Flashback: The 2011 NHL Draft

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2011 draft could turn out to be the Flames' most efficient draft yet.

The Flames only had five picks to work with in the 2011 draft. The last time they had five picks was 2007, when they ended up with just one successful pick, Mikael Backlund.

The more shots you get on net, the more likely you are to score a goal. The same goes for draft picks: the more picks you have, the more likely you are to get an NHLer. Five picks over seven rounds isn’t a lot, and when you have few prospects, you need to make those picks count.

It’s too early to tell for sure, but in 2011, that’s exactly what the Flames have appeared to do. They had five picks in 2011, and of those five, four have already played an NHL game and scored an NHL point, while the fifth was traded for an NHLer.

Quality is more important than quantity, but the Flames may have nailed it in both departments. While guys like Lance Bouma are great to have, they aren’t game breakers. Most of the Flames’ picks from the 2011 draft just might be.

This was the first draft in a long time without Darryl Sutter. This was Jay Feaster’s first draft, and likely one of the best things he ever did for the Flames franchise.

In 2011, the Flames selected:

Four for five (maybe): 80%

Okay. This is, admittedly, a premature projection. Absolutely none of the Flames’ four remaining picks from this season have established themselves as NHL regulars quite yet.

The thing is, based on what we’ve seen from them thus far, it’s entirely possibly not only will all four players become established regulars, but players of note as well. Baertschi, Granlund, and Gaudreau all have top six – even first line – potential. Wotherspoon could certainly end up becoming a top four defenceman. Meanwhile, the remaining pick was traded for an already established NHLer.

Five picks, and all five counted.

I’m not sure which NHL team has the most successful draft rate from a single draft, or if anyone’s ever made every single pick of theirs in one year count. But if things keep going as they have been so far, then the Flames’ 2011 draft class should be right up there.

European forwards

Baertschi had a hell of a start to his NHL career. As an emergency recall from junior, he quickly went on to score three goals in his five game stint, immediately winning the hearts of Calgarians and setting too-high expectations – expectations management may have fallen for.

Since his stint, Baertschi has still fared relatively well. In his first two professional seasons, at the NHL level, he’s just below .5 PPG – not bad for a kid not even averaging 14 minutes a game. Remember the organization’s current love of Sean Monahan, and remember Baertschi and Monahan scored at roughly the same clip over their first 50 games.

Baertschi’s AHL stints, however, have understandably left something to be desired. Being sent down is disappointing: recall he started in the AHL in the lockout season, and was just over .8 PPG; when he was sent down this past season, he was .7, and much of those points came towards the end of the season.

Granlund’s first AHL season, however, has been something to write home about. After playing against men in the SM-liiga for two full seasons before coming over – registering .66 PPG over that time – Granlund’s first North American season saw him at .88 PPG (albeit with a 18.4 SH%, which will likely drop) in the AHL, and basically .5 PPG in the NHL.

In short, Granlund, like Ortio, was a relatively unknown overseas commodity who quickly established himself as one of the Flames’ top prospects when he came over.

Both certainly look like they’ll be NHLers. Both have shown offensive talent at that level. Both will likely be knocking on the door over the next season, and may just establish themselves sooner rather than later.

A Canadian defenceman

After impressive junior stints on a powerhouse Portland Winterhawks team – his last defence partner at the junior level was noted rather good young player Seth Jones, and he ended up playing in Team Canada’s top four at the World Juniors – Wotherspoon entered his first professional season. And when injuries struck the Flames’ defence core, he was the only prospect called up who really got a chance.

Chris Breen, Mark Cundari, and Chad Billins all got chances, but none of them established themselves in the way Wotherspoon, just 21 years old, did. He played 14 games, more than the others did, and likely would have had another six to play a quarter of the season had he not been injured.

It took Wotherspoon nine games to exceed the 17 minute mark for the first time, and he played over 17 minutes for three games in his first professional season. What’s more, those games resulted in three of his four best CF% performances, in which he broke even at the very least.

At this point, Wotherspoon may be one of the Flames’ best defence prospects, and could become an NHL regular sooner rather than later. He was recalled to fill in for an injured Dennis Wideman, and seemed to perform better than him. There will be growing pains, for sure, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Wotherspoon establish himself in the NHL soon.

Johnny Hockey himself

And by this time, we’re all very familiar with Johnny Gaudreau. From a point per game in his freshman season at Boston College, to 1.5 PPG in his sophomore year, to two points per game as a junior, Gaudreau continued to grow as a hockey player, culminating in his first NHL game at the end of last season.

Gaudreau is small, but shifty. He’s incredibly offensively skilled. He’ll likely spend a fair amount of time in the NHL next season, although it may not be the whole season; after all, Gaudreau has time and time again succeeded in whatever league or tournament he’s played in, but he’s never played an 82 game season before.

That said, his first NHL game showed some incredible skill. He scored his first goal off a sneaky redirect. And over his 15:11 – including some powerplay time – he ended up being one of the Flames’ corsi leaders, despite having one of the worst zone starts. It’s an extremely small sample size, and not exactly indicative of future success… but it’s not a bad sign, either.

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about Gaudreau. And time and time again, he’s risen to that challenge. If he ends up as a regular NHLer, he’ll likely be one with great impact, and based on his past success, there’s a pretty decent chance he ends up becoming a regular NHLer.

Was 2011 a good year?

So. Nothing’s for certain yet. But all four players the Flames still have played an NHL game. All have registered at least a point. And all have played at very high levels and established themselves as key players on their teams before they entered the NHL.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll all become NHL players, and it’s unrealistic to expect that of them… but with this group, it’s actually a very possible reality.

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