All the energy that had been building for the upcoming Winter Olympics largely dissipated for many hockey fans with the understandable withdrawal by the NHL at seemingly the final hour. Flames fans perhaps more than many had a lot to look forward to, with a veritable boatload of current roster players not only making their respective nation teams, but as stars in their prime. From Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau on Team USA, to the handful of Swedes who undoubtedly would have shone, it’s a big disappointment not getting to see our familiar faces on an international stage.
If you’re somewhat of a prospect and draft nerd like me, you might be intrigued by the large number of former prospects and players that have worn the flaming C over the years who are now taking their place. 21 former Flames will play for 10 different countries in the upcoming Games, as players from the AHL to KHL are selected in the absence of contracted NHL players. I’ve classified them into three categories based on their relation to the Flames: players they drafted, players who made their NHL debut with the Flames, and all other vets who have worn red and yellow over the years.
Tyler Wotherspoon, Adam Cracknell (CAN), Markus Granlund (FIN), Pavel Karnaukhov (ROC), Milos Roman (SVK)
Of the three groupings, this one is far and away the most ecclectic group of names you’ll see. Wotherspoon was taken one spot ahead of Nikita Kucherov (we can never forget) in the second round of the 2011 draft. He, along with Granlund (selected 13 picks before Kucherov) made their way up through the depth charts and spent some NHL time with the Flames. Wotherspoon has become an AHL journeyman who hasn’t seen NHL action since Calgary, while Granlund had temporary success with the Canucks, before becoming a point-per-game player in the KHL.
Karnaukhov (136th, 2015) and Roman (122nd, 2018) are two Treliving draft picks whom he never signed. Karnaukhov, a Belarussian playing in the KHL, still remains Flames property via a loophole in the CBA, while Roman was not signed after his WHL numbers took a drastic dive following his draft.
Adam Cracknell was drafted by the Flames in the ninth round of the 2004 draft, but never saw NHL action with the Flames after three years in the minors. He played 210 NHL games and has since returned to North America to post some solid numbers with the Edmonton Oiler’s AHL squad.
Corban Knight, Ben Street (CAN), Kenny Agostino (USA), Alexander Yelesin (ROC), Reto Berra (SWI), David Wolf (GER), Roman Cervenka (CZE), Spencer Foo (CHN)
A great majority of these players all fall into a 2 year window of darkness in Flames history, as dozens of players filtered in and out of the organization pre and post Iginla trade. Street, Agostino, Cervenka, Knight, and Berra were all mid to late 20-year-olds who were either drafted by another team and acquired by the Flames, or stars of smaller European leagues whom the Flames took a chance on. They all had the fortune of making their NHL debuts sometime during the 2012-13 or 13-14 seasons, and ultimately none stuck around very long at all. David Wolf played 4 total games for the Flames in 2014-15, including somehow finding his way into a playoff game.
Foo was the reward of inviting unsigned players to development camps, and scored his first 2 NHL goals in 4 games to close out the 2017-18 season. Since leaving the Flames, he has played solely for Kunlun Red Star of the KHL and will continue representing Chinese hockey for the National team on home ice with many of his Red Star teammates. Yelesin is the most recent debut of any, as his bruising game found its way into a handful of games during the 2019-20 season. An unmoving depth chart prompted his return to the KHL this past offseason.
Nick Shore (USA), Joakim Nordstrom, Oskar Fantenburg (SWE), Nikita Nesterov (ROC), Raphael Diaz (SWI), Tobias Rieder (GER), Michael Frolik (CZE), Marek Hrivik (SVK)
A graveyard of cheap tradeline deals and league minimum offseason signings, but all of these gentlemen have earned their spots on a diverse group of countries on this list. Diaz spent all of 2014-15 with the Flames, and was honestly an okay piece during an exciting season. Michael Frolik stands as one of the better free agent signings and the best tenured NHLer on this list having scored 145 points in 319 games, and was an integral part of Matthew Tkachuk’s rookie development.
Shore and Fantenburg were acquired at trade deadlines one year apart in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and didn’t really justify their acquisitions with their contributions. Nordstrom, Rieder, Nesterov, and Hrivik were all cheap free agent signings that came in and out of the Flames lineup, with Rieder’s 2020 playoff performance certainly the highlight of all.
All in all, 10 of the 12 total nations competing in the hockey tournament will be represented by 5 former draft picks, 8 former rookies, and 8 former players. The loss of NHL talent cannot be replaced, but the inclusion of more young players than 2018 will hopefully make this a more watchable Olympics.