Flames positioned to take long view of draft prospects' potential

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The Calgary Flames care most about one thing when they’re evaluating a player.

When the scouts are trying to project the future of a young player as they prepare for the draft, that player’s peak as an NHLer is what matters most — not how soon they’re going to be ready.

That doesn’t change whether you’re a retooling team or a contender.

And the Flames’ director of amateur scouting, Tod Button, feels his organization is better-positioned than ever to find young talent that’s going to have long careers.

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“Some guys take longer, some guys take less time,” Button explained ahead of the NHL Draft this weekend. “Some guys get injured, whatever the case might be. Nobody would have told you that Martin Pospisil would be where he is now, and we’re really excited about him. Connor Zary went through some injuries. Every kid is treated differently, but we don’t look it as the further they are from the NHL being a negative, at all.”

Pospisil was selected in the fourth round, 105th overall, of the 2018 draft. Zary was chosen 24th overall in 2000.

While the likes of Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk were able to make immediate impacts for the Flames soon after being drafted in 2013 and ’16, it’s more likely that the young players the team selects in this weekend’s draft will be a few years away from playing regular NHL minutes.

The Flames’ scouting staff takes a long view and project what sort of player a prospect will be down the line. Just about anybody can look at a true-blue generational talent like Connor Bedard last year and see that they’re special. It’s a lot more challenging to project the rest of the draft class.

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But the Flames have invested heavily in their scouting and analytics department in recent years, including adding former NHL defenceman Denis Grebeshkov last summer to give them a set of eyes in Russia, and believe they’re well-positioned to add young talent to their system in the 2024 draft and beyond.

“I think you’re always trying to evolve,” Button said. “Analytics was a big thing a few years ago and we always had some, but it’s more far-reaching now. You had analytics that maybe didn’t cover all the leagues or you couldn’t do analytics from Russia or Sweden or all the places. Some of the leagues weren’t as watched and you couldn’t get the video.

“We have it all now. I’d say over the last 20 years the scouting has really evolved.”

That evolution has led to the Flames having what they believe is a deep draft board for all of their picks. Last week, they had seven defencemen and five forwards who were still in the mix for the No. 9 overall pick and Button said there’s a big pool of players they’ve evaluated and like who they’re considering in the later rounds of the draft.

And while the Flames are strictly looking to take the best player available with their two picks in the first round , the hope is they can uncover a hidden gem or two once they get later into the draft.

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Every team is going to have expansive reports on the guys likely to go near the top of the draft, but it’s the later rounds where a team like the Flames — who have eight picks in the first four rounds — might be able to hit home runs.

“I think we’re going to get a lot of good players and I think we’re going to get a lot of variance,” Button said. “I don’t think we have to say we’re limited to one type. We can take some swings on some guys who are underdeveloped like we did with (William Stromgren in the second round in 2021), and so far, so good with him.

“There’s players who play 700 games who were drafted in the fifth round, we got Johnny (Gaudreau) in the fourth round. There’s guys out there, so that’s why you want to do projections and you want to trust your scouts, but having the resources to cover as much as you can, that’s why it’s so important. This draft, we’re excited about No. 28 and we’re excited about No. 9, but those other picks are key picks for us. We want to put more players in the NHL from this draft than just from the No. 9 pick.”

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