Well, it’s June now, which means the long-awaited draft is finally just a few weeks away. The 2014 NHL Entry Draft takes place in Philadelphia, with the first round on the night of June 27, and the rest the following day. It’s the most important time of this Flames season. The picks they make will hopefully change that for the near future.
In the cap world, you build through the draft. Hell, you have to build through the draft in general. You get good players to play for your franchise for cheap, have them grow together, try to establish them within the city and build a team. One of the biggest reasons the Flames are where they are right now is because they didn’t do this before.
That said, they’re working on correcting that. Over this week we’re going to take a look at the Flames’ drafts dating back to 2007; 2007 because not a single player the Flames drafted in 2006 is in the organization, or even NHL, anymore.
Remember, the goal of each draft is to select at least one NHLer (~15%). If we take it one step further, then we want teams to select two NHLers per draft (~30%), and at least one of those guys becomes a regular. Anything more than that means you’re above average, something the Flames need to be in order to improve faster.
One for five: 20%
In 2007, the Flames drafted five kids, including: John Negrin (16 games with the AHL’s Utica Comets last season), Keith Aulie (a part of that famed Dion Phaneuf trade; he spent last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning), Mickey Renaud (RIP), and CJ Severyn (bounced around the AHL and ECHL).
They also drafted one player that remains with the team today, and hopefully will for a while yet: 24th overall, the Calgary Flames selected Mikael Backlund.
Backlund’s story in Calgary isn’t new. He couldn’t score, but his underlying numbers were great, but who’s to say his underlying numbers even meant anything, and he couldn’t score.
Throughout his entire Flames career, Backlund has been one of the Flames’ best possession players, but it wasn’t materializing into tangible results.
That finally changed. Backlund went .5 PPG in the lockout season after scoring 30 points in 23 games in Sweden. He had a modest start to this season, three points in his first three games, before he hit a wall. He was then benched, scratched, and banished to the fourth line until Sean Monahan got hurt and Bob Hartley needed to play a centre.
That’s when Backlund took off. Getting more ice time and playing with better linemates, Backlund started scoring, and scoring often. He started getting recognition for it. He got to wear an "A" for a bunch of games. He set new career highs for games played (76), points (39), and points per game (.51). To cap it off, he was one of Team Sweden’s best players at this year’s World Championship, helping lead them to bronze.
When drafting, you want to select players that are going to be key parts of your team for a long time. This will be Backlund’s fifth season as a regular member of the Flames, and it certainly won’t be his last. At 25 years old, he’s relatively young, and should have many more productive years ahead of him.
Backlund has often professed love for Calgary. He’s worked to establish himself as a member of the community, and frequently gives to charity. So not only is he a good player, but by all accounts, he seems like a good person, too.
Was 2007 a good year?
Backlund is exactly what a rebuilding team needs: a strong possession player with infectious enthusiasm and loyalty to the team that drafted him. The Flames are better when he’s on the ice, and the locker room is probably a better place with him than without.
It’s easy to call the 2007 draft a poor one for the Flames. It’s easy to look at the draft list and point out all of the NHLers drafted after your team’s bust pick. After all, this was the draft in which Backlund’s junior teammate, Jamie Benn, was selected in the fifth round; any team could have had him at any time, if they had just taken a chance on him before the Stars did.
But the goal lies somewhere between 15 and 30%, and that’s assuming a team has all seven of its picks. The Flames had two fewer to work with, but managed to snag a hell of an NHLer with one of them. In order to have a good draft, you should be selecting at least one regular NHLer for your team, and the Flames did just that.