Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rebuilding Up the Middle

In the decade-and-a-half leading up to Mikael Backlund's rookie season in 2010-11, the Calgary Flames missed the playoffs eight times and were eliminated in the first round in six others.

It's not a coincidence that over a parallel stretch from 1993 to 2006, the Flames drafted and developed into their line-up only two bonafide NHL centres. And at that, Clarke Wilm (1995, 6th round) and Matthew Lombardi (2002, 3rd round) -- while serviceable fellas, aren't exactly of the ilk that you build a franchise around.

Thus, it is no surprise that given the opportunity Friday night to make it two potential superstar centres drafted in as many years, rookie Flames general manager Brad Treliving strolled up to the podium and without a sliver of a doubt, called out the name Sam Bennett.

"Sam's a guy we had our eye on from Day 1," Treliving told The Canadian Press. "He has a special combination of skill, speed and I've talked about this since Day 1 — the character, the intangible pieces, this guy oozes character, plays with an edge."

If you look around the league at the teams that have been successful lately, they all have highly-skilled homegrown talent up the middle that are the foundation of the team: Jonathan Toews in Chicago, Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles, Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci in Boston, and Logan Couture in San Jose.

And these aren't lucky finds you uncover late in the NHL draft either. All of the above were first round picks with the exception of the two Bruins, who were taken in the second round.

"He's a 200-foot player, plays in all three zones, he brings pace, he brings offensive ability, he brings speed and plays for keeps. This guy is a competitive player," Treliving said.

Bennett is a player with the type of potential Calgary has never had. Fortunate to get him at No. 4, he finished the year as the No. 1 ranked player according to NHL Central Scouting. Remember that the Flames have never drafted in the top five before.

Up until Friday night, Daniel Tkaczuk -- the third ranked North American skater according to Central Scouting's final rankings in 1997 (and considered fourth overall with European skater Olli Jokinen rated higher) had been the most highly-touted Flames draft pick in Calgary's previous 34 years.

With just two years in the OHL so far compared to the three years Sean Monahan had played, and as a young 1996 year-of-birth, it wouldn't surprise me at all -- despite how determined Bennett is to make the Flames next season, that he is returned to the Kingston Frontenacs for one more season. Treliving has talked at length about his philosophy of not rushing players. Besides, more grooming under the leadership of Kingston general manager Doug Gilmour wouldn't be a bad thing.

But after that, expect him to pull on a Calgary Flames uniform for good in 2015-16.

"I've heard so much about how much the [people of Calgary] love hockey and the city," Bennett told The Canadian Press. "And the great management there has me really excited. To have that come true now ... it's just unbelievable."

For Flames fans, they can salivate at the thought that in the very near future, their top three centres could be Monahan, Bennett and Backlund -- all Calgary draft picks. That hasn't happened since the early 90s when Calgary had Joe Nieuwendyk, Theoren Fleury and Robert Reichel up the middle.

Highest Ranked Flames Draft Picks All-Time
(NHL Central Scouting's Final Rankings for North American Skaters)

1. Sam Bennett (taken 4th in 2014)
3. Daniel Tkaczuk (taken 6th in 1997)
5. Sean Monahan (taken 6th in 2013)
8. Cory Stillman (taken 6th in 1992)
8. Dion Phaneuf (taken 9th in 2003)
10. Rico Fata (taken 6th in 1998)

No comments:

Post a Comment