Adam Peddle: Having just returned from Prague what can you tell us about this year's Under-18 tournament?
Tod Button: U18 was an interesting tourney. It is always neat to watch these tourneys because you see a real variance between countries. Denmark is really trying to emerge but is still struggling in this tourney and at this level. After 2 straight appearances they have been relegated. The Swiss, after a few good years, are also relegated. They played a really young team so it will be interesting to see if they can get their program back to where it was threatening to medal consistently only a few years ago. At the top the US was an exciting team to watch with tons of team speed and an attack mentality that was hard to defend. The host team, the Czech Republic also played an exciting style and with their very boisterous crowds behind them also played an exciting game. The Swedes took home the Bronze after seeing their program really struggle over the past few years. The Slovaks were not as talented as the other top teams and tried to play a patient slow down game but it couldn't hold up. The Russians finished 5th and fittingly so according to their talent and level of team play. The Canadians, although lacking some of their firepower offensively that saw them cruise to the U18 World Cup in August, still played an inspired and tenacious game and fought and battled as hard as they could in a way we have come to expect of a Canadian squad. It was pretty impressive for a group thrown together 10 days before the tourney.
Adam Peddle: How much contact do you and your scouting staff have with GM Darryl Sutter? Is he really hands on in the scouting? Does he tell you specific players to watch? Since Darryl took over it seems the Flames
are targeting western Canadian players more, is this a mandate for the
Tod Button: We are in a constant state of communication with Darryl. He has been involved at the outset in telling us what type of player he wants and what constitutes the type of player he wants. During our mid winter meetings (January) he laid out where he thought the team would be on a going forward basis up to 5 years down the road and where he thought we need to focus our efforts in addressing what he sees as short term and long term needs. It is hard to address short term needs through the draft but by addressing an area that may be a shortcoming in 3 years due to Free Agency or Age then we need to address that this year. He has been able to get to a lot of games this year and also to see some of our prospects play. It has given him a chance to really see what level the play is in junior or college and how far some kids have to go or how close some may be. He also attended the last half of the World Jr. Tournament. As for Western Canadians kids; the Flames have always targeted them but Darryl has made it an important area of focus when evaluating over age juniors, tryouts and maybe players who are looking for that last kick at the can so to speak.
AP: How has the lockout affected scouting for the 2005, and the
2006 draft? It must be confusing not knowing when, and where the draft
will take place, does this affect you much? Or do you just go about
your business as usual and wait for draft day?
Button: We have been fortunate to run our Scouting, Pro and Amateur, basically business as usual. The only part of our scouting timeline that has changed is that by the end of our Mid Winter meetings we can usually project within 10 picks where we will likely draft and then can put more work in on players that fit into that area. For example let's go back to the 2003 Draft. We traded Derek Morris the previous October so our “mandate” was to pay special attention to defensemen. At our January meetings we had list of 6-8 defenseman that we really liked and also projected to be picking between 8-18. That also meant we would be picking between 38-50 with our 2nd pick. When we broke from those meetings we set a goal of getting 2 defenseman out of the 6-8 we had identified and we followed them closely the rest of the year. This year we are guessing as to where we are going to pick a bit more so maybe our range is bigger than 8-10 spots.
AP: The 2005 draft will be the Sidney Crosby show, but what is the talent after him. Does it drop off or is a deeper draft?
Button: Well it certainly isn't 2003 deep!
There are some good talents for sure out there after Sidney. We look at each draft as a chance to pick players that will help the Flames down the road. If it is a chance to get a top end player we will do that. If our evaluation of the draft is that there are few top end players that we have a chance at then we will look at picking a player that fills a need for us. It is important that we evaluate and project as close as we can what type of player we are drafting and how he fits for us.
AP: At the 2003 draft Dion Phaneuf managed to fall to the Flames
at #9. Is he the guy you were targeting all along, how did he match up
to Ryan Suter and Brayden Coburn at the time?
Button: Like I previously mentioned we had targeted certain defensemen for our 1st pick that year. After our final meetings when we knew we had the 9th pick and the 39th we still thought it would be nice to get 2 defensemen with those 2 picks. But there was also a good crop of centers that year. We thought going in that if we kept our picks at 9 and 39 we could get 2 defensemen. If we wanted a defenseman and then a center we thought we would have to move into the 18-26 range to do that. We wanted a defenseman at 9 and Suter, Coburn and Phaneuf were all rated right there. Because of tampering I can't talk about the other two so you won't get all the info you wanted. If you call me when they are all retired, and I can still remember I will let you know how we had them rated. I can say we talked about moving up to make sure we got one of the 3 defensemen we had rated as such and that if we were in the top 5 of that draft we still had 3 defensemen in those 5 picks. Obviously Dion was one of them! After San Jose picked Michalek at 6 we knew we were going to get one of the 3 defensemen it was just a matter of which one. Also you must remember that many teams including the team from north of Calgary tried to move up ahead of us to get one of those 3 d men.
AP: I thought Aki Seitsonen and Dustin Boyd were both interesting picks
last year by the Flames. Dustin Boyd has responded well this year,
really upping his offensive game and almost making Team Canada for the
World Juniors in the process, how do you feel he has come along this
season. Same thing for Seitsonen, when Chipchura went down in December
Aki really picked up his game. Can you comment on the development this
season of those two players?
Button: Aki has shown a steady improvement over the course of the season. He upped all his offensive numbers from last year and has gained some valuable experience this year with his participation in the World Jrs. where his play was just marginal. He is gaining more experience as his team plays Brandon in the WHL playoffs. He still has a long ways to go physically and although he is tall he still needs lots of physical maturity-strength, to be able to compete at the Pro level and be successful. He has good hands and a good shot. He is responsible defensively and can play center or wing. The biggest area where he needs to improve and we think he can, is in playing and succeeding in the higher traffic areas. We like his work ethic and he is receptive to coaching. Now we need to give him the time and the direction to keep getting better.
Dustin had a bit of a trying year playing for Moose Jaw. It hasn't been a pretty year with all the upheaval in Moose Jaw, coaching changes, GM changes, losing etc. but as the saying goes “what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.” Or something close to that. He played a lot and was relied upon a lot to produce. We tried to encourage him to keep pushing and competing no matter how tough the situation was because that was something he always had control over. He like Aki has a long ways to go physically but when we draft kids we take them for what they can do not what they can't. Both of these players need to enhance the positives they bring and work on the areas that they are weak in to give them a chance to be NHLers one day. Our aim is to provide them with the means to do so.
AP: Which area do you are your scouting staff focus on the most?
College, OHL, Europe?
Button: We focus on all of them. We are looking for the best players, period. Obviously as stated before we have and still do focus a lot of attention on the Western Canadian kids.
AP: Kris Chucko seems to be a bit of a project, but he is a player with
big time potential? What are your thoughts about how he did this season, what he needs to work on, and how many years he is away from
being in the NHL?
Button: Getting to know Kris and talk to him about his development and where he was physically as a 15 year old and last year in Salmon arm and why he chose the NCAA route and why he picked Minnesota has given us lots of insight into his character. He is a real bright kid who is focused and has been for a while. Most teenagers are in a rush to get wherever they are going. Kris realizes that he needs some time to improve in the areas he is weak in right now. The good thing at Minnesota is that they don't give you anything you have to earn it. I think he adapted well to the bigger ice surface and the older more mature players he was playing against. It is one thing to play tier 2 and be physically equal to or superior then your opponents but when you get to the WCHA players are stronger and bigger. Kris has a good enough skating stride he just needs to get stronger in his legs and core to enhance the stride. That takes time and not one good summer of work but maybe 2 or 3 summers. He is a smart player and a hard working player. He has good hands around the net and scores a lot on rebounds and tips and from the harder areas. Over time we would like to see his shot improve so he can be a threat down the wing and from above the tops of the circle.
AP: The Russian Trio - Have the Flames given up on Andrei Medvedev? He
seems unlikely to work on his weight issue and hasn't shown much desire
to do so, do you think he will ever come over? In addition; Trubachev and
Tarathukin. Both Trubchev and Tarathukin seem to be both very good prospects,
with Trubachev being the smaller more skilled one. Will Trubachev's
height keep him from making the NHL?
Button: No we have not given up on Andrei Medvedev. But it is up to him to decide to change his habits completely. He has shown a willingness to do it short term but seems to always fall back at some point. Bottom line is we knew we were taking a risk in drafting him but when we traded down and picked up an extra pick we thought he was worth a gamble at that point. The good thing about drafting Europeans out of Europe under the last CBA is that you had them, for the most part, forever. He has lots of talent and if it wasn't for the weight/off ice commitment problem we think he would have been drafted higher than where we took him.
As for Trubachev he is a good player, playing in his hometown making good money. For him to leave it is going to be his decision on whether he wants to take a shot at the NHL. I don't think his height is an issue at all. When we drafted these 3 our timetable for them coming over if things went well were when they were between age 22-25. So we are getting to that point now. But they have to want to come over. Tarathukin got married last year and had a baby so mentally he has more to concern himself with when he decides to venture over. With the start of our own AHL team next year I think it would be great to get Trubachev and Tarathukin over here but like I said if they are not ready for the challenge then they should stay there.
AP: Brian McConnell was a 2nd round draft pick in 2002 but hasn't seemed
to pick up his game much since that time. He is the captain of BU but
not much is known about him. Care to comment on what type of player he
is and what he needs to work on?
Button: I disagree that he hasn't picked up his game. His game has steadily grown since we drafted him. Going into that year we had a concern about the size of our forwards so we made an effort to draft some bigger forwards. Brian is a competitive hard nosed smart hockey player but we knew when we took him that his skating had to improve- a lot. Brian did too. In fact when we took him the 1st thing he said to our Boston based scout was ,”how do I improve my skating?” Is he an NHL skater? Honestly I don't think he is yet but if he can adapt to the pace at a higher level next year and keep showing improvement he may have a chance as a 4th line player.
AP: Brent Krahn seems to have rebounded very well this season after
numerous knee injuries, is it encouraging that he may finally get a
lone-starting job in Omaha next year, is Krahn back on the right path
to being an NHL net minder?
Button: The most encouraging thing about Brent's season is that he was virtually injury free. He showed some good stretches of play and then fell off a little at times. Next year I would suggest he has a chance to earn the starting job in Omaha but he will face competition for it. He needs a good off season to continue to build up his strength. I think he is definitely an NHL prospect but he still needs time to get there.
AP: Curtis McElhinney is a goaltender who had a huge year in CC. I
watched him two summers ago at a Flames development camp and walked
away from it liking him more then Brent Krahn. What kind of things
does McElhinney need to work on? Do you see him in Omaha or Las Vegas
Button: Curtis is a good size goalie who is an angles and positional goalie. He moves laterally just ok and this is an area we will look to help him improve. He has good hockey sense and reads the game well. He is also mentally tough. We would like to get him into our program and see where he fits from there.
AP: Since being drafted I've had a good feeling about David VanDerGulik,
he has always had the diamond in the rough feel to him. He seems to be
a well skilled guy if not a bit undersized. What kind of player is he
and what do you see him becoming.
Button: David was a guy that we took because of his going to College. We felt he had a better chance to succeed over the long term and we could better monitor his development if he had 4 years of College. He is how you described, good puck skills, a little bit smaller for a winger but has some feistiness to him. He participated in our development camp last year and hopefully we can get him in this year as well.
AP: Eric Nystrom is a player who has gotten a lot of flack from hockey
fans who seem to value offensive flair over defensive responsibilities,
two-way play, and leadership. Nystrom is a prospect I love. He is
already 22 and a player I believe can be ready for the NHL. How much
more time in the minors (if any) does Nystrom need?
Button: Right now Eric is on target for where we thought he would be at this stage. Big, strong, good leader and work ethic. He may not dazzle you with puck skills but he can contribute the tough goals and has done so his entire career. Look at Eric like this-he may never improve his goal totals from year to year even as a Pro, he may be a consistent 15 goal guy but he may make a 25 goal scorer on the other wing a 30-35 goal guys because of the stuff he does without the puck and the room he creates. He may need some time to get used to the NHL but his learning curve shouldn't be that big because he knows how to play the game, he just has to get used to the NHL pace and tempo.
AP: Tim Ramholt chose to go back over to Europe instead of playing in
North America this season, how do the Flames scouting staff feel about that? What are the chances of him coming back over this summer to join
Omaha and play in the AHL? Those Swiss players have it pretty good over there.
Button: We didn't like the fact that he went back over. In our conversations before the draft he indicated that he wanted to come over and be the 1st Swiss (non goalie) to be a regular NHL'er. He was on the right track last year in Cape Breton and would have benefited much more in the AHL this year or back in Cape Breton as an overage Jr. The Swiss league is a comfortable place to play and they do have it good but he needed a challenge this year to improve his game not an easy laid back year. If he doesn't come over next year he will get further away from his pre-draft goal.
AP: During the 2004 draft there was speculation that the Flames were
targeting Kyle Chipchura with the 19th overall pick. When Montreal
took him at the 18th spot the Flames traded down. Any truth to that,
was Chipchura the guy the Flames wanted?
Button: I can tell you how the 2004 Draft played out for us the 1st day but have to be careful, again when talking about other teams players. We held the 19th pick then no other picks until the 118th and 121st picks, both in the 4th round. There were 8 players that we liked at that point. Of that 8 there was one we wanted above the rest and the guy we had targeted at the end of our meetings that week in Raleigh. But we also thought we could get him a bit later than 19 in the Draft as well. Since we had no 2nd nor 3rd round picks we asked Darryl to ask around to see if there were any teams interested in 19. Specifically we talked about the Rangers, they had the 24th pick in the 1st round and five 2nd round picks. They told us that depending on who was left they would be interested in giving us 24 and a 2nd (46). After the 17th pick we called NY to see if they were still interested. We were confident we could get the player we wanted at 24. NY wanted to wait until Montreal picked and then we made the trade. Obviously the Rangers wanted Laurie Korpikoski and since he was still there we made the deal. Our thinking was we were still going to get the guy we wanted at 24 and pick up a 2nd round pick as well which we had targeted for a defenseman we liked. At 24 we picked the player we had targeted all along, Kris Chucko. I think something like 9 defensemen were picked between when we took Kris at 24 and 46 and the defenseman we wanted was one of them. So we decided to see if maybe we could turn 46 in to 2 more picks. Columbus had 4 3rd round picks and had picked up a 2nd round pick when they switched 1st round picks with Carolina so Carolina could take Andrew Ladd. We phoned and asked if they had any interest in 46. They said yes and flipped us picks 70 and 98 for 46. At the start of the day we had 1 pick and by moving down 5 spots we picked up 2 more picks and still got the guy we wanted at 24. We then picked Brandon Prust at 70 and Dustin Boyd at 98 to complete the day.
AP: Tomi Maki hasn't gotten much of any press since being drafted in
2001, but The Hockey News had him as one of the Flames top 5 prospects. That was a little shocking to me, but can you describe the game of
Maki and the possibility of him coming over this summer.
Button: Tomi is a great skater who works and is physical. He has versatility in that he can play all 3 forward positions. He can think the game and has a no nonsense attitude. The area where he needs to work on the most is his puck play. When we drafted him he was very athletic looking but still wiry. We knew he had to stay in Finland to allow the process of maturity to take place. We looked at him like the Russians in that at age 23-25 he would hopefully have developed enough to give him a chance to come over. He has been over to development camps in the past. We don't look at Tomi as someone who can play on the top 2 lines but hopefully he can come over and find his way through the AHL and see where he fits within our system.
AP: Brandon Prust seems to be a guy who has all the right tools to be a
big time banging 4th line player in the NHL, yet he was looked over 2
times before in the entry draft. Why did the Flames take him in 2004,
and why with a 3rd round pick?
Button: As scouts, as I stated earlier we sometimes have a tendency to look at what a guy can't do or pick holes in individual attributes of a player. We obviously want to take guys for what they do positively and how they contribute to a team winning. We watched a lot of the London Knights because they had some top prospects. When we came away from those games we always talked about the Prust kid, gamer, plays hard, hits, checks, fights, scores big goals, whatever it takes to win. When a scout would come in from another area we would tell him to watch Prust and the comments would always come back the same. After 2 years of watching we decided we wanted this kid and were going to take him. There were enough teams with multiple picks in the 70-100 range that we thought might take a chance on him. Who knows where he would have been picked if we had bypassed him at 70. It didn't seem to be to our benefit to try and be cute and keep delaying picking him. We all liked him so we took him.
AP: Every year there seems to be a player who falls badly for whatever
reason. Jiri Hudler in 2002, Patrick O' Sullivan in 2003 and Rob
Schremp in 2004. What are the feelings at the draft table when a guy
who starts falling becomes available? Do the Flames stay the course,
or is there talk about grabbing that player?
Button: When you say falling I presume you mean according to the various ranking systems out there. We have our list and we stay the course for the most part. You have to constantly revaluate in all cases. When a player starts falling you have to take notice. In our case, that happened with Aki Seitsonen last year. He was a player we had interest in. We thought he would go the 1st day. We meet after the 1st 3 rounds to evaluate what we did and to prepare for rounds 4-9. He was a guy we were going to take with our 1st 4th round pick and even discussed trading our 2 4ths to move up to take him. This wasn't necessary but certainly we followed his status up until we picked him.