Calgary Flames need to centre on middle men for this weekend's NHL draft

Jay Feaster

Jay Feaster

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:06 PM ET

The countdown is on for the biggest draft in Calgary Flames history.

By dinner-time Sunday, the Flames will have made their decision regarding their three first-round draft choices.

What comes of the picks — No. 6, 22 and 28 — will go a long way to change the fortune of the franchise which has missed the playoffs four consecutive seasons and appears destined to be on the outside that many more years, too.

The way things stand, the Flames had best have learned a valuable lesson from years past and make it a push to find a potential top-line centre, a roster hole that’s existed ever since Joe Nieuwendyk was traded away for Jarome Iginla.

For example, back in 2003 — arguably the deepest draft in NHL history — the Flames were already well aware they needed a top-line centre of the future, but opted to claim defenceman Dion Phaneuf with their ninth overall selection.

That’s not to say Phaneuf was a bad draft choice (the bad move was trading him away to the Toronto Maple Leafs without receiving a player of his calibre in return, but that’s another disappointing story in club lore), however the lesson stems from avoiding so many potential top-notch centres in the process.

For example, the Central Scouting Service had two forwards listed ahead of Phaneuf on its list at the exact time Flames GM Darryl Sutter stepped to the lectern: Winger Dustin Brown and centre Ryan Getzlaf.

Yes, it’s a dangerous game playing “what if?” regarding draft picks, but imagine the difference had the Flames chosen Getzlaf, who was playing at the Saddledome day in and day out with the WHL Calgary Hitmen at the time, instead of the strapping blueliner from the Red Deer Rebels.

The Flames never did find a true top centre to skate with Iginla, which was a factor when the Flames fell short of expectations when they were actually a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in the first few years coming out of the lockout of 2004-05.

While we’re at it, the top three available centres when Calgary’s 2003 second-round pick was selected were Patrick O’Sullivan, Maxim Lapierre and Patrice Bergeron. Instead, the Flames opted for long-forgotten bust Tim Ramholt.

Just imagine the difference in Flames history had they hit on those two picks — and we’re not talking about going completely off the board here — instead of the direction taken.

The Flames have a golden chance to address that centre need this weekend at the draft in Newark, N.J.

Barring a trade, the Flames are most likely to be choosing between centres Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm and defenceman Darnell Nurse with their first selection.

Unless the club is 100% certain Nurse, a 6-foot-4 defenceman with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, is going to be a top-pairing blueliner for years to come, the Flames have to look for men in the middle.

That means making a call between Lindholm, a 6-footer who netted 30 points in 48 games for Brynas in Sweden’s top league, and Monahan, a 6-foot-2 pivot who compiled 78 points for the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s.

Drafting by position is not usually the wisest course of action, but consider what the Flames are currently looking at with their centres right now. Unless something changes between now and the 2013-14 season-opener, they’ll be choosing between Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Roman Horak, Max Reinhart, Blair Jones, Corban Knight, Ben Street and Paul Byron, assuming he’s given a qualifying offer.

That is proof the focus must be first and foremost at that position and the same mistake can’t be made again.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SunRandySportak


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