Monday, June 21, 2010

64th - Calgary Flames Draft Preview

The horse head gets a lot of ridicule around the league's various fan bases but I don't think that it's half as bad as some of the other crests that I've talked about over the last month. It's not great but at least it is a reflection of the city - Calgary is renowned for its stereotypical western heritage but there is still a lot of ranching in Southern Alberta and of course the Calgary Stampede is a huge attraction. The attempt may have fell short for many people but it's far from the worst we've seen plus the team made up for it with the current Flames jersey which was a massive hit with their fans.

1st Pick Last Year: Tim Erixon (23rd overall) – It was a bit of a surprise that the Flames opted for a defenceman with their first pick last year but make no mistake about it, Time Erixon is a valuable commodity. The rearguard collected 13 points in the SEL with Skelleftea HC and also had a good showing at the 2010 World Junior Championship in Saskatoon. An all-around type of player, Erixon has the versatility to play with an assortment of defensive partners. He’s expected to play another year in the SEL.

The Good: Mikael Backlund (24th overall, 2007) – It’s still very early but over the last 5 drafts, Backlund’s 24 NHL games is the most among Flames draft picks. The talented Swede appears back on track thanks to a season and a half in North America where he’s played a lot of minutes. A trip to the Memorial Cup in 2009 was probably a good eye opener although he didn’t play all that well beyond the first game. This past year in the AHL he had 32 points and then finished the season with Calgary scoring once and totaling 10 points in 23 games.

The Bad: Kris Chucko (24th overall, 2004) – The Flames grabbed the power forward out of the BCHL and waited patiently while he played 2 years with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. As a farm hand he’s been good, he scored 51 points in 2008-09, but he hasn’t been able to force his way onto the NHL roster yet. It’s been a long time since he was drafted and he has to be considered as much a suspect as a prospect at this point.

The Unknown: Leland Irving (26th overall, 2006) – Goalies develop slower than other positions but it’s hard to argue that Irving is making progress since turning pro. He played 47 games in Quad City as a rookie but only got into 34 last year in Abbotsford and he also saw 8 games in the ECHL. His stats were down in all categories. This year the backup job with the big club appears to be up for grabs – will that carrot bring Irving back to the way he was in the WHL while a member of the Everett Silvertips?

Coming Down the Pipe: I’ve always thought that Calgary was strong in goalie prospects, very good on the blueline but lacking up front. I think that’s changed a bit in the last couple of years as Iriving and Matt Keetley have struggled to get to a higher level as pros. Certainly there are solid prospects for the future blueline in Erixon, John Negrin, Matt Pelech and possibly Keith Seabrook and T.J. Brodie. Up front the Flames will rely on Mitch Wahl, Greg Nemisz, Ryan Howse and Backlund to get the job done.

Draft Trends: 8 of Calgary’s last 18 picks have come from Western Canada with 4 Swedes and 3 OHL players making up the bulk of the other selections. The Flames have always been willing to deal picks on draft day, usually moving back and adding picks as opposed to up. The team also made big roster moves at the draft in recent years acquiring both Jay Bouwmeester and Mike Cammalleri.

2010 Prediction 64th overall:

Kevin Sundher (Chilliwack) – The 6’0, 192 lb B.C. product fits the trend for the Flames as a two-way, good skating, hard working Western Canadian. Offensively Sundher eclipsed his production from his rookie year ending with 25 goals and 61 points with the Chilliwack Bruins on the WHL. He added 5 points in 6 playoff games against the Tri City Americans. Sundher was the 7th player taken in the 2007 WHL Bantam draft. (Photo: Bob Frid / Chilliwack Bruins)

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