Can Calgary Flames Add Top Defenseman At NHL Draft?


The Calgary Flames currently hold the 15th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft which takes place on Friday and Saturday in Sunrise, Florida. General manager Brad Treliving has gone with the frequent refrain that the team will wait to see who is available and choose the best player, regardless of the position he plays.

Looking at the Flames roster, it becomes quite clear that the team has a dire need at a very specific position, and that would be on defence. The Flames have a plethora of good young players at forward led by Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennet, but also have former first round picks Morgan Kilmchuk and Emile Poirier ready to crack the lineup.

In net, the Flames have Joni Ortio who is just 24 years old as well as top prospects Jon Gillies who is coming off a fantastic NCAA career and Mason McDonald who was the first goaltender taken in last year’s draft. However, there is no blue chip, top prospect on defence and that is what the Flames should target at the draft.

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The way I see it, there are three defenders available in the draft who could quickly develop into first pairing guys who play more than 25 minutes a night and play in all situations. The problem is, there is not a very good chance that any of them fall to the Flames at 15th.

Noah Hanifin is at the head of the defence man class at the draft. He has been ranked third throughout much of the season and likely won’t fall any farther than 4th overall at the draft. Hanifin is a good sized defeceman who scored 23 points in 35 games as a Freshman with Boston College.

Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; A general view of the complete draft board after the completion of the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Hanifin projects to be an elite top pairing defenceman, but because of that he will be off the board extremely early. The only way the Flames could ensure they land Hanifin would be to trade for the Arizona Coyotes 3rd overall pick. Though the Coyotes have mentioned they are willing to trade the pick, GM Don Maloney was quoted as saying that it would take your first born son to get him to make a deal.

I’d take that as saying the Flames can get the 3rd overall pick if the trade either Sean Monahan or Sam Bennett to the Coyotes. Filling a hole on defence by opening a crater at center just doesn’t make sense, so Hanifin won’t be wearing a Flames sweater anytime soon.

The next best defence man in the draft is Ivan Provorov, who played for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League. He shot up draft rankings this season by scoring 61 points in 60 games, and even has some pundits predicting he will go ahead of Hanifin. He was the youngest player to crack Russia’s World Junior team, and has an impressive mixture of speed, skill and physicality.

Though Provorov would be an absolute perfect fir for Calgary, he is also likely to gone before the Flames will have any chance of getting him. Everyone has him ranked inside the top ten, and there are plenty of teams there that are looking for defencemen. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Colorado Avalanche pick 8th and 10th, and both would love to have a player like Provorov.

Can the Flames trade up to eighth and get Provorov? Well, he might not even fall that far, and if he does it would still cost quite a premium to do so. Provorov might be worth it, but the only chance Calgary lands him is if the Russian Factor comes into play and teams shy away from the defenseman, which unfortunately is not likely to happen.

Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Samuel Bennett poses for a photo with team officials after being selected as the number four overall pick to the Calgary Flames in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The third defenceman that could be a franchise player is Zach Werenski. He’s a big defender at 6’2″ and 214 pounds and is said to be even better offensively than Hanifin and Provorov. Werenski played NCAA with the Michigan Wolverines, and scored 25 points in 35 games from the blue line on a less than stellar team.

Werenski is a terrific skater, moves the puck well has great hockey sense and is an efficient player. He made the American World Junior team as a draft eligible defenceman and has all the tools to becomes a tremendous two way franchise changing defenceman in the NHL in the near future.

Werenski is ranked just behind the other two defenceman, and could slip out of the top ten. If he does, I think it would be foolish for the Flames to let him be drafted by another team. Bob McKenzie has Werenski ranked 11th, and that’s exactly where I see him being selected. There is a huge gap between the top three defencemen in the draft, and the rest of the blue liners, so it is imperative the Flames find a way to land Werenski.

The Florida Panthers currently have the 11th pick, but GM Dale Tallon spoke to today, and claimed they are willing to deal. Not only that, he specifically mentioned that the team loves their depth at center, and sees a bright future on their blue line. Tallon said they need more scoring and speed and will be looking to add a winger that fits that description.

May 5, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames fan waving flag during the second period in game three of the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Calgary Flames and the Anaheim Ducks at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

If Werenski is available when the Panthers turn to pick arrives, they would be passing on him anyway and looking for a scoring winger. There are a plethora of scoring wingers available in the middle of the draft, such as Mikko Rantanen, Timo Meier, Evgeny Svechnikov, Nick Merkley and Travis Konecny. If the Flames move up to 11, they could get a franchise defenceman that they desperately need and if the Panthers move back to 15, they would still get the scoring winger they want.

It’s a perfect match, but what else would the Flames have to give up to entice the Panthers into making the trade? Looking back at similar draft day trades, probably not very much. The Flames moved back from 14th to 21st in the 2013 draft, and got the 42nd pick as well. So the 14th pick was worth the 21st and 42nd.

In 2009, the New York Islanders moved up to 12th on the draft floor by sending the 16th and 77th overall picks to the Minnesota Wild. So, if the Flames want to move from 15th to 11th on Friday night, it would cost them one of there second round picks at most, and they might even be able to get the 11th pick for the 16th and 76th.

Though Florida would be willing to move down, it’s not a guarantee that Werenski would be available with the 11th pick, especially with Colorado who desperately need defencemen, picking 10th. Who the Flames should target to move up is the San Jose Sharks, who pick 9th.

Asking the Sharks to move down from 9th to 15th would surely also cost the Flames a second round pick, but why have three of them, so they can afford to move one to ensure they get Werenski. The Sharks are in a bit of a transition, and don’t have a third round pick. Sliding back six spots in the first round and adding another second round pick would help with their re-tooling.

The Flames were wise to move Sven Baertchi and Curtis Glencross at last year’s deadline and stockpile draft picks. Now they are in a very favourable position heading into the draft, and can afford to move a couple of picks to make sure they get their number one target.

That target should be Zach Werenski, and the Flames should make sure they land the future top pairing defenceman.

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