Flames Watch: Not that hot

There’s a growing misconception out there that Calgary’s development system, long a weak link of deposed GM Darryl Sutter’s reign, is getting deeper and stronger.

That’s not the case according to a recent study we did at The Hockey News. In our annual Future Watch issue, which is due out in early March, we canvassed a panel of NHL scouts, directors of player personnel and GMs to get their assessment on the top drafted prospects in the game, and to grade each team’s crop of talent.

The Flames chimed in at No. 27 this year, after finishing 23rd in 2010, 26th in 2009 and 25th in 2008. In defence of Calgary’s spotty rating, the Flames have an average draft rank of 25th in the league the past four years. In other words, 24 teams draft higher than Calgary since 2007.

Each of the 18 scouting executives on our panel evaluated every team’s top 10 list of prospects and 21-and-under NHLers (Mikael Backlund for Calgary) and issued a grade. The Flames symbolically had a ‘C.’ Provincial rival Edmonton topped the grade with an ‘A’ grade, due mainly to four 21-and-under NHLers – Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi.
Bright lights on Calgary’s list were defencemen Tim Erixon from Sweden and T.J. Brodie from Abbotsford. Erixon, the 23rd overall draft pick in 2009, ranked No. 15 on our top 75 list of prospects, while Brodie was 69th. Erixon moved up significantly from the No. 31 spot in Future Watch 2010. Backlund, by the way, was No. 25 in Future Watch last year.

READ ALSO:  Niskanen scores in the 8th round of shootout, Penguins top Kings in Kansas City

Dropping off the top 75 list was 2008 first-rounder Greg Nemisz. The Abbotsford center was No. 69 last year and a projected No. 2 centre for the Flames. Now it looks as though his upside is as a third-line grinder with some skating issues.

There was anticipation Chilliwack super-scorer Ryan Howse would crack the top 75, but he got only one top-50 vote from our 18-member panel and is ranked as Calgary’s No. 4 prospect. Leland Irving, Calgary’s first-rounder from 2006, is No. 5.

Rounding out the Flames top 10 in order are Abbotsford centre Lance Bouma, Wisconsin defenceman John Ramage, Abbotsford centre Mitch Wahl, Finnish goalie Joni Ortio and Abbotsford defenceman Matt Pelech.

The top 10 lists (and top 75 rankings) are based on long-term upside in the NHL (five to 10 years). The Flames have some interesting names on their list, but still don’t measure up to the prospect lists of most of their NHL rivals.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.