SUN Hockey Pool

Picks of the litter

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:53 PM ET

Chris Biotti never played a game in the NHL.

In fact, three of the four players the Calgary Flames selected in the top 60 at the 1985 NHL Entry Draft never made it to the big league.

But easily making up for that fact is the one player who did.

His name: Joe Nieuwendyk.

Taking the league by storm as a rookie after being picked 27th overall by the Flames, Nieuwendyk scored 51 goals in his first full season, claiming the Calder Trophy given to the NHL’s most talented freshman.

Proving it was no fluke, he scored the exact same number the next season while helping the Flames win the 1989 Stanley Cup with another 10 goals and 14 points in 22 playoff games.

While his offensive contributions gradually decreased after another pair of spectacular campaigns saw him post 45 tallies each year, Nieuwendyk was a point-per-game player for all eight of his seasons while wearing the Flaming C.

And when contract negotiations went nowhere in 1995, the Flames found another cornerstone on which to build their future by dealing Nieuwendyk to the Dallas Stars for Jarome Iginla.

Nieuwendyk won another Cup with the Dallas Stars in ’99 and added a third with the New Jersey Devils in 2003. The trade for Iggy worked out for both parties.

Iginla has gone on to play more than 1,000 games with the Flames and tops most of the team’s record lists.

Despite having few candidates for a top-10 list of Flames draft-pick payoffs between 1990 and 2010, the debate at the top of the list could rage on for days.

Nieuwendyk was a great player who brought in a great return in Iginla.

The same can be said for Theoren Fleury, who dazzled in Flames colours and was a steal as an eighth-round pick, 166th overall in 1987.

When the scrappy 5-foot-6 sniper was dealt away in a similar circumstances during his 11th season in Calgary, Fleury’s trade to the Colorado Avalanche brought the Flames a widely unknown but ultimately stellar prospect in defenceman Robyn Regehr.

Regehr and Iginla played key roles in helping the Flames to the 2004 Stanley Cup final — the team’s first visit since young Nieuwendyk and Fleury helped the team win it for the first time in franchise history 15 years earlier.

Joining them atop the list of the best Calgary Flames picks are Hall-of-Fame defenceman Al MacInnis, diminutive goaltender Mike Vernon, blueliner Gary Suter and power forward Gary Roberts.

D-man MacInnis played 830 games for the franchse — second only to Iginla — and ranks third behind the current captain and Fleury with

822 points in Flames silks. Big Al still owns the assists record with 609, and Iginla may never catch him in that category.

Suter is right behind Nieuwendyk (616) in fifth with 565 points for the Flames. Not bad for a guy they picked up in the ninth round, 180th overall, in the 1984 draft.

All of those gems were mined in the ’80s, and just Roberts and MacInnis — Roberts 12th overall in 1984, and MacInnis in the 15th spot in 1981 — were first rounders.

More recent draft picks are also looking promising.

Swedish centre Mikael Backlund was a little inconsistent during his first pro season but showed gradual improvement in 23 games with the Flames last year.

Ryan Howse went in the third round last year and made huge strides, scoring 47 goals — good enough for third in the WHL — and 72 points in 72 games with the Chilliwack Bruins.

Forwards Mitch Wahl (second round in ’08), Greg Nemisz (first round ’08) and defencemen Tim Erixon (first round ’09), TJ Brodie (fourth round ’08) and John Negrin (third round ’07) have Flames fans a little more optimistic things could take a turn for the better in the drafting department.

Whether any of these kids turn out to be the next Joe Nieuwendyk or Theoren Fleury is anybody’s guess at this point. Only time will tell.

But the ’80s comprised a decade to remember for this franchise.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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