Sunday, June 26, 2016

Gold Star: Eight Takeaways From an Excellent Draft Weekend for the Calgary Flames

You know how when you get to the till at the grocery store and the cashier asks you, "Did you find everything you were looking for?"


For sure.

Damn straight.

That's the type of response you'd surely get from Calgary general manager Brad Treliving after an impactful and effective couple of days for his management team at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo.

Eight Draft Weekend Takeaways

1. New Emphasis on Skill and Hockey IQ

As GM of the Flames, Darryl Sutter drafted a total of 54 skaters from 2003 to 2010. Only five of those players were shorter than 6-foot-0. That's right, five in eight years.

My goodness how times have changed.

This weekend, half of the eight skaters drafted by Treliving were 5-foot-11 or shorter:
  • 1-6 - LW Matthew Tkachuk, OHL, 6-1, 202 lbs | 57 gm, 30-77-107
  • 2-54 - G Tyler Parsons, OHL, 6-1, 185 lbs | 49 gm, 2.33 GAA, .921 SV% 
  • 2-56 - C Dillon Dube, WHL, 5-10, 183 lbs | 65 gm, 26-40-66 
  • 3-66 - D Adam Fox, USA NTDP, 5-10, 181 lbs | 25 gm, 5-17-22 
  • 4-96 - C Linus Lidstrom, Swe Jr, 5-11, 165 lbs | 40 gm, 14-30-44 
  • 5-126 - C Mitchell Mattson, HS/USHL, 6-4, 191 lbs | 46 gm, 19-29-48 
  • 6-156 - RW Eetu Tuulola, Finland, 6-2, 227 lbs | 39 gm, 9-6-15 
  • 6-166 - C Matthew Phillips, WHL, 5-7, 150 lbs | 72 gm, 37-39-76 
  • 7-186 - D Stepan Falkovsky, OHL, 6-7, 224 lbs | 58 gm, 9-23-32

While it's one thing to see sub six-footers at forward, it's more rare to find them on the blue-line. Right-shooting defenceman Adam Fox from the US National Team development program, taken in the third round, is 5-foot-10.

If you're hoping to see him crush guys as they cross the blue-line with their head down, ala Scott Stevens, you might be disappointed. But if you want to watch someone resembling Brian Rafalski use his speed at both ends of the ice, you're in luck. Fox led all defencemen with nine points (1 goal, 8 assists) at the U18 World Championships.

"There are smaller guys in the NHL now that are breaking that mould," said Fox, who was born in New York state and grew up a Rangers fan. "Guys like Tyson Barrie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Duncan Keith are all smaller defencemen. For me, my hockey sense, hockey IQ and just my playmaking abilities definitely help me make up for any lack of size."

While they play different positions, he says that New Jersey resident Johnny Gaudreau is also an inspiration.

"I look at him as a guy that was able to produce at every level when people still questioned his size. Then it came a point where he he did it at the highest level and people finally started to look away from his size and just realize he's a great player and he's able to produce," said Fox.

"He never let me anyone get to him, he just kept working hard and it worked out for him. That's definitely something I can look up to to see how hard he worked to prove people wrong."

As for hockey IQ, that was another buzzword on the weekend as in most Flames picks seemed to be packing it.

"Growing up around the game, I was fortunate enough to obviously have my Dad and be around the rink," said first rounder Matthew Tkachuk. "I think huge credit for my hockey IQ comes from always being around the rink and watching hockey."

Tkachuk was voted second in his conference for 'Smartest Player' in the OHL annual coaches poll. It's pretty complimentary if you consider who is doing the voting. It's the coaches that know these players best. Interestingly, past winners or runners up in that same category -- Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett.

2. A Necessary Re-Stock of the Cupboards

After selecting only five players a year ago and not picking once in the top 50, General Manager Brad Treliving and his management team came to Buffalo armed with twice as many draft picks this year. And somewhat surprisingly, they also returned with 10 players.

Mind you, not all 10 players were drafted.

Unlike a year ago, there were no bundle-together-two-picks-and-trade-up scenarios that played out so beyond the Elliott trade, it was a pretty straight forward day, which for the scouts who spent all year watching prospects, it makes for a great draft (unlike a year ago when the Flames traded away its first three draft picks for Dougie Hamilton, which was a great deal for Calgary but was a punch to the gut for the scouting staff.)

Nine players drafted is the most since 2004 when Calgary drafted 10 players in what back then was a nine-round draft.

Many believe that more than any other factor from scouting expertise to analytics, to top secret algorithms, the easiest path to a good draft is to simply have more draft picks than anyone else. With the draft being such a crapshoot in so many ways -- defence develop so late, goaltenders develop so late, the more bullets there are in the chamber, the better the odds that you're going to pull the trigger and hit a bullseye.

3. Much Needed Piss & Vinegar

Admittedly, I never saw it coming.

Not in December, not in February, not in April, not in May at the Memorial Cup, not even Friday afternoon. Yet, despite being a top five lock on nearly every draft experts' draft rankings, an unexpected decision by the Columbus Blue Jackets at pick No. 3 set off a chain reaction of contingency plans that resulted in Matthew Tkachuk falling into the Flames lap at No. 6.

Edgy, plays with bite, nasty, these are the terms you hear with Tkachuk and are the exactly qualities the Flames have been so desperately seeking. Sure enough, it comes to them in the form of a top-six winger that can also score. Talk about a double dip.

I talked to Tkachuk briefly by phone on Friday and he talked about his style of play.

"Playing aggressive is my style. Always in the middle of the action, trying to piss off the other team," said Tkachuk. "Playing on that edge helps me be more effective on the ice."

You knew right away, this was going to be a Brian Burke-endorsed selection and he wasn't shy on Saturday confirming exactly that.

Normally a left-winger although he did play some right-wing this season and said he liked coming in off his off-wing, it remains to be seen where he slots in down the road but given his ability to work so well with Mitch Marner with London, playing right wing on the top line with Johnny Gaudreau seems like a great fit.

That said, similarly alluring would be the concept of Tkachuk on the left side of a line centred by Sam Bennett. Those two intense guys playing together could be a handful for the opposition.

4. Pumped for Penticton

Now that we know the names, their stats, have read the scouting reports on their strengths and weaknesses, it's time to see the Flames draft class of 2016 up close and in person.

Development camp in early July is one opportunity although with focus on skill development, it's more of an exercise for getting to know these young men better off the ice.

What I'm looking forward to see is the annual Young Stars Classic rookie tournament in September and a first chance to see these guys in actual game action, I figure at least five of them should be with the rookies that head to Penticton on Sept. 15 -- Tkachuk, Parsons, Dube, Phillips and Falkovsky.

Fox (Harvard) and Mattson (North Dakota) will both be in school as they each will be in their freshman NCAA seasons. As for Lidstrom and Tuulola, their status is not known will still be in Europe. But hopefully all nine will be at development camp the first week of July.

Is it too early to contemplate line combinations? Of course it is. It's way too early. But that's never stopped me before.

Tkachuk - Jankowski - Mangiapane
Shinkaruk - Karnaukhov - Poirier
Klimchuk - Phillips - Pribyl
Pollock - Dube - Carroll

Adding intrigue to the Flames-Jets-Oilers-Canucks get-together in the Okanagan will be a Memorial Cup champions reunion with Canucks first rounder Olli Juolevi joining Tkachuk and Parsons.

Also, Jesse Puljujarvi dropping to Edmonton at No. 4 adds an extra layer of intrigue to the rookies that the Oilers will take to Penticton.

If you missed it amongst the draft hoopla as it was released on Friday, here is the Flames schedule with the times listed in Mountain Time. All games played at the beautiful South Okanagan Events Centre. Tickets go on sale on July 8.
  • September 16 vs Wpg, 5 pm
  • September 17 vs Edm, 8:30 pm
  • September 19 vs Van, 4:30 pm

I'll be on the ground in Penticton to cover this event for a third straight year and look forward to keeping you connected.

5. The Legend of Pick 166

It was spooky when the diminutive but talented Andrew Mangiapane was drafted last year with pick No. 166 in the sixth round, the same number that Theoren Fleury was selected at in 1987. What made it eerie, of course, is the similarities in their stature and in their skills. You're familiar with Fleury's prolific NHL career. Meanwhile, Mangiapane -- expected to turn pro this fall -- was fantastic again last season and looks like an absolute steal at that part in the draft.

Well, can lightning strike potentially three times at No. 166? Sure enough, Calgary picked at No. 166 again this year -- special thanks to Connor Bleakley -- and they used that pick to take a flyer on highly-skilled Calgary kid Matthew Phillips, who is a guy that assistant general manager Craig Conroy absolutely loves. He's coming off a terrific rookie season with Victoria in the WHL in which he led all rookies with 76 points, which was also one point better than Alex Nylander, who was the OHL rookie scoring leader -- although Nylander played 15 fewer games.

Small guys that can motor and create offence. Fleury defied the odds to to it in his era, but he had the stocky build he needed back in the days of non-stop clutch and grab. But in this era of the fast-skating NHL, Johnny Gaudreau is proof that size doesn't matter. Mangiapane will be an interesting study. What kind of impact can he have in the AHL this year.

Phillips, listed by the NHL as 5-6, 140 lbs but given an extra inch and 10 extra pounds by the Flames when they sent out their press release later on Saturday, is perhaps the most intriguing of them all. Whether he's 5-6 or 5-7, 140 or 150, it's still not even close to the specs you would ever expect to see on an NHL drafted player. You get the sense that whether or not Phillips ever makes it to the NHL, he's going to be an electric player to watch wherever he he plays along the way.

6. 'Murica

One of the more unusual aspects of this year's draft is only two of the nine picks are Canadian. It's the lowest ratio of Canadian draft picks by the Flames since the 2001 draft with Craig Button at the helm when Calgary picked 11 times and only two were Canadian kids.

In particular, there were four Americans with the states of New York, Arizona, Minnesota and Michigan all represented. Add in a Finn, a Swede and a Belarusian and that's seven. The other two are both local content -- Phillips from Calgary as mentioned and Dube, who has played the past two seasons in Kelowna, a resident of Cochrane.

7. Bagged Their No. 1 Goalie

It was the team's most glaring need, has been a non-stop discussion topic around the city for over a year and you could just tell listening to Treliving and Conroy heading into the weekend that securing a No. 1 goalie was their No. 1 priority by far. Assistant coach search, that would have to wait. Re-signing Gaudreau and Monahan, on the back burner for now.

This was the opportunity to get a goalie because if trade picks were going to be involved -- and that was expected, it couldn't be next week, the deal had to be consummated this weekend.

Sure enough, they made it happen after first shedding a few bars off the cell phone battery life of every GM that potentially a goalie to peddle.

As I wrote about Saturday morning, pulling the trigger on Blues goaltender Brian Elliott ended up being the ideal transaction.

What we're still not sure of is will it be Elliott and Ortio? Or will it be Ortio and someone else. Among the other back-ups that could be possibilities are NYI's JF Berube, Minnesota's Darcy Kuemper, Nashville's Carter Hutton. Like with Elliott, it could again come down to weighing the acquisition cost.

James Reimer, as a UFA, could be a possibility too if he can't find a satisfactory long-term deal out there, something which is a possibility given there are no No. 1 jobs available. I don't see Calgary being interested in in signing Reimer long term but on a one year show-me deal, so he can take another run at free agency a year from now, that could work.

Regardless, Elliott is the man and both Treliving and Burke, as heard in conversations with Sportsnet960's Pat Steinberg, spoke highly about their new acquisition.

8. Secret Stash of Goalies

In many ways, it was like the draft two years ago when the Flames took Mason McDonald as the first goalie off the board. This time it was Tyler Parsons as the second goalie to go when Calgary used its pick at No. 54 to grab the Memorial Cup champion and teammate of Tkachuk.

Considering the Flames depth in net outside the NHL level, it was surprising to see the Flames take a goalie in that second round and by all reports, that wasn't their plan. However, when Calgary got to pick 54 and he was still there and they had him ranked significantly higher, the GM just couldn't let him slip by.

Given the struggles in net last year and the ongoing saga it's been trying to trade for a goalie, you can understand why that position might be a sensitive one at the moment. To breakdown where everyone will be next year, here's my best guess:

  • NHL - Elliott and TBD (possibly Ortio)
  • AHL - Jon Gillies and David Rittich
  • ECHL - Mason McDonald
  • WHL - Nick Schneider
  • OHL - Tyler Parsons

As discussed with Treliving in this piece earlier in the week, McDonald is the one in question as he could also return to the QMJHL for an overage season. However, as he said at the time he expects McDonald to turn pro this fall and the drafting of Parsons may cement that.

You want to stagger when your goalies are coming out of junior so you have spots for them all on your AHL and ECHL affiliates. By bumping McDonald up to the next level this season, that will provide more options and more versatility next summer when it comes to what to do with Scheider and Parsons.

Final Word

From Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon, it really was an intense 24 hours of action. While the optics from my vantage point are that Calgary came away one of the big winners of the weekend, the reality is you won't know for sure for several years.

But it was fun and entertaining and at it's root, isn't that what hockey is supposed to be all about.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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