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2011 NHL Draft: Grading the Flames

The NHL Entry Draft wrapped up Saturday afternoon in Minnesota, and, Feaster's wheeling and dealing aside, the Flames came away with five picks in this year's festivities, including three in the top sixty, the most in the Draft's upper echelon since 2001.

Few players really rose to the top this year, causing some teams (*cough*Jets*cough*) to go off the board and allowing the Flames the opportunity to snag Switzerland's Sven Baertschi, who enjoyed a successful 85-point campaign in his rookie season with the Portland Winterhawks and many had pegged as a top-ten pick.

So the Flames got what they needed in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, selecting a skilled, two-way forward without much size but with what appears to be a big upside, something that has been a rarity for the club in recent years. Although SVEN is, in some ways, a risky pick, the organization largely stuck to its guns by returning to its primary "fishing hole," the trusty ol' WHL.

Three of the Flames' five picks came from the Dub, and while the club may be taking risks with picks like Baertschi, Gaudreau, and possibly Brossoit, they didn't really venture too far out of their comfort zone in the first Draft under the supervision of Jay Feaster.

Tyler Wotherspoon, a lanky stay-at-home defenceman with little to no offensive upside, akin to someone like Chris Breen, is a perfect example of a safe and predictable Calgary pick. The Wotherspoon pick, however, makes more sense when you consider that the Flames could potentially be losing one or both of Matt Pelech and/or Gord Baldwin this summer and the fact that T.J. Brodie could be seeing full-time duty with the big club next season. Picking Laurent Brossoit is another story. With Karlsson signed for two more years, Ortio playing in North America, and Leland Irving likely to be retained by the club, I suppose the team's line of thinking in selecting Brossoit was that by the time Karlsson's deal is up and Irving or Ortio is ready to graduate to the big league, he will be ready to fill that hole on the Farm. The Flames had nothing to lose selecting a goalie with a late round pick.

There are only so many goalie positions available in an organization at a given time, a factor that has lead to the saturation of the NHL goalie market and resulted in many a 'tender being out of a job when the training camp rolls around. Considering how long goalies can take to develop and make that leap to the next level, overstocking your organization with young netminders ultimately vying for the same job seems questionable to me, but I suppose the same can be said of overstocking at any position.

In terms of addressing the organization's needs, three of the Flames' five picks are forwards, which counts as an effort towards filling what is without a doubt the team's most significant deficiency, but given what we know about the success of players (especially forwards) selected after the first half of the first round, the chances of Markus Granlund or John Gaudreau turning into top-flight players at the NHL level are slim. That's not to say that they may not become capable NHLers without some value to a team, but this organization already has enough of those--the kinds of players that typically aren't difficult to obtain through trades or free agency.

At this point, the Flames' forward prospect stable is like a game of Powerball--one could be a winner and the rest, duds--and your chances don't necessarily improve the more you play.

Did the Flames choose the best player available in Baertschi? We likely won't know until a few years down the road when we compare his development to the likes of McNeill and Armia. It's possible that Markus Granlund was the best player available in the mid-second round after the likes of Brandon Saad, Alexander Khokhlachev, and Rocco Grimaldi had been taken, but again it's a wait-and-see matter.

Calgary has found some very capable players in later rounds of the Draft like Adam Pardy and David Moss, so there's reason to hold out some hope for this year's Draft class.

Overall, I'd probably award the Flames a grade of B-, not excellent as no player selected is expected to make an immediate impact, but above average.