Sutter game to bolster D

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

His team loaded with talented young defencemen, you'd think Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter would be looking for another forward with the 20th overall pick in this weekend's NHL draft.

But if when their name is called to step to the podium, and their highest-ranked player happens to patrol the blueline, Sutter says he'd be happy to add yet another rearguard to the stable of prospects.

"If it's a defencemen, we'll take a defenceman," Sutter said before heading to Montreal for this weekend's event.

"Our defence in Calgary was the youngest defence in the division last year. It was one of the younger defences in the league. You saw when we brought Matt Pelech up in the playoffs that he's close to playing here. John Negrin is close to playing here."

They've also got T.J. Brodie, who was invited to Team Canada's world junior summer camp, and Keith Aulie, who won gold as part of this year's tournament.

"This organization's defence will be good for the next 15 years -- not just average, they'll be good," said Sutter. "We'll just continue to try and add.

"If we could add a defenceman again this year, I'd be all for it."

Highly touted Ryan Ellis out of Windsor (OHL) has an outside chance at being available at that spot. Stefan Elliott (Saskatoon, WHL), and big Dylan Olsen (Camrose, AJHL) should be around.

Centre Landon Ferraro (Red Deer, WHL) might be hard to pass on if he falls to the 20th spot.Picking in the 20s for a sixth straight year, the Flames can consider themselves lucky to be successful every season.

The only downside to selecting so late at the NHL draft is the player they land becomes a project.

Recent projects have been panning out, however.

And with young players cracking the lineup every year, the Flames have no overwhelming need to target.

They can go with the best player available and are confident they'll be bringing another strong prospect into the fold as they did last year with winger Greg Nemisz 25th overall and in 2007 with centre Mikael Backlund 24th overall.

"I think this year's draft is clearly deeper than last year's draft," Sutter said.

Which means their 'short-list' of about 35 players ranked for the first round is a pretty strong one.

It's one of the major reasons they chose to surrender next year's first-round pick to the Phoenix Coyotes rather than give up this year's.

"If you give it this year and take it next year, that's a lost year on that player," said Sutter. "We felt this year's first round, our first 40 or 50 guys, is really even. We couldn't say that the last three or four years, and you can't predict it going forward. That's too hard to do.

"It's better, once you have done the work and seen the quality of the draft, to take that player now and have him with you."

With a first, a third, two fourth-rounders, and a pick in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, the Flames will have another seven bodies to add to the stables. Real value can be found in those later rounds, where David Moss (seventh) and Adam Pardy (sixth) were taken.

"You look at the number of the guys that played this year their first NHL games, and guys that turned pro and the types of years that they had, and some of the junior kids that still have another year in junior and how successful they were, I think we've been pretty fortunate to get some really good players in third to sixth round," said Sutter.

"We're going to try to continue to do that."

As for the free agents due to become unrestricted at the end of the month, don't hold your breath awaiting for word of Michael Cammalleri's re-signing.

Or Todd Bertuzzi's.

Adam Pardy has been a priority, but the others are on the backburner.

"We're not going to overpay to keep a player. We're not going to keep a player, we're not going to overpay because someone thinks he's popular or any of those things," said Sutter, who evaluates free agents based on playoff performances. "We'll pay the players, whether they're ours or somebody else's that become free agents that we think can help our hockey team.

"I think we have a really good team. It may be time for our top players that are under contract to make our lesser players better."

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RECENT FLAMES FIRST-ROUNDERS

2008: Greg Nemisz (25th overall)

2007: Mikael Backlund (24th)

2006: Leland Irving (26th)

2005: Matt Pelech (26th)

2004: Kris Chucko (24th)

2003: Dion Phaneuf (9th)

2002: Eric Nystrom (10th)


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