Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Flames Roller Coaster 2013 Draft

It was fitting the 2013 NHL Entry Draft was held on a long weekend as by the time Calgary made its eighth and final selection, it felt like we had spent a long, exhausting summer day at an amusement park.

Now that we've had time to let things soak in, let's climb back on the Mindbender roller coaster General Manager Jay Feaster took Flames fans on and take a closer look at the many twists and turns that transpired along the way.

1. Round 1, 6th - Chain Lift

The ride started off ordinarily enough, Feaster and his entourage strutting to the podium around 1:20 pm Calgary time with a rolled up Flames jersey in hand -- name concealed. There was the expected nervousness as the ascent into one of Calgary's most important days in franchise history began -- click-click-click-click-click-click -- the source of most of the angst being Valeri Nichushkin still being available. In a mildly surprising move, Swedish centre Elias Lindholm was chosen 5th by Carolina leaving the big Russian winger available at No. 6. As tantalizing of a talent as he is, it would come with obvious risks as previously seen with top 10 headaches like Nikita Filatov (6th overall in 2008) and Nikolai Zherdev (4th overall in 2003).

However, there would be no surprises. Feaster stepped up to the mic and after acknowledging Alberta's flood victims, he got down to business by selecting the consensus choice at No. 6, big 6-foot-2 centre Sean Monahan from the abysmal 16-win Ottawa 67's. Amazingly, it had been five years since the Flames last plucked a player out of the OHL -- the NHL's primary feeder, the last one being TJ Brodie in the 4th round of 2008. Will Monahan eventually become the impact top line centre Calgary has been seeking for well over a decade? That's certainly what the Flames hope but Monahan comes with a caveat. The day before the draft, I wrote about the risks of drafting a star forward from a bad hockey team. But, history aside, Monahan was the safe choice and all in all, a pick that met most people's approval.

2. Round 1, 22nd - Double Loop

For the media that were in New Jersey, and had the opportunity to go down the procession line on Friday, meeting each of the top prospects one after another, a knock on Monahan was his seemingly reserved personality. Shy and quiet, he was not the gregarious outgoing, energizing kind of guy that gushed personality like some of the others. Like, for example, Calgary native Hunter Shinkaruk.

So, when highly ranked Shinkaruk began to fall, and fall, and fall, and Calgary's 22nd pick got closer, and closer, and closer. It seemed like the dream scenario -- hometown kid, skilled forward, goal scorer, charismatic. When Toronto also passed on him at No. 21, the Twitterverse exploded, many already revelling in the presumed selection of Shinkaruk like a wide receiver beginning his touchdown celebration at the 10-yard-line. But as fans waited for the words, "From the Medicine Hat Tigers...", they instead got, "From the Gatineau Olympiques..." and bam, just like that, everyone's world was turned upside down. Dipping into the QMJHL for just the second time since 2007 to select winger Emile Poirier, who International Scouting Services (ISS) had listed at No. 79, Feaster daringly passed on taking Shinkaruk, ranked 13th by ISS.

Later, the Flames GM rationalized it by saying they simply had Poirier ranked higher on their list. However, it's still a ballsy move. We've all participated in hockey pools where we tell ourselves going in, "Pick with your head, not with your heart." Yet, if it comes down to a choice between two players and if a player from our favourite team (or home town) is ranked close enough to that player our list says we should take, we usually cave and take our favourite guy. In that sense, credit to Feaster for being so disciplined.

If being thrown for a loop once wasn't enough, it happened again two picks later when the Flames public enemy No. 1 -- the Vancouver Canucks, ended up the team that did select Shinkaruk. Just like that, the Calgary kid went from hometown hero to despised division rival. Wow. 

3. Round 1, 28th - The Straight

With fans still reeling from Shinkaruk slipping through Calgary's grasp, pessimism was running rampant. The Flames dubious history with first round picks was not helping the situation and fears were piling up that Calgary might complete the hat trick of Flames misery by going after Halifax goaltender Zac Fucale at No. 28, despite history suggesting that drafting a goalie in the first round is an awful idea. That's when normalcy returned and Feaster won back many of the fans he had lost six picks earlier.

Like forgetting about your anniversary but remembering just in time to grab a bouquet of roses from 7-Eleven on the way home from work, Feaster calmed the choppy waters of Flames Nation by not blowing a second chance to take a local kid and selecting Shaw Meadows minor hockey graduate Morgan Klimchuk, a left winger from the WHL, who has been playing with the Regina Pats.

4. Round 3, 67th - The Corkscrew

In the Stanley Cup final that just concluded, half of the players in uniform were graduates of rounds 2, 3 or 4 of the NHL Draft. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford and Bryan Bickell were all round 2 draft picks. Patrick Sharp, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara were among those that were round 3's. Niklas Hjalmarsson, Michal Rozsival and Michal Handzus are a sample of the round 4's.

The lesson being that rounds 2-4, often overshadowed by the first round, are hugely important and can be the real make-or-break portion of the draft. Looking at the roster construction of the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks proves that, which makes Calgary's tact in this year's draft that much more curious.

As it stood, the Flames had no second round pick as it was in the hands of Montreal from the Mike Cammalleri/Karri Ramo trade 18 months ago. They also had no fourth round pick having surrendered it to Florida earlier in June to acquire Corban Knight.

Then, with the one pick they did have, they strayed off the board and selected rugged WHL blue-liner Keegan Kanzig. A massive behemoth of a specimen playing for Victoria, Kanzig is listed by the NHL as 6-foot-7 but is as tall as 7-foot-1 depending on how many flattened opposing forwards he's standing on. His weight is predicated by "approximately" with the latest number in the vicinity of 241 pounds, 13 pounds more than anyone else in the 2013 draft class.

While Central Scouting had Kanzig rated 112th on its list of North American Skaters (excludes goalies and International skaters), perhaps the bigger alarm for Flames fans was when Hockey Prospectus writer and junior hockey/draft aficionado Corey Pronman, essentially admitted,"Sorry Calgary, 'I've got nothing." when asked for his analysis of the surprise pick. It was a very rare shake of the head from Mr. Pronman, who seemed to know the attributes of just about every player picked through all seven rounds.

Could Kanzig be the next Zdeno Chara? I suppose he was picked from the WHL in round three, just like Chara was in 1996 when the New York Islanders selected him 56th. Can you blame the Flames for chasing after a could-be Chara-like player? No. But this year of all years, with such a deep and talented draft, do you expend your only pick between rounds one and five on this type of player, who can best be described as a project? That's certainly up for debate.

The assumption is Kanzig was the next available guy on the Flames infamous list and if that was, indeed, the case, there in lies the flaw with the concept of steadfastly always taking the best player available on your list. I would suggest there needs to be a strategic component to it as well, which allows the possibility of taking the second-best player remaining on your list sometimes, if the player you have up next is one you feel is under the radar and you can still get later in the draft.

Instead, Flames fans are left with what might be a future shutdown defenceman but will always be the answer to a trivia question: Q. When is the last time a team's draft pick(s) in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds combined -- none of which were goalies, had a collective zero regular season goals during the two years leading up to the draft?

Note: While Kanzig has 0 goals, 9 assists in 133 regular season games the past two seasons, he did score his first and only WHL goal on April 1 of these past playoffs - no fooling!

5. Round 5, 135th - Boomerang

Calgary did not have its own fifth round pick, having given it up last year in the Dennis Wideman trade. However, in the true definition of found money, they made up for it by getting a fifth round pick from Columbus when they traded away Blake Comeau last spring.

While Klimchuk was selected with the pick received for Jarome Iginla -- a pretty heavy burden to shoulder, the baggage weighs significantly less when you're the pick received in exchange for Comeau and that is the case for Brandon defenceman Eric Roy, who Calgary selected at No. 135. Playing in the shadow of fellow Wheat King defenceman Ryan Pulock, who went 15th overall to the New York Islanders, Roy has plenty of offence in his game but reportedly needs to vastly improve his defensive game. For this point in the draft, however, this was widely viewed as a solid, conventional selection for the Flames that has potential. Consider it a bounce-back pick of sorts for Calgary after its round three shocker.

6. Round 6, 157th - Barrel Roll

Did you know there are nearly 500 people named Tim Harrison on Twitter? How I know that is I was one of the many that went Googling Sunday evening when Calgary raised eyebrows once again in round 6 with the selection of a mysterious high school centre from Massachusetts named Tim Harrison.

He wasn't on the ISS rankings.  He was nowhere to be found on the Central Scouting rankings. It meant for some awkward live radio for poor Dean Molberg and Pat Steinberg broadcasting live on Sportsnet 960. You could hear the papers ruffling in the background before eventually Pat came clean and admitted they had no information at all about him.

As the 'Great Tim Harrison Scavenger Hunt' played out on the Internet, various bits and pieces of information began to surface and eventually, Pat tracked him down and got him on the air. Drafting guys not on the radar at this late juncture in the draft is not new. In the most extreme case, the Buffalo Sabres intentionally drafted an imaginary player 183rd overall named Taro Tsujimoto.  However, that was in 1974 and one would think in this day and age it must be nearly impossible to uncover prospects no one else knows about. Yet, it seems Calgary rose to the challenge and accomplished exactly that.

From the limited information we've learned about Harrison, he's another tall centre similar to Mark Jankowski, who was drafted out of high school last year -- albeit Jankowski was the Flames first round pick. Harrison is off to Colgate where he'll begin his NCAA career in the fall. As for all the errant Tim Harrison's who saw their number of Twitter followers inexplicably spike on Sunday night, that will be our little secret.

7. Round 7, 187th - Inversion

With a bonus seventh round pick as a result of the trade of Henrik Karlsson to the Blackhawks, the Flames turned their normal draft strategy upside down once again by using it to select defenceman Rushan Rafikov, who is playing junior hockey in Russia.

It was 2002 under the guidance of former GM Craig Button when Calgary last used draft picks on players playing in Russia. Based on the results, you'll understand why they took a 10 year hiatus. Button selected six Russians during the 2001 and 2002 drafts -- all of them taken between rounds 2 and 5. All but one of them never came to North America and the one that did -- 2001 2nd round pick (41st) Andrei Taratukhin, he spent one full season with the Flames farm team in Omaha in 2006-07 but never got into a game for Calgary and returned to Russia the next season. 

8. Round 7, 198th - Brake Run

This one just seemed to reek of convenience. Now, every time a Flames scout goes out to check up on top Flames prospects Mark Jankowski and Jon Gillies at Providence, he now has a third guy to watch while he's at it.

Providence defenceman John Gilmour was Calgary's final selection and ended up the lone player taken with a 1993 year of birth. The final round is all about hoping and not expecting, and it seemed like a low risk way to wrap up the day and put the brakes on what was otherwise a long, adventurous ride.

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