Thin crop of draft talent

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- With only a couple of players in the Calgary Flames fold competing at the world juniors, Tod Button had plenty of time to view potential draft choices.

Only there's a couple of problems with that idea. First of all, there may not be a 2005 NHL Entry Draft for the Flames scouting director to make his calls.

Second, there aren't very many draft-eligible players being considered at the tournament.

"We've been spoiled at this tournament the last few years with Tuomo Ruutu, Mikko Koivu, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, who everyone knew were top players before they came to this tournament," Button said. "This is a tournament, traditionally, for 19-year-old players, not 17-year-olds. The 17-year-olds here are best watching against their own age group."

That's not to say there are none.

Obviously, Sidney Crosby is getting his looks but Crosby won't be around if and when the Flames step to the podium.

Others who may be around for Button and GM-head coach Darryl Sutter to welcome into the fold include Finland goalie Tuukka Rask and defencemen Risto Korhonen and Teemu Laakso, as well as Swedish forward Nicklas Bergfors, Slovakian forward Marek Zagrapan and a trio of Americans: Nathan Hagemo, Brian Lee and Tim Hensick.

By the way, Phil Kessel -- the 17-year-old American phenom -- wouldn't be eligible until the 2006 draft.

As for the future Flames already selected, there are only two here -- Canada's stalwart defenceman Dion Phaneuf and Finland right-winger Aki Seitsonen.

Phaneuf, who would have been with the Flames if an NHL season was in play, proved throughout the tourney he's developing quite nicely.

"He is what he is. He's not going to disappoint," Button said. "Everybody knows where Dion would be playing if there wasn't a lockout, so it's a bonus for him. Not just him but all those kids -- Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, all those kids who had a chance to play in the NHL all year -- have a chance to win a gold medal.

"He and (Shea) Weber play a lot of minutes against the top players and play in every situation. Guys have bad shifts, they make mistakes or make a bad pass here and there but what Dion's done has been fine."

Seitsonen, who plays for the Prince Albert Raiders, started slowly in the tournament but ended on a positive note by scoring a goal in Finland's final game, an overtime win over Sweden for fifth place.

"I've seen him in Prince Albert but to see him at a different level is really good for us and our evaluation and to see how far he's got to go," Button said.

"This has been a learning experience for him. You can see he's got a long way to go to be an NHL player."

Seitsonen is young enough to be eligible for next year's tournament, so Button was watching him play with more of a long-term look.

"He won't come in wide-eyed next year. You always want your players to do well but if they don't, you take something away from that. The Finnish team gave him a chance to produce and his effort was good."


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