Calgary Flames

Where are they now: Calgary Flames first-round picks since 2007

The Calgary Flames are off to a new start and new franchise direction. With the crazy offseason they saw, it included some departures of first-round selections. Taking a look over the past 15 years, here’s where every Flames first-round pick is as of 2022–23.

2007 – (24th overall) Mikael Backlund (C) – Calgary Flames

Let’s start this one on a high note with the product of Västerås, Sweden himself: Mikael Backlund. Backlund was notably ranked the second-rated European skater heading into the 2007 NHL Draft. He ultimately ended up coming over from Europe midway through the 2008–09 season.

He split his time between 17 games played for Västerås IK, 2 games for Västerås Jr., and lastly 28 games in the Western Hockey League with the Kelowna Rockets before making his NHL debut with the Flames drawing into one game that year.

Backlund officially went pro the following season in 2009–10, splitting his time between the then-Flames AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat and 23 games with the big club. Ultimately, after a few seasons of trying to cement himself at the pro level, he over time made a name for himself as one of the better two-way centres in the NHL.

Now two games into the latest regular season, Backlund’s 828 career games played leave him holding sole possession of the third-most games played in franchise history. Backlund only trails Jarome Iginla (1,219) and Mark Giordano (949) in this stat, respectively.

Backlund has quite literally been through it all. Quite literally, this is the third core or “era” Mikael has been a part of here in Calgary since he played his first NHL game. He is regarded as one of the best defensive centres in the game and has worn the “A” in Calgary since the 2018–19 season.

2008 – (25th overall) Greg Nemisz (RW) – Retired

Greg Nemisz was ranked the 25th best skater heading into the 2008 NHL Draft. Yet, he unfortunately only ever played in 15 NHL games throughout his entire hockey career, all with the Flames. Of those games, he dressed in six during the 2010–11 season where he registered an assist on the year, then nine games the following year in 2011–12 where he registered nothing.

After having great numbers with the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL, Nemisz ultimately translated into a decent player at the American Hockey League level in only each of his first two seasons. In particular, the window between 2010 and 2012. Nemisz put up his career-best season with 14 goals and 33 points, through 68 games played with the Abbotsford Heat in the 2010–11 season and followed it up with 13 goals and 29 points in the 2011–12 season through 51 games played.

Unfortunately, his growth, particularly in regards to production on the scoresheet and ultimately his overall development ended up falling off completely after the 2011–12 season. On December 30, 2013, the Calgary Flames sent Nemisz to the Carolina Hurricanes in a one-for-one swap for Kevin Westgarth. Nemisz ultimately retired from professional hockey in 2015 and is currently an assistant coach for the Oshawa Generals in the Ontario Hockey League.

2009 – (23rd overall) Tim Erixon (D) – Timrå IK (SHL)

Ah yes, the Tim Erixon pick. Erixon was the fifth-ranked European skater heading into the 2009 NHL Draft and guess what, he really did not want to play here. His father, Jan Erixon played his entire 10-year NHL career with the New York Rangers starting back in the 1983–84 season till the 1992–93 season.

Why is this important? Erixon ultimately just wanted to play for the same team his father did. So, the saga ultimately ended up like this: The Flames drafted him at 23rd overall, they then realized he wouldn’t sign with them, and then they concluded his time as a Flame by trading him to the New York Rangers in exchange for Roman Horak and a pair of second-round picks (picks 45 and 57, which the Flames used to select Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon respectively). The trade went down on June 1, 2011.

Erixon only ever dressed in 18 career games with the Rangers in the 2011–12 season. Like father, like son? Not really. His entire NHL career only ever lasted a good 93 games and he was last seen in the show as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs by the tail-end of the 2014–15 season. He currently plays for Timrå IK in the Swedish Hockey League.

2011 – (13th overall) Sven Baertschi (LW) – SC Bern – National League

Sven Baertschi was the seventh-ranked skater heading into the 2011 NHL Draft and was an absolute monster for the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League. He came up to Calgary on the basis of an emergency recall at the tail-end of the 2011–12 season where he scored three goals in five games. The hype was real after that brief showing. He unfortunately however, never lived up to that hype.

In total, Baertschi only dressed in 66 career games with the Calgary Flames from 2011 to 2015. It was clear a change had to be made, all in terms of his own utilization and the essence of a fresh start for both the player and the organization.

On March 2, 2015, the Baertschi saga in Calgary would come to an end as the Flames ended up dealing him to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for pick 53 in the 2015 NHL Draft, which the Flames used to select current top-four Flames defenceman Rasmus Andersson. This ended up aging pretty well.

He currently plays for SC Bern in the National League.

2012 – (21st overall) Mark Jankowski (C) – Nashville Predators

Mark Jankowski was the 43rd-ranked North American skater, heading into the 2012 NHL Draft. He also holds the flex of being the highest-selected Canadian high school player in draft history. Jankowski played for Stanstead College at the time, which was a Quebec prep school for two seasons leading into the draft.

Then, Jankowski spent four years at Providence College prior to turning pro. Most notably, Jankowski’s best professional season at the AHL level came during the 2016–17 season, where he put up a total of 27 goals and 56 points through 64 games in Stockton. Jankowski ultimately turned into a pretty solid bottom-six centre for the Flames, from 2017 up till the end of the 2018–19 season.

Jankowski was the definition of a PK and SHG specialist in 2018–19 and his five shorthanded goals scored that season were good enough for him to place tied for fifth all-time in franchise history in that statistic. His career year at the NHL level came during 2018–19, where he tallied 14 goals and 32 points before really tailing off the following season. He only put up seven points through 56 games played in 2019–20. He then ended his tenure in Calgary via free agency and ultimately signed in Pittsburgh for the 56-game 2020–21 shortened season.

Jankowski is now currently a member of the Nashville Predators organization.

2013 – (6th overall) Sean Monahan (C) – Montreal Canadiens

Sean Monahan was the fifth-ranked North American skater heading into the 2013 NHL Draft and the post-Iginla era in Calgary began with him as one of the key turning points. He went pro right away and instantly became the team’s top centre.

Monahan was simply just a warrior for this club. The end of his tenure here however, will now forever be defined by the tough injury luck he wholeheartedly attempted to withstand, especially between 2020 through 2022.

Even prior, Monahan had played through various injuries with differing degrees of severity. Surgical operations ranged from the need to fix hernias, his groin, wrist, hip, and more. To get into specifics, coming out of the 56-game 2020–21 season, Monahan had harboured a left hip injury early in the shortened season and played through it until the team was mathematically eliminated.

Towards the end of the 2021–22 regular season, Monahan was shut down for the rest of the year due to undergo another season-ending hip surgery, this time on his right hip. He was then consequently placed on LTIR. Nonetheless, over the course of his nine seasons in Calgary, he never once entertained the notion of shutting down early for the sake of his health no matter the severity of what he was battling.

Simply put, Sean Monahan left Calgary as one of the franchise’s best players of all time:

  • Games played: 656 (9th in franchise history)
  • Goals: 212 (8th in franchise history)
  • Points: 462 (11th in franchise history)
  • Power play goals: 66 (6th in franchise history)
  • Game-winning goals: 47 (3rd in franchise history)
  • Overtime goals: 11 (1st in franchise history)

Man did it ever put a smile on my face to see Monahan score his first as a member of the Canadiens, in his debut game, on his birthday.

2013 – (22nd overall) Morgan Klimchuk (LW) – Retired

Morgan Klimchuk was the 25th-ranked North American skater heading into the 2013 NHL Draft and it is no secret that he’ll forever be known within the city as the third piece of the infamous Iginla trade which also involved Kenny Agostino and Ben Hanowksi coming into the organization. This hurts me to talk about.

Morgan Klimchuk would only ever go on to play one career game with the Flames and at the NHL level entirely.

On November 27, 2018, he was traded in a one-for-one swap with the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Andrew Nielsen (who is also no longer a part of the organization—this trade tree will only ever continue to hurt me).

Klimchuk’s last playing season was in 2019–20, as a member of the AHL’s Belleville Senators. He has now officially retired from the game and is currently an assistant coach for the Victoria Royals in the Western Hockey League.

2013 – (28th overall) Emile Poirier (RW) – Laval Rocket

Emile Poirier was the 39th-ranked North American skater heading into the 2013 NHL Draft. After a strong stint at the junior level as a member of the Gatineau Olympics in the QMJHL, he followed it with a strong AHL season in Adirondack in 2014–15. He tallied 19 goals and 42 points through 55 games played in the AHL, but only ever played in eight career NHL games all with the Flames.

He is currently a member of the AHL’s Laval Rocket.

2014 – (4th overall) Sam Bennett (C) – Florida Panthers

Bennett was the top-ranked North American skater available heading into the 2014 NHL Draft and has gone down in history as the highest selection in Flames franchise history.

It should be also worth noting that “18-year-old Sam Bennett” will forever be one of the most legendary tags in Flames history. Bennett drew into 11 playoff games in 2015 scoring three goals and tallying an assist for a total of four points during that run. It was his first post-draft season after rehabbing from shoulder surgery, where he also put up a point-per-game pace of 2.18 through 11 games with Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League prior.

After a promising rookie season in 2015–16, where Bennett potted 18 goals and 36 points through 77 games, the overall questions regarding his development started after the 2018–19 season. Bennett’s numbers stabilized at the 26–27 point mark from 2016 through 2019 but the 2019–20, and 2020–21 seasons didn’t do him kindly.

He put up 12 points in his final two back-to-back seasons as a Flame and the question with Bennett became less of “what is his potential?” and more “what does he have to do to stay in the lineup?” Bennett essentially had to change his whole game into one of a grinding style of play, involving high energy, heavy checking hockey just so he could stay in the lineup. It got to the point where he didn’t even know why he was being scratched courtesy of the worst Flames head coach of all time.

Unfortunately, the Bennett saga was filled with drama during the 2021 North Division year over claims that he had wanted out early on in February, although initially denied by the organization, he got his wish at the trade deadline.

On April 12, 2021, the Flames acquired (now Canadien) Emil Heineman and a 2022 second-rounder (pick 61) from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Sam Bennett and a 2022 sixth-round pick. Heineman would later be packaged to Montreal as a part of the Tyler Toffoli deal, and the second-rounder was packaged up to Seattle for the services of Calle Jarnkrok, at last year’s deadline.

Bennett’s impact with Florida was immediate and he heads into this season coming off a career-high 28-goal, 49-point campaign through 71 in 2021–22. He is currently linemates with Matthew Tkachuk on the Panthers’ second line.

2016 – (6th overall) Matthew Tkachuk (LW/RW) – Florida Panthers

Where do we start with Matthew Tkachuk? A franchise cornerstone who on all accounts revitalized the greatest rivalry in the sport and who had wrapped up a 42-goal, 104-point regular season with the Flames prior to the playoffs last spring.

There is so much to be talked about, about Tkachuk’s time here that would be better suited for its own post so I’m just going to cut to the chase.

On September 25, 2019, Tkachuk signed a three-year bridge deal that ultimately took him to his final year of eligible RFA status this past summer.

He informed the Flames that he would not be re-signing with the team on July 20, 2022, and the collaborative process from both sides led to the first sign-and-trade in NHL history. It was the biggest trade in the NHL in the modern era since the Gretzky deal to L.A. The league absolutely shook the evening of July 22, 2022 with the second-biggest blockbuster of all time.

It was the first time two 100+ point players would be traded for each other—let alone what was included within the rest of the package—since August 1988.

With the way the whole deal has now aged, the Flames signed a total of $210 million USD in securing each respective asset, throughout the entire transaction with Tkachuk, Huberdeau and Weegar all signed to eight-year max extensions, respectively. Huberdeau and Weegar’s extensions both start in 2023–24.

2017 – (16th overall) Juuso Valimaki (D) – Arizona Coyotes

Juuso Valimaki showed great promise in what was his first year of professional hockey during the 2018–19 season, dressing in 24 regular season games with the Flames, 20 with the Heat and notably dressing in two playoff games against the Avalanche.

Over the course of the summer heading into the 2019–20 NHL season, Valimaki suffered a career-defining (at least up to this point) ACL injury during his offseason training, that took away a full year out of his development, causing him to miss the entire season and undergo rehabilitation.

The hype was reignited with Valimaki at the start of the 2021 North Division year. To get reps in early, he played 19 games as a member of Ilves in Liiga, where he registered a point-per-game pace on the scoresheet. Following up, he would dress in 49 games with the Flames that season and put up 11 points.

Oliver Kylington then proceeded to steal the top-four spot with ease at the start of 2021-22 and Valimaki ultimately didn’t do much to impress through the nine games he dressed in. Taking a look at his $1.55M cap hit and especially after his underwhelming training camp, it just seemed more than clear that there would no longer be a spot for him on the roster and that both he and the organization would’ve likely been able to benefit from a fresh start. This is what ultimately came to be, albeit not in the fashion we would’ve expected three to four years ago.

Just days prior to opening night of the 2022-23 NHL season, Valimaki was placed on waivers and was claimed by the Arizona Coyotes. Here’s to hoping he succeeds over there, he’s had a really tough go early on in his career so far.

2019 – (26th overall) Jakob Pelletier (LW) – Calgary Flames

Although many analysts had Pelletier pencilled into the opening night roster for this season, it never hurts to get another year of development in the AHL. Pelletier tallied a 27-goal, 62-point campaign in the regular season and had four goals and seven points through 13 games played during the 2022 Calder Cup playoffs last spring. Pelletier finished third in the rookie scoring race and placed 17th in scoring league-wide.

Heading into his second career professional season, expect Pelletier to build off of his massive season last year with the new Calgary Wranglers.

2020 – (24th overall) Connor Zary (C) – Calgary Flames

Zary had a rough 2021–22 campaign before the year even began. A broken ankle suffered in a rookie game ultimately resulted in him missing eight weeks. By the time he had returned to game action with the Heat, he was evidently a step behind the pace of the game—who could blame him? The good news however was he was able to get things going in the second half of the season in stints.

He finished his year with 13 goals and 25 points through 53 games played. His lack of impact trailed him into the playoffs as well, where he tallied a goal and two points through 13 games played.

Lost in the fray with analysts writing off his development path completely heading into this year, his nine-game audition as a member of the Heat prior to the WHL return to play was a stint that showed poise and promise. He tallied three goals and seven points then.

The even better news? Zary had a standout Young Stars Classic performance as well as training camp on all accounts. All eyes will be on him this season with the hope of potentially witnessing him having a similar season to what Pelletier had last year with the Wranglers this season.

2021 – (13th overall) Matt Coronato (RW) – Calgary Flames – Harvard Crimson

(Matt Coronato was technically selection number 12 due to the Coyotes forfeited pick).

Coronato begins his season with the Harvard Crimson on October 20. Expect the now sophomore to have a huge developmental year at the college level, before likely inking his entry-level contract with the Flames sometime next spring.

First class Flames

The Flames’ class of first-rounders has dwindled down significantly over the past few seasons. However, between a long-time veteran in Backlund and a healthy mix of exciting forward prospects in the pipeline, the Flames are hoping they’ll see new first-round talent on the roster soon enough.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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