The 2019 NHL Draft may go down as the best draft for the Calgary Flames in the last decade. With just five picks, the Flames found a potential goalie of the future, an elite two-way winger, one potential depth forward in a few years, and two other prospects that seem unlikely to pan out. That being said, they seem to have struck gold in the seventh round of the draft which is an accomplishment on its own. Let’s break down each of the five picks.
26th Overall: Jakob Pelletier
Known for his smarts and strong playmaking ability, the Flames selected Pelletier out of the Moncton WIldcats of the QMJHL. He had put up 89 points in 65 games in his draft year prior to being selected. Since then, he went on to finish in the Q as one of the league’s top scorers on a very good Val d’Or team.
Then, he blew the doors off of the QMJHL, finishing his rookie year with 62 points in 66 games and earning a spot on the AHL’s all-rookie team. In addition, he also broke the Heat’s rookie scoring record, and his points-per-game pace this season put him among some very elite company. He was one of the Heat’s top three best players this year, clearly behind Dustin Wolf, but probably just as good if not better than Matthew Phillips at times. Pelletier separated himself from the pack this season, and was an elite part of this team.
It is hard to see a world where Pelletier does not get a cup of coffee at the NHL level next year. A first-round pick and one of just six players from his round of the draft to not play in the NHL yet, Pelletier has clearly shown that he has earned a look. While I can’t see him penciled into the roster to start the year, if he has a really good training camp and earns a spot right away, there is a chance he could become a mainstay in the lineup.
88th Overall: Ilya Nikolayev
A promising prospect, Nikolayev was selected in the third round as a really smart two-way centre whose defence was always stronger than his offence. He spent the first two years after being selected in purgatory between the Russian MHL (junior hockey) and VHL (second-tier pro hockey). Seemingly too good for the former but not getting enough opportunities at the latter to really succeed.
After going without a contract, Nikolayev made the move to North America, joining the USHL’s Tri-City Storm. While he was on the older end of the league as a 20-year-old, he put up an exceptional 72 points in 58 games, good for 11th in the league. He also finished with a +35 rating, fourth in the league.
Transitioning to North America is tough at the best of times but Nikolayev made it look easy. He has strong positioning defensively, and has found a scoring touch that was seemingly lacking when he was drafted.
His impressive totals this year earned him an entry-level contract (ELC) from the Flames, and the Russian forward will join the Heat next year. He probably won’t be a point-per-game player in the AHL next season, simply due to the gap in difficulty between the USHL and AHL, but if all goes well, he could develop into a strong two-way centre down the road. Don’t sleep on him.
116th Overall: Lucas Feuk
A pure offensive threat, the Flames took Feuk in the fourth round out of Sodertalje SK in Sweden. Known for his wicked shot and great skating, the forward was all over the offensive zone but struggled to engage on the defensive side as well.
He followed up his point-per-game performance in his draft year with another point-per-game season in the Swedish SHL (junior hockey), and earned a few looks at the next level. Unfortunately he was never able to translate his production up from junior, and ended up performing really well in the HockeyEttan, Sweden’s third-best pro league. There is not much of a chance he comes over to North America at this point.
150th Overall: Josh Nodler
A really smart playmaking centre, the Flames selected Nodler out of the Fargo Force of the USHL, where he put up 42 points in 54 games. Since then he has played three seasons at the Michigan State University, mostly as the team’s top line centre. However, his point totals leave a lot to be desired, with his high-water mark being 15 points in 36 games this past year.
MSU has been abysmally bad for the past three years, finishing this season 12–23–1 which was good for last in the Big-10 Conference of the NCAA. Yikes!
Nodler has reportedly entered the transfer portal and will join the University of Massachusetts Amherst program next year. He clearly has a lot of potential, but will need a humongous year next year if he hopes to earn an ELC from the Flames.
214th Overall: Dustin Wolf
Who would’ve thought that when he was drafted with the fourth last pick of the 2019 Draft that the Flames would have found the player who looks destined to be their goalie of the future? Dustin Wolf fell right to the end of the draft not because of his performance in net but because of his size, which some teams deemed too small to be an NHL netminder. However he has been lights out since then.
This season, Wolf was far and away the Heat’s best player, recording a 0.924 save percentage in 47 games then picked up three shutouts and eight wins on route to the Calder Cup semi-finals. Along the way, he picked up the AHL’s Goalie of the Year Award and was a first-team all-star and member of the all-rookie team with Pelletier.
Despite his very impressive run of form this year, the Flames will want him to get more experience in the AHL before they look at him more seriously at the NHL level. Wolf certainly starts in the AHL next year, but if there is an injury, he will earn himself a call-up. The Heat will be counting on him to be their starting netminder and hope to continue their success from last year into this upcoming season in Calgary. To do so, they’ll need Wolf to be at his very best yet again this year. Smart money says he will be.
What to make of the 2019 draft?
The 2019 NHL Draft could go down in history as one of the Flames’ best drafts in recent memory. Two of their prospects (Pelletier and Wolf) could play NHL games next year, and maybe even a chunk of the season. One prospect (Nikolayev) has shown a ton of potential, but is likely a could years away. Finally, one prospect still has potential to be something but will need to show a lot this year that he deserves a shot.
Of their five picks, if the Flames can get NHL games out of three of them and turn two into legit cornerstone pieces, this could only benefit them in the future.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire