June 21, 2012
Flames gunning for best player available
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
CALGARY - Every NHL GM has made a blunder on draft day.
Almost all of them have done it even while knowing better.
All too often, the miscue stems from selecting a player for the position he plays instead of taking the best player available.
Flames GM Jay Feaster admitted making that mistake while with the Tampa Bay Lightning, opting for a defenceman. And later on -- when the blueliner failed to live to expectations -- he realized he'd let quality forwards who were better NHL prospects fall by the wayside.
A long-standing belief is former-Flames GM Darryl Sutter targeted Matt Pelech in the 2005 draft specifically to be the replacement for veteran stay-at-home blueliner Rhett Warrener.
Had the Flames been looking for a forward, the next two to be chosen that year were Steve Downie and James Neal.
Yep, we'd call that an oops.
That's one reason Feaster doesn't figure to make his first-round selection -- currently they hold the 14th spot for Friday's draft -- based on position.
The other is the fact his club has so many holes to fill.
Sure, the line, "We'll take the best player available," is as much of a draft-day cliche as "We're surprised he was still there," but it's the wisest course of action for the Flames braintrust.
Especially this year.
Just look at the prospects in the system.
Sure, they Flames have what appears to be a top-six forward in Sven Baertschi, but that's pretty much where the list of prospects of that stature ends.
Max Reinhart has intriguing potential since he has a solid all-around game but isn't known for wowing in any single area. Maybe he'll be a Daymond Langkow. Maybe he'll become a minor-leaguer, who knows?
Meanwhile, John Gaudreau, the fourth-round pick in 2011 who played his freshman year at Boston College last season, is a small winger with all kinds of talent, but is generously -- and we mean generously -- listed as being 5-foot-8, so it's a great unknown whether he can be a NHL point-producer.
After that, you're dealing with uncertainties in the likes of Akim Aliu, Markus Granlund, Michael Ferland, Bill Arnold and -- if he's truly learned to commit to fitness -- Ryan Howse.
As for Greg Nemisz and Lance Bouma, they haven't shown to become anything more than solid NHL depth players.
It's not a prospect pool deep enough for the Flames to overlook anyone who skates in the forward positions.
That said, the Flames are probably even weaker on the blueline.
T.J. Brodie had a solid rookie NHL season in 2011-12 and will be looked upon to take a bigger role in Calgary moving forward, so he's graduated from the 'prospect' designation.
After that, the legitimate prospects are limited to players such as Brett Carson, whose past season was a complete disaster due to back issues, junior player Tyler Wotherspoon and Brady Lamb, who joined the team out of the college ranks and will see his first pro year in the fall.
Speaking of college players, John Ramage, the fourth-rounder from '10 who is going into his senior year at the University of Wisconsin, is probably as much of a sure-fire NHLer as anyone else -- as in, we're not 100% sure.
That said, this year's draft is defence heavy, therefore the Flames are more likely to select a blueliner when they step to the podium.
But if they can nab a player who Feaster & Co. believe can step into the top two forward lines, they have to grab him.
The cupboards aren't as barren as Flames detractors say, but aren't close to overflowing with tasty treats.
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak