable to this team to include in potential trades, but is slowly panning out to be maybe a below-replacement blueliner. That really does not bode well for a first-round pick. He still has one more year to show he has potential to be an NHLer, but this year was really not very promising at all.
The lone bright spot seems to be Adam Ruzicka, who carved out a nice role for himself in the NHL as the team’s bottom line centre for much of the regular season. He will need to continue to show he has value beyond a replacement level forward, but to find an NHLer out of the fourth round of a draft is still a huge success.
This draft will never go down as the Flames’ best, but if they can turn Valimaki into an NHLer and have Ruzicka continue to be a strong depth option (or even more), they will have turned 40% of their draft assets into NHL players, which is no small feat.