NHL Draft

Breaking down Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving’s draft style

The 2022 NHL Draft is just days away and the Calgary Flames are putting their final touches on their draft list in preparation for the big days. This will be general manager Brad Treliving’s seventh draft where he has full control of the picks (he was hired right before the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, but the Flames’ selections that year were undoubtedly influenced by Brian Burke).

With this many years in charge of the Flames’ draft, there have been a number of trends that have emerged from his selections which could point to the way that this year’s draft will go. Here are some that we identified.

Willingness to trade down to acquire more picks

The Flames under Treliving have constantly opted for more picks each year over fewer better picks to this point. In both 2021 and 2020, the Flames traded down to make more picks, last year trading their third-round pick for a third and a sixth and in 2020 trading down twice to add two third-round picks.

It is still too early to tell if prospects like Jeremie Poirier, Jake Boltmann, and others work out, but the early signs look quite good, particularly for the former. More than that, it shows the winningness to take more gambles in the draft to select players knowing that not every pick will work out.

This draft will be the fewest picks that Treliving has had in any of his draft classes, and this does not bode well for his track record. In the four drafts that he has made five selections (20 total selections), he has found only five players who have played NHL games so far: Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, Andrew Mangiapane, Juuso Valimaki, and Adam Ruzicka.

While it is too early to tell with the five picks from the 2019 draft, there are very positive signs from Jakob Pelletier and Dustin Wolf in particular. Both look like they could be playing NHL games sooner than later. Even still, this is lower than his average of 31% of drafted players (outside of the past two drafts) playing at least one NHL game to this point.

An even bigger problem is that the Flames’ future is very uncertain. Their two biggest pieces, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, are not certain to remain with the team beyond this season and next season respectively. If the Flames cannot keep both, it is worth considering tearing the team down and building around a new core of players.

A year with just three picks is a huge gamble as the best teams have built their squads through the draft. It’s easy to miss on three picks, which could impact the Flames’ ability to be competitive down the line. Expect there is a good chance the Flames do what they can to acquire more picks this year.

Lots of love for the CHL

On top of liking to have multiple selections, there are clear leagues that he has gone to time and time again: The OHL, WHL, and QMJHL. These three leagues comprise 60% of the Flames’ picks under Treliving, and have been generally a good gamble across the board.

The chart above highlights all the leagues that the Flames have selected from under Treliving, and it shows just how much the Flames like the three Canadian leagues. In the past two drafts alone, the team has gone to that well 10 times in their 16 picks, including one first-round pick and all of their fifth- and sixth-round selections. All of their most promising prospects from the last two seasons aside from Matt Coronato were taken from the CHL.

The WHL has been the Flames’ most consistent league to draft from in their history, only not taking a player from the league in 2002 and 1992. Given the proximity, this makes a lot of sense. Expect the Flames to take at least one player from this league in particular.

Trust in scouts

The Flames have constantly taken picks that have seemingly come out of left field. This includes spending their 2020 third-round pick on unranked prospect Boltmann, their 2021 sixth-round pick on Jack Beck who did not play any hockey that season, and their 2021 seventh-round selection on Arseni Sergeev of the Shreveport Mudbugs of the NAHL, among others.

Time and time again, Director of Amateur Scouting Tod Button talks about the importance of their area scouts when they make picks. When the Flames selected Cole Huckins in the third round of the 2021 Draft, Button said: “This is the area this is the area of the draft where we really started to rely on area scouts and guys with a lot of viewing. Cole was a high pick in the Quebec Major Junior League draft. Our two main Quebec guys, Fred Parker and Patrick Lachance saw him a lot, Fred knows him from when he was younger, and Patrick saw him a lot.”

This was a theme that Button noted repeatedly about the Flames’ picks under Treliving. The Flames have built out a network of scouts that they rely on and trust to help them make their picks. When their scouts say something, the team in Calgary listens.

While we may not get to be in the room for the pick, expect the Flames to be leaning heavily to their scouts on the picks they make. There is a good chance they take a gamble on a player who may not be ranked at all this year.

Two-way game is key in high picks

While the Flames do not have a first-round selection in this year’s draft, GM Treliving has been very keen to take a strong two-way player with each of his first selections since 2015. Since that time, the Flames have had five first-round picks, as well as starting with a second in 2015 and a fourth in 2018. Each pick has had strong offensive ability, but has had an equally strong focus on the defensive side of the game.

Andersson was selected as a strong two-way blueliner. Tkachuk was criticized for his skating in his draft year, he was the Flames’ top two-way skater this season. Valimaki had a strong understanding of both the offensive and defensive sides of the game and fourth-round pick Martin Posipisil, the Flames’ highest pick in 2018, also was heralded as a strong two-way skater too.

Finally, over the last three seasons, the Flames have selected elite two-way skater Pelletier, budding two-way centre Connor Zary, who has been heralded for his two-way play right through junior, and Coronato, who played on Harvard’s top penalty kill this season.

Expect that the Flames will follow this trend, taking a player who has a strong two-way game with their top pick.

Willing to take a risk on a player if they fall into his lap

As much as mock drafts would have you believe that they can predict the order of the way the draft should go, they never go according to plan. Team lists are very different from the way third-party scouts expect leading to some players going far earlier than expected and others tumbling down the draft order.

When this happens, some GMs panic to say “why is everyone else passing on this player? What do they know that I don’t?” But GM Treliving is often willing to take a gamble on a player like this, particularly players who should have been first round talents that dropped for one reason or another.

This is exactly how the Flames ended up with Kylington. Once a sure-fire first round pick, the Swedish blueliner dropped right to the third round over questions about his two-way game. The Flames ended up snagging him at 60th overall in 2015 and turned him into a top-four defenceman on the team this year.

He isn’t the only one. Poirier was expected to be a first-round talent in 2020, but the Flames got him in the third round. The same for Mitchell Mattson in 2016, although that pick did not work out nearly as well. Dustin Wolf was also expected to go in the middle of the draft in 2019, but fell right to the end of the seventh round that year.

This year may be a little different with just three players, but if the Flames look at the draft and see someone tumbling down the rankings, they may look at scooping him up with their second round selection.

What to expect from Calgary at the 2022 NHL draft?

I would imagine the Flames walk into the draft with three picks, but probably end up making five selections or more. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Flames try to move someone to acquire more picks or take their second round selection at 59 and trade down to acquire more picks by volume over picking order.

Because of the pandemic, this year’s draft picks will have missed time in their development, which will impact the way that scouts evaluate them. Expect that some players that are consensus top picks to drop and others who may not be to be selected far earlier than expected. The Flames will almost certainly end up going off the board with one of their selections, taking someone many keen observers do not know well.

The Flames are never quiet at the draft—they always make some sort of a move. Be it a big trade or moves to acquire more draft picks, Treliving does some of his best work over the two day event and expect this year to be more of the same.

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