Digging for rare diamonds

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- By nearly everybody's account, it's a thin NHL Entry Draft.

Every place you turn, you can find pundits saying tomorrow's event in Vancouver lacks sure-fire hall-of-famers, breathtaking prospects and, most definitely, a full first round of bonafide NHLers.

Throw in the fact the Calgary Flames pick 26th and it hardly seems worth it, right?

Guess again.

"When you look Darryl Sutter in the eye and he says, 'We need players,' you find them," said Flames scouting director Tod Button. "The top organizations in the NHL find guys in every draft. If we want to be considered one of the top organizations, we have to do the same thing."

It's been a generation since the Flames were choosing late first-rounders in back-to-back-to-back seasons. Barring a trade to move up, this is the first time the Flames have been forced to wait until the 20s three straight years.

Still, that doesn't put less pressure on Button, amateur scouting director Mike Sands and the rest of the crew.

"Look at the top organizations, they've done it," Button said. "Dallas, Detroit, New Jersey, Colorado have done it and that's why they are where they are. That's why they were among the best teams the last decade. They didn't make excuses, they did their work and found players.

"I don't know if other scouts say stuff like that to pull themselves off the hook but I know that doesn't cut it with our organization."

Besides, Button points out, you can find plenty of players late. For example, Ottawa pulled Martin Havlat at No. 26 in 1999.

"It's a decent draft. There's decent players to be had," he said. "I think what happens is when you don't have that top, top player like Sidney Crosby or Ilya Kovalchuk, people react different because it's not a sexy, superstar-in-the-waiting draft.

"The top seven or eight guys are really good players and it spreads out. It's not clear cut but there are good players to be had.

"Patrick Roy was a third-rounder, Nicklas Lidstrom was a third-rounder, Daniel Alfredsson was a sixth-rounder, Pavel Datsyuk was a sixth rounder, Henrik Zetterberg was a seventh-rounder, so there's no excuses. You don't say, 'It's a bad draft, so we don't have to pick any good players this year.'

"It might be a good year for us to be picking where we are because the player you have at 15 we may get," he added. "At the same time, we may have a guy at 15 another team has in the third round.

"I look at is as being wide open rather than really weak."

The Flames have nine selections, one in each round with a second pick in the third and seventh rounds.

One thing Flames fans can expect is a likely decrease in the number of WHLers. The talent level isn't the same in Dub this season as it has been in years past, with this year's draft being top heavy in Americans. The Flames may even choose some Europeans.

Button said Calgary's aversion to Europeans at the past few events wasn't by design, just based on the fact players the Flames were interested in weren't available where they wanted.

"If we'd have gone to Darryl and said there was a Russian or a Czech we wanted to take, he would not have stood in our way," Button said. "We had guys on our list, it's just they never came up for us.

"But we're not going to take a European just for the sake of taking a European."


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