Calgary Flames

Taking a look at the history of the 16th overall pick at the NHL draft

The Calgary Flames’ 2022–23 season is finally over, and as many feared—the Flames finishing as the highest ranked team outside of the playoffs. Because of this, they’re slotted to draft 16th overall at the 2023 Nhl Draft, barring any miracle lottery luck. In other words, pretty much the worst spot a team can be in: Not in the playoffs but also not going into the draft with a high pick to make up for it.

The Flames have picked 16th overall twice in franchise history, in 2017 when they took Jusso Valimaki and all the way back in 1986 when they took the late George Pelawa. Valimaki didn’t achieve much success with the Flames, but has since gone on to become a regular NHLer with the Arizona Coyotes. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the history of the 16th overall pick and how often the pick becomes an NHL player.

Last ten 16th overall picks

2022 – Noah Ostlund

The most recent 16th overall pick, Noah Ostlund was selected by the Buffalo Sabre’s in last year’s draft. Ostlund played in the SHL last season, posting 27 points in 36 games to finish fourth on his team in scoring at the age of 18. He also played for Sweden at the 2023 World Juniors. It’s still far too early to judge this pick, but Ostlund had a great D+1 season in the SHL. It’ll be years before we truly know if this pick turned out, but Ostlund looks to be on the right path to providing the Sabres with good value at 16th overall.

2021 – Zachary Bolduc

The 2021 first round was a bit of a weird one for two reasons. For one, the pandemic had a major impact on CHL seasons which made draft prospects much harder to scout leading up to the draft. As well, the Arizona Coyotes were forced to forfeit the 11th overall pick. Although Brennan Othmann was technically the 16th overall pick, Zachary Bolduc was the actual 16th player taken.

Since being drafted in 2021, Bolduc has lit up the QMJHL. He’s posted totals of 55 goals and 99 points in his D+1 year, and then 50 goals and 110 points this most recent season in his D+2 year. All said, Bolduc looks like a real solid pickup at 16th overall, and was ranked as the 43rd best NHL prospect by Scott Wheeler back in February. It’s likely he makes the jump to the NHL in the 2023–24 season.

2020 – Kaiden Guhle

The first name on this list to have played NHL games, Kaiden Guhle made the jump three seasons after being drafted. After being drafted, Guhle spent the next two seasons in the WHL, although he only played two games in his D+1 season in 2020–21 due to an injury. Last year, he logged 42 regular season games in the WHL and posted 40 points. He would also earn the WHL playoff MVP award after setting the Edmonton Oil Kings record for most goals by a defenceman in a single postseason.

Guhle has represented Canada and was named captain for the 2022 World Juniors. In 2022–23 he made his NHL debut with the Canadiens, suiting up for 44 games and posting 18 points before suffering a season-ending injury. Like the names above, it’s still too early to judge this pick; however, Guhle already looks to be a regular NHLer just three years after being picked 16th overall.

2019 – Alex Newhook

Alex Newhook has since become a full-time NHLer after being drafted 16th overall in 2019, albeit an average one. Newhook was drafted out of the BCHL and would spend two years in the NCAA in his D+1 and D+2 seasons before making his pro debut in the AHL and NHL in 2020–21.

Since then, he’s totalled 158 games in the NHL, along with 66 points across parts of three seasons. He’s also added six points in 20 playoff games. His 81 games and 30 points during the most recent 2022–23 season were both career-highs. While he’s only 22, Newhook doesn’t appear to have a ton of upside at this point. At the very least he’s undoubtably a full-time bottom-six forward in the NHL.

2018 – Martin Kaut

The first real bust on the list, Martin Kaut isn’t a regular NHLer five years after being picked at 16. Kaut was drafted out of the Czech Extraliga and immediately came over to North America after being drafted but has bounced around the AHL and NHL every season since. Across his D+1 to D+4 seasons between 2018 and 2022 Kaut struggled to stick around in the NHL, logging 163 of his 183 games in the AHL.

This most recent season he was dealt to the Sharks and spent 36 games in the NHL and 29 in the AHL. All said, five years after being drafted Kaut has played 56 NHL games and posted just 11 points. At the age of 23 and still not a regular NHLer it’s likely that Kaut’s chance of living up to his draft position are all but gone.

2017 – Juuso Valimaki

Flames fans can only hope their next 16th overall pick doesn’t go the way this one did. After picking Juuso Valimaki 16th overall in 2017, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Some unfortunate injuries and questionable coaching decisions later and Valimaki found his way onto waivers last fall and is now living up to his potential on a different team.

As mentioned, Valimaki had an incredibly tough first couple seasons after being drafted. During his rookie year in 2018–19 Valimaki only managed 24 games due to a high ankle sprain. The following summer he suffered a torn ACL which resulted in him missing the entire 2019–20 season.

There was some renewed hope in 2020–21 after he was sent on loan to the SM-liiga and tore it up with 19 points in 19 games, but he would register just 11 points in 49 games in the NHL that year. In 2021–22, his D+4 season, he fell out of favour with Darryl Sutter and only played nine games in the NHL.

After being bumped down the depth chart, he was placed on waivers before the 2022–23 season and was claimed by the Arizona Coyotes. He went on to have the best season of his career with more ice time and posted 34 points in 78 games in 2022–23. There’s still a good chance Valimaki ends up being a good value pick at 16th, even if it’s with a new team.

2016 – Jakob Chychrun

Coming into his draft year, Jakob Chychrun was talked about as a potential lottery pick but a poor D-1 season saw him tumble down draft boards. In the end the Coyotes got tremendous value and took him at 16th overall. It’s quite rare to find a player with Chychrun’s upside at 16th overall, but it happens.

Since being drafted Chychrun has developed into a legit top pairing defenceman by the age of 25. He made the jump to the NHL in his D+1 year and hasn’t looked back. He’s since logged 385 NHL games and posted 175 points. Getting a player of Chychrun’s pedigree at 16th overall is certainly not the norm, but it gives the Flames hope for what could be available in a deep 2023 draft.

2015 – Mathew Barzal

If you’re the Flames, replicating the 2015 or 2016 drafts would be the perfect scenario. Like Chychrun, Mathew Barzal was touted as a top-10 pick before the draft but ultimately fell on draft night until being snagged by the New York Islanders at 16th.

Barzal would spend his D+1 and D+2 seasons lighting up the WHL to the tune of 167 points in 99 games before making the jump to the NHL full time in 2017–18, three years after being drafted. He’s since become of the league’s most dynamic and skilled players and has posted 362 points in 420 games as well as 38 points in 49 playoff games. It doesn’t get much better than this at 16th overall.

2014 – Sonny Milano

A player that the Flames could’ve signed this season, Sonny Milano took awhile to develop but he’s finally a full-time NHLer nine years after being drafted. It just goes to show how strange some players’ development paths are.

Milano was drafted out of the USNTDP in 2014 and made his full-time pro debut in the AHL in his D+2 season in 2015–16. From there he bounced around the AHL and NHL for five seasons before becoming a full time NHLer in 2020–21, six years after being drafted. Since then over the past two seasons he’s posted a combined 77 points in 130 NHL games and has established himself as a legit middle six forward.

2013 – Nikita Zadorov

Like Milano, it took Nikita Zadorov a few years before he finally reached his NHL potential. Luckily for the Flames, that happened in Calgary. Zadorov was drafted out of the OHL in 2013, and made his NHL debut just a year later in 2013–14. Since then he’s spent almost his entire time in the NHL, with only one AHL stint in 2015–16.

After making his debut with Buffalo in 2013–14, Zadorov never fully reached his potential and was eventually dealt to Colorado in 2015 where he would become a full-time NHLer. He was subsequently dealt to Chicago in 2020, and then to Calgary in 2021. It’s in Calgary where he’s played the best hockey of his career—eight years after being drafted.

All said, since making his debut in 2013–14, Zadorov has registered 567 NHL games and 126 points. He’s also played in 45 playoff games and posted 11 points. He doesn’t bring a ton of upside, but getting a full-time NHL defenceman at 16th overall certainly isn’t a bad thing.

How often do 16th overall picks make the NHL?

For a deeper overall look at how often 16th overall draft picks become NHL players, let’s tally up how many since the turn of the century have played NHL games, played in at least 100 NHL games, and have registered at least 100 points in the NHL.

I’ll exclude the 2021 and 2022 drafts as it’s too early to include those picks. Overall that leave’s us with 20 total 16th overall picks between the 2000 and 2020 drafts.

Metric16th overall picks
(between – 2020)
Played NHL Games19 of 20
>100 NHL GP16 of 20
>100 NHL Points11 of 20

Overall the numbers look impressive when you only consider who played NHL games, but they get a lot more dicey after that. 19 of 20 16th overall picks between 2000 and 2020 have played at least some NHL games. The only player to fail to reach the NHL at all was forward Alex Bourret, taken by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2005.

If we then look at players who played at least 100 NHL games, the list shrinks a bit to 16 of 20 players. The only four players to not have played in at least 100 NHL games are Bourret, Kaut taken in 2018, Ty Wishart who was taken in 2006, and Jakub Klepis taken in 2002. Kaut still has a very good chance to reach 100 games as he’s only 23 years old.

Sure, playing NHL games is great, but how about actual point production? Of the 20 players, 11 have put up at least 100 points in the NHL. Guhle, Newhook and Valimaki are pretty much locks to hit that number as well in the coming years to raise the total to 14 of 20 players.

Most notable 16th overall picks in NHL history

Throughout NHL history, here are the most notable players selected 16th overall in the NHL draft. I’ll consider current star players, previous stars, or players who had long NHL careers after being drafted.

YearPlayerNHL GPNHL Points
2016Jakob Chychrun*385*175*
2015Mathew Barzal*420*362*
2010Vladimir Tarasenko*675*574*
1991Markus Naslund1117869
1987Bryan Marchment926182
1982Dave Andreychuk16391338
1979Jay Wells1098263
1975Tim Young629536
*Active NHL Player

It may not occur often, but there’s certainly been some extremely successful 16th overall picks across the history of the NHL. Chychrun, Barzal and Tarasenko are recent examples of 16th overall picks who have turned into star players, with all three making names for themselves in the NHL over the past decade.

Before that however, you’d have to go all the way back to 1991 when Markus Naslund was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins to find another example. Naslund would post 860 points during his 16-year career. You’ve also got one HHOFer in Dave Andreychuk who was taken 16th overall in 1982. Andreychuk had an incredibly successfully career and retired with 1338 points and currently has the 10th most games played in NHL history.

Then you’ve got less popular names like Bryan Marchment and Jay Wells. Neither were considered star players, but anytime you can pick up a player in the middle of the first round who goes on to play over 900 games in the NHL, you did pretty well.

Lastly, Tim Young was a star in the NHL back in the 1970s after being picked in 1975. At his height, he posted 95 points in 80 games in 1976–77. Unfortunately injuries derailed his career and he was forced to retire at the age of 30.

Another successful 16th overall pick?

There’s no doubt that the 16th overall pick is the least ideal spot for a team that missed the playoffs to draft. More often than not the truly elite talents are off the board by then, however as we’ve seen in recent years sometimes a high-end talent finds their way to 16th. Considering the 2023 draft is supposed to be one of the deepest in recent memory, there’s a decent chance the Flames are able to walk away with a potential future star player at 16th overall.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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