We are almost there! Finally, just a week away from what has been one of the most talked about NHL Entry Drafts in recent memory. This, of course, is largely due to the fact that all 7 Canadian teams missed the playoffs and 5 of the squads from up north are picking in the top 6. Unfortunately, luck was not on the Flames side in the draft lottery, with the teams that finished directly in front of and directly behind the Flames winning lottery spots and moving up to 2nd and 3rd overall. Unfortunate, due to the fact that the Flames could really use one of the big Finnish wingers those teams will likely select. However, it is not all doom and gloom, as Calgary will get to pick from the next tier of top talent in the draft, right after their good friends in Edmonton and Vancouver. By now, most have their opinion of whom they would like the Flames to take, but who might actually be available to the Flames when they go up to "Proudly select **insert player name here** from **insert team name here**."
**Note: For the purpose of this article, I am going to operate under the assumption that no trades are occurring up in this part of the draft, even though there is a real possibility of such a thing transpiring. Just a couple days ago, an article in the Ottawa Sun said the Flames were aggressively targeting the third or fourth overall picks. Who really knows the validity to this rumour and these things often do not materialize so we will ignore this for today, but wouldn't that make things interesting, while making this entire article redundant. But we press on....
How I Think The Draft Plays Out
First Overall (Toronto): Auston Matthews
Zurich Lions, Swiss-A: 36 GP, 24 G, 22 A, 46 PTS, 6 PIM
All signs point to the Leafs picking Matthews. They desperately need a franchise centre, Matthews is a solid all around player that excelled while playing against men in Switzerland. I managed to watch a game in Zurich in February and Matthews was absolutely dominant, he controlled the game when he was on the ice and put up a goal and two assists. Obviously the NHL is steeper competition, but that is a strong foundation for him to build upon. Laine may end up being a better offensive talent, but Matthews is the full package and it is tough to see the Leafs passing him up.
Second Overall (Winnipeg): Patrik Laine
Tappara Tampere, SM-liiga: 46GP, 17 G, 16 A, 33 PTS, 6 PIM
The Jets could very well end up picking Laine's countryman Jesse Puljujarvi, but Laine is such a high-end talent that the Jets cannot pass him up. The Jets have a strong compilation of young forwards, but none that have the pure goal scoring ability like Patrik Laine. Alongside Mark Schiefele and Nik Ehlers or Kyle Connor, the Jets could have one of the most imposing scoring lines in the NHL in the not-so-distant future.
Third Overall (Columbus): Jesse Puljujarvi
Karpat, SM-liiga: 50GP, 13G, 15A, 28 PTS, 22 PIM
There have been some reports that Columbus may not be enamored with Puljujarvi and could look to trade down, which is something the Flames would take interest in. However, trades this high in the draft rarely occur; Puljujarvi has been viewed as a fantastic all-around prospect for a long time and the Blue Jackets GM is a Finn himself. It would be quite surprising for the Jackets to not select him if they stay at third overall.
Fourth Overall, not First, Fourth (Edmonton): Matthew Tkachuk
London Knights, OHL: 57 GP, 30 G, 77 A, 107 PTS, 80 PIM
While I think the Oilers will select Tkachuk, it would not be surprising if they selected Dubois. Or a defenseman. Or traded the pick away. It is really tough to tell what they are going to do and they obviously are not going to tip their hand. I think they will go with Tkachuk because he fills a void the organization has for a scoring left-winger behind Taylor Hall (or the top one if Hall gets traded), as well as the fact he is generally regarded as the best player available after the top 3. While I personally am not so sure myself that Tkachuk is the strongest choice at 4 (played on a stacked line with Marner and Dvorak, had a ton of secondary assists), he is definitely going to be a solid NHL player and he has some bite to his game that the Oilers could use among their top-six. The Oilers need D, but if they cannot trade this pick for one, I do not believe they will pick one at 4th overall as it goes against the best player available concept. You never know though, they may be really high on one of the D.
Fifth Overall (Vancouver): Pierre-Luc Dubois
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, QMJHL: 62 GP, 42 G, 57 A, 99 PTS, 112 PIM
I think Pierre-Luc Dubois looks like an awesome prospect. After the 2 Finns, he is the player I think the Flames would benefit most from adding to their roster. He is big, physical, and can score. Unfortunately, I do not see how both the Oilers and Canucks pass on him, but the Canucks have made many strange decisions in recent times so I would not put it past them. If the Oilers take Dubois, it is probable the Canucks would go for Tkachuk, unless they themselves are targeting one of the defenders.
Sixth Overall (Calgary):
If the draft plays out the way I have scripted it, the Flames will not be able to select Matthews, Laine, Puljujarvi, Tkachuk or Dubois. If Tkachuk or Dubois were to slip to the Flames, I think they would happily select either of them. But in this draft reality I have sculpted, they do not have that choice. So which player do they take?
The Seemingly Obvious Choice: Alex Nylander
Mississauga Steelheads, OHL: 57 GP, 28 G, 47 A, 75 PTS, 18 PIM
If the Flames follow the conventional wisdom among people who definitely have no say whatsoever in whom the Flames pick, they will pick Alex Nylander. Personally, I am a big supporter of drafting Nylander in this spot. Nylander has shown he is a high-end offensive talent, a strong skater and he was the driver of the offense on his team. He is also a right shot, something the Flames seriously lack among their forward group. It seems as though the biggest knock against him is that he is too small, even though 6 foot 180 pounds for an 18-year-old is really not small at all in today's NHL. He may not be ready to play in the NHL next season, but the draft is about taking the best player for the team with a long-term view and Nylander may be that player for the Flames. Having a player as talented as him lining up alongside Monahan and Gaudreau, or with Sam Bennett sounds pretty good to me.
A Highly Regarded Defenseman:
Jakob Chychrun: Sarnia Sting, OHL: 62 GP, 11 G, 38 A, 49 PTS, 51 PIM
Mikhail Sergachev: Windsor Spitfires, OHL: 67 GP, 17 G, 40 A, 57 PTS, 56 PIM
Olli Juolevi: London Knights, OHL: 57 GP, 9 G, 33 A, 42 PTS, 16 PIM
I am not an NHL scout, GM, etc. I cannot say I have really seen any of these 3 D play more than a game or two. The perceptions of the 3 seem to range, with some people preferring Juolevi, some Chychrun, some Sergachev. The Flames as an organization are looking pretty strong defensively, with Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton locked in long-term. Prospects Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson look as though they have strong potential to be top 4 NHL defenseman, while Tyler Wotherspoon, Brett Kulak and Brandon Hickey all look like they have the potential to contribute in the NHL to some capacity. Furthermore, it is harder to project defenseman than forwards (For example, in 2008, Zach Bogosian, Luke Schenn and Colten Teubert were drafted before Erik Karlsson). So really, ideally the Flames would like to draft a forward. But, they are the experts and if they happen to like one of these defensemen a lot and believe that said defender would have the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman for the team in the future, it would not be a shock to see one of these guys drafted. Juolevi seems to be the one who is held in highest esteem in the hockey world, although he played on the strongest team by far out of all three and put up the lowest numbers offensively. Sergachev is a dynamic offensive talent and could really help drive the play offensively for a team. Chychrun seems to be the all around package defenseman, was perceived as being the best defenseman for this draft heading into the season, but seems to have lost some love in the rankings. It will be interesting to look back on these 3 a few years down the road and see how it all turned out. If the Flames pick one of them, I sure hope it's the right one.
Dark Horse Candidates
U.S. National Under-18 Team (USHL): 23 GP, 13 G, 24 A, 37 PTS, 14 PIM
Clayton Keller is an interesting candidate and probably the only guy other than Nylander I would be happy for the Flames to take at 6, should the 5 forwards listed above be off the board. Watching some of the highlights of the plays that Keller makes, he looks like an elite talent and if he were a bit taller and heavier he may be in the conversation for a top-3 pick. He is not a big guy, especially for a centre, at 5'10", 163 pounds, but at this stage in the NHL it is not as if you can write off players that are this talented. Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, Tyler Johnson are proving to be high caliber offensive players in the NHL despite their lack of size. Keller is respected for having strong 2-way ability as well and he is committed to Boston University next season, so he has time to grow before playing in the NHL. The margin between Nylander and Keller at this point in time appears pretty thin, however the Flames desperately need right-handed shots, which could make it advantage Nylander. Furthermore, the fact the Flames already have a relatively small core of forwards probably makes it unlikely that they select Keller, but if they did they would be getting an elite offensive prospect that could pay off big in the future.
Windsor Spitfires, OHL: 59 GP, 21 G, 53 A, 74 PTS, 40 PIM
The buzz around Logan Brown seems to have gone up significantly since the draft lottery took place. Is it smoke and mirrors or is their substance to this? Brown is a 6'6" centre, something that is always a hot commodity in the league. He is a good skater for a big guy and is a strong playmaker rather than a goal-scorer and is not particularly physical. He had a strong end to his season, scoring 42 of his 74 points in the final 3 months. There is a bit of concern out there about Brown in comparison to players in a similar area of the draft as him, that he was not the player "driving the bus" for Windsor as he finished 16 points behind the top scoring player on his team in comparison to Nylander and Keller who finished as leading scorers on their own teams. The thing that makes me weary of the Flames selecting Brown in the sixth spot is that there seems to be a widely varying opinion on Brown's potential at the NHL level. Some think he could be the next Joe Thornton while others think he might be the next Joe Colborne. Colborne is a solid player, but definitely not the player you would want to draft at sixth overall. Brown seems a long shot for the Flames to draft due to their need on the wing and the fact he seems to be a bit of a reach at six, but you never know.
Personally, I believe that if the draft plays out with Matthews, Laine, Puljujarvi, Tkachuk and Dubois being selected before the Flames go up to pick, Alex Nylander is the best choice for the Flames. He looks really talented, has performed at a high level in the OHL and at the World Juniors, has strong bloodlines and is a right-hand shot. If one of those 5 above were to fall to the Flames, it is hard to see the Flames passing up an opportunity for a big winger that can score. But who knows, the draft is a wild time and so many different scenarios could play out. We may see the Flames snag a defender. They could go for Keller, Brown or someone like Tyson Jost. Maybe they trade up to Columbus' spot and select Jesse Puljujarvi. The good news? A few days from now this speculation will be over and we will know which of these high caliber prospects is coming to join the Flames up and coming core.