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Hindsight an Unfair Vantage Point

D'Arcy McGrath

June 21, 2001

It's a right of passage for most hockey fans, regardless of which team they follow.

Gaze back at past entry drafts, and then torture one's self by playing what-if games on players selected after their team chose.

The process becomes magnified if the hometown team picked a dud.

In Calgary the examples are plentiful. However, in actuality there is only one team per draft that actually managed to pick the "best" player in the draft.

One of the most heated debates since June of 1997 was the decision by Al Coates and Nick Polano to select the Barrie Colts captain Daniel Tkaczuk over the diminutive Russian scorer Sergei Samsanov.

Samsanov was already playing pro hockey with the Detroit Vipers of the recently defunct IHL, while Tkaczuk was playing with boys in the Ontario Hockey League.

On that fateful day the Flames brass suggested they had drafted their future captain.

As soon as three months later Calgary hockey fans were lamenting the choice as Sergei Samsanov came out of the gates strong with the Boston Bruins, on way to a Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.


Tkaczuk went back to Barrie. And struggled. His point production dropped from 93 in his draft year to 75 one year later. Hardly a good sign for a developing player.

Since then Tkaczuk has gotten his game back on track, culminating with his performance in Calgary last season, and his dominant playoffs with the club's farm team in Saint John.

The kid will play, that much can safely be assumed at this point, but until he's putting up Samsanov numbers, or at least contributing in an equal fashion he will be a mistake in Flames fans' eyes.

Likely unjustly so.

1997 Draft

The 1997 draft itself is a curious one as we look from the vantage-point of four years later.

Many "can't miss" players, are to this point doing just that, missing.

Joe Thornton, the number one pick overall, is a dominant hockey player. No issues there.

Patrick Marleau is a player, but many a San Jose fan are still waiting for the talented pivot to make that next step. He's evolving, but not at a 2nd overall pace.

Ollie Jokinen is now on his third NHL team with the Florida Panthers, who are threatening to cut him loose altogether.

Roberto Luongo is still a top prospect, but has yet to make a dent with the Islanders or Panthers.

Paul Mara is now on his second team with the Phoenix Coyotes, he's been up and down for the past few seasons.

Nick Boynton, Brad Ference, Jason Ward, are others that have yet to make their mark in the NHL.

It could be argued that Tkaczuk, taken at the sixth slot is still the sixth best player taken in the top ten that season.

Mistakes Hard to Trace

When scouts are forced to evaluate kids, mistakes are going to be made.

Only when it becomes public that a team was down to two listed players, but chose the wrong one, can a finger be pointed.

An interesting analysis however, is to look at the five players taken each year after the Flames selected. Teams have different books on kids, but the first round is generally pretty tight. There would be a lot of similarities on each team's list within five picks.

1990

The Flames started out the decade of the 90's by selecting Trevor Kidd with the 11th overall pick. The pick was acquired in a deal with New Jersey, moving the Flames up from the 20th slot. In these cases, when a team makes a significant move up the draft they usually target a specific player.

After Kidd the following players were selected.

#12 Montreal Turner Stevenson

#13 Rangers Michael Stewart

#14 Buffalo Brad May

#15 Hartford Mark Greig

#16 Chicago Karl Dykhuis

The five players taken subsequent to Trevor Kidd are hardly eye-popping. Stevenson and May have had good careers as pluggers, and Dykhuis was a solid NHL defencemen, but no stars were taken in this area.

1991

In 1991 the Flames chose Niklas Sunblad 19th overall in the first round. Sunblad played two games with the Flames during the 1996 season, but was a bust from the get-go. Risebrough's "Swedish Wendel Clark" couldn't adapt to North American hockey.

What other players were likely on the Flames list that season?

#20 Edmonton Martin Rucinsky

#21 Washington Trevor Halverson

#22 Chicago Dean McAmmond

#23 San Jose Ray Whitney

#24 Quebec Rene Corbet

Behind the Flames four NHL players and one bust were selected. Clearly Risebrough guessed wrong.

1992

The 1992 draft brought the Flames chose Cory Stillman sixth overall. Stillman has had a solid, productive career, but didn't turn out to be the star player that many envisioned.

The next few picks in 1992?

#7 Philadelphia Ryan Sittler

#8 Toronto Brandon Convery

#9 Hartford Robert Petrovicky

#10 San Jose Andrei Nazarov

#11 Buffalo David Cooper

Some NHL players, but clearly the Flames chose the best player in the immediate group that season.

1993

The Flames returned to prominence in the 1992-93 season propelling them down the draft list to the 18th pick that June. Their reduced draft pick also resulted in a reduced return as the Flames went back to Sweden for Jesper Mattson. Mattson had some moderate seasons with the Flames farm club, but never suited up in a NHL uniform.

Picks after Mattson?

#19 Toronto Landon Wilson

#20 Vancouver Mike Wilson

#21 Montreal Saku Koivu

#22 Detroit Anders Eriksson

#23 Islanders Todd Bertuzzi

Imagine the Flames today with Saku Koivu or Todd Bertuzzi. Truth be known if Koivu was a Flame he'd be injured, but clearly the Flames didn't pick the right player late in the first round.

1994

In 1994 the Flames select recent Stanley Cup Champion, Chris Dingman with the 19th overall pick. Dingman was big and well he was big in his brief stint with the Flames, having neither the finishing skills or skating ability to make an impact in the NHL. He was dealt to the Avalanche in the Theo Fleury trade in 1998.

Players chosen after Dingman?

#20 Dallas Jason Botterill

#21 Boston Evgeni Ryabchikov

#22 Quebec Jeff Keatly

#23 Detroit Yan Golubovsky

#24 Pittsburgh Chris Wells

Quite a distinguished group. While many a fan point to the Dingman selection as a dud, clearly the pickings were slim in this area.

1995

In 1995 the Flames selected hard-hitting Denis Gauthier with their 20th overall selection. Gauthier is one of the best open ice hitters in the National Hockey League, and a valuable member of the current edition of the Calgary Flames.

Who was taken after Gauthier?

#21 Boston Sean Brown

#22 Philadelphia Brian Boucher

#23 Washington Miika Elomo

#24 Pittsburgh Alexi Morozov

#25 Colorado Marc Denis

Everyone in the group has played, but it would be hard to argue any one player's impact is greater than that of Denis Gauthier's to this point.

1996

In 1996 the Flames had many a hockey follower scrambling to find additional pages in their hockey lists by taking Derek Morris well ahead of where many had him rated. The pick turned out to be a gem of a pick despite many fans feeling Morris' development may has stalled. Morris was taken 13th overall.

After Morris these players were taken.

#14 St. Louis Marty Reasoner

#15 Philadelphia Dainius Zubrus

#16 Tampa Bay Mario Larocque

#17 Washington Jaroslav Svejkovsky

#18 Montreal Matt Higgins

Though the book hasn't been closed on any of these players, clearly the Derek Morris gamble paid off handsomely for the Calgary Flames. Morris is still considered one of the rising stars on the blueline, while the others are still struggling to stay in the show.

1997

The 1997 draft is mentioned above to nausiem. The Flames took Daniel Tkaczuk 6th overall and had this list taken behind him.

#7 Tampa Bay Paul Mara

#8 Boston Sergei Samsanov

#9 Washington Nick Boynton

#10 Vancouver Brad Ference

#11 Montreal Jason Ward

This list is interesting. Only Sergie Samsanov has distinguished himself as a full fledged NHL hockey players, though hope remains for the rest of the list. At this point Tkaczuk has at least a good a chance as the remaining three to make an impact.

1998

In 1998 the Flames took Rico Fata with the sixth overall selection. The pick itself didn't get off the best foot when the Jumbotron above a smiling Fata displayed the now infamous epitaph "lacks hockey sense". So far Fata is progressing, but to this point he hasn't shown he's likely to be a big league goal scorer.

After Fata the following players were picked.

#7 Rangers Manny Malhotra

#8 Chicago Mark Bell

#9 Islanders Michael Rupp

#10 Toronto Nik Antropov

#11 Carolina Jeff Heerema

Once the next five players are examined one could suggest that the Fata choice wasn't such a bad one. Rupp went back into the draft last year. Antropov and Malhotra have been very inconsistent, and Bell and Heerema have yet to make the grade. This draft class will have to be examined at a later date.

1999

The 1999 draft analysis is unique in that the Flames made a draft day deal to move down two spots and pick in the 11th slot. With that pick they chose Oleg Saprykin, who just completed his rookie season in the NHL. To show the trade we expand the analysis to show the 9th through 15th picks.

#9 NYR (Cgy) Jamie Lundmark

#10 Islanders Branislav Mezei

#11 Cgy (NYR) Oleg Saprykin

#12 Florida Denis Shvidki

#13 Edmonton Jani Rita

#14 San Jose Jeff Jillson

#15 Phoenix Scott Kelman

With the exception of Scott Kelman this group represents a who's who of top NHL prospects. Oleg Saprykin has the most NHL experience in the group, but the top player taken from this class won't be determined for a few years to come. Most should have solid NHL careers.

The 2000 draft is far too recent to even begin to sort out.

Missing the Home Run

When the microscope is applied to the Flames recent draft record it actually stands up to the litmus test.

Only two years ('91 and '93) were clearly busts, while three other drafts were clearly wins on the part of the scouting staff ('92, '95, '96). Still others are left to be judged at a later date.

When looking at the ten first round picks in the era, one thing jumps off the page, however.

Not a single homerun, at least to this point.

A few more players that turned into stars, and there would be little talk about the Flames leaving Calgary today.

Perhaps this year?