Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames’ 2021 NHL Draft is going down as one of the worst in recent memory

Expectations were sky high for the Calgary Flames going into the 2021 NHL Draft. Not only did they have the 12th overall pick that year, but they also ended up with seven more picks in the draft. This year was expected to be a big one for the team in terms of restocking their prospect cupboards, but between bad picks, bad luck, and bizarre decisions around signings, the Flames now only have four players from that draft, electing not to sign Jack Beck, Cam Whynot, Cole Huckins, or Cole Jordan.

The four that are remaining are first-round pick Matt Coronato, second-round pick William Stromgren, sixth-round pick Lucas Ciona, and seventh-round pick Arseni Sergeev. All but Sergeev have been signed to entry-level contracts by the club, with Sergeev still in the NCAA and still having up to four more years before he needs to be signed.

Aside from Coronato, the other four are hardly surefire NHLers. All four still have massive question marks, and between these signed players, the players the Flames did not sign, and the players that the team passed on drafting, this may go down as one of the worst drafts for the team in recent memory.

Calgary loaded up on draft capital

Outside of the first and last rounds, the Flames’ draft picks looked highly suspect at the time and look even moreso now. Most observers at the time had the Flames taking one of Coronato, Cole Sillinger, Fabian Lysell, or Chaz Lucius. With Sillinger being selected just one pick ahead of the Flames, Coronato was absolutely the right call to make. In retrospect, Wyatt Johnson is looking like one heck of a player for the Dallas Stars, but his growth was not caught by most draft observers.

The second is where things start to go off the rails. With Logan Stankoven, Aatu Raty, and Matthew Knies still on the board, the Flames went completely off-script and drafted William Stromgren with their second-round selection. The forward has been fine in Sweden, not being great in the SHL in his second season.

Of course, this could change when he moves over to North America next season, but the early signs look very worrying for the Flames. For those keeping score at home, Stankoven finished fourth in WHL scoring this year, putting up two-points-per-game in 48 regular season games. He also led the WHL in playoff points with 30 in 14 games. Raty and Knies played NHL games this year, with the latter being a key part of the Leafs’ offence.

Again in the third round, the Flames continued to make questionable picks, opting for Cole Huckins and Cameron Whynot. Huckins was nearly a point-per-game winger in his draft year while Whynot was a good two-way blueliner who was playing with former first-round pick Justin Barron in Halifax.

From here, the picks are mostly guesses based on who you think has the highest upside. The Flames took Cole Jordan in the fifth round, a blueliner from the Moose Jaw Warriors best known for being a great passer and even better teammate.

They then prioritized skill over size, taking Jack Beck out of the Ottawa 67’s, who was a smaller highly skilled forward. With their last pick in the sixth round, they went the opposite way, selecting power forward Lucas Ciona out of Seattle. Finally, they took goalie Arseni Serveev in the seventh round out of the Shreveport Mudbugs in the NAHL.

Bad luck after the draft

As is the case when dealing with people, you simply cannot control every single factor. For the Flames, there was some bad luck in this draft. Cole Jordan being the case in point. When he was on the ice, Jordan was an excellent power play quarterback and strong two-way bluelier for the Warriors. Unfortunately, in both of his seasons as a draft pick, he missed significant time with injuries.

Over the past two seasons, Jordan featured in just 53 games, putting up 18 points in that time. That simply is not enough games to be able to assess a prospect, and more importantly, missing that many games put Jordan at a severe developmental disadvantage compared to his peers.

Similarly, Jack Beck missed significant time in the past two seasons with injuries. While not as bad, Beck played in 81 games, put also put up 97 points in that time. Not bad but given he missed his entire draft year due to the OHL not operating during the pandemic made it really hard to justify signing him at this point.

These are both things that the Flames could never have accounted for, and while I’m a bit surprised they didn’t even give Beck a look, the lack of game experience is very real.

Bad calls during the draft

While you can’t control injury issues you absolutely should make better reads in the draft than the Flames did in 2021. In particular, the Stromgren pick looks increasingly like the wrong call was made by the Flames. Through two seasons, Stromgren has been stuck in the middle, seemingly too good for the Swedish J20, but not good enough to play in the SHL.

In 45 games, Stromgren put up just eight points, playing mostly as the 13th forward or on the fourth line. Brynas was not an overly strong team this year and was relegated to the HockeyAllsvenskan, but given Stromgren couldn’t even break into the lineup reliably on this team does not bode well for his future.

It is honestly surprising that they picked Stromgren at all from this draft. And while there is a chance that he could develop into an NHLer in time, he likely tops out as a replacement level winger as the absolute best case scenario. If that’s what they are getting out of a second-round pick… yikes!

The other tough pick from this draft was Cole Huckins, the Flames’ first of their two third-round selections. Huckins was always known as a good player, but went through some major off-ice issues last season, being sent away from the team for what appeared to be disciplinary issues. He did return, but played limited minutes before being traded to Sherbrooke this season.

He ended up playing just fine this year in a middle-six role, but was not outstanding at any point this season. The Flames could not control how well he developed, but likely should have caught behavioral issues in him during their interviews and discussions with the team. Their scouting team has been around a long time and having not caught that looks like a glaring issue in their drafting process.

An all-time failed draft by Calgary

Not signing these four players marks a shift in organizational thinking under new GM Craig Conroy. The 2021 draft class was suspect from the beginning, and were they not already signed, I’d imagine the Flames would not have signed Stromgren and would have taken a long look before signing Ciona. There is a very real world in which the only player that the Flames get out of this draft is Coronato, and batting one-for-eight is a big problem for an organization with as few prospects as the Flames have.

Looking back, this is likely to go down as one of the worst in recent memory, and is eerily similar to the 2014 draft when the Flames drafted Sam Bennett. He also turned out to be the only NHLer that they got from that year, as the team under Brian Burke’s stewardship prioritized size over skill.

The 2018 draft also looks like a bit of a stinker, but the Flames’ first pick that year was in the fourth round so it’s less comparable. That said, it looks like the Flames will end up with zero NHL games from the five players they selected that year.

The only other draft that stands out since the franchise’s inception is the 2006 draft. The Flames took goalie Leland Irving in the first round, who ended up only playing 13 NHL games in his career. They then made seven more picks and got zero games out of those players. Of all of the Flames’ drafts, this one has to be the worst. To add insult to injury, the Flames missed out on taking Milan Lucic, Brad Marchant, and Nick Foligno among others in that draft.

Building a good team starts at the draft

Successful NHL franchises are able to find value deep in the draft. The Tampa Bay Lightning are masters at this, drafting and developing players from late rounds and building a strong development pipeline from junior hockey to their AHL affiliate in Syracuse to the NHL.

The Flames have struggled in this regard, not drafting well then not allowing players to make it to the NHL by blocking their path with veterans. And while it seems as though the latter problem has been addressed by a new philosophy, the upcoming draft will be key to see if the team can address the former and draft better.

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