Lucas Anderson The Hockey Writers
Flames GM Brad Treliving’s Draft History
Brad Treliving took over as the general manager of the Calgary Flames on April 28, 2014. He’d earlier served as the assistant general manager of the Arizona Coyotes and the GM of its AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. As of the 2019-20 NHL season, Treliving has helmed the Flames at six NHL Entry Drafts.
A history of Treliving’s drafts with the Flames mostly reveals quality results in the early rounds as well as some later-round gems. The GM’s willingness to trade picks to acquire roster players has limited the potential of draft day in some years, however. In what follows, I offer a review and grade each of Treliving’s six drafts as GM of the Flames.
Flames 2014 Draft: Bennett, Franchise History on Draft Day
Treliving landed his position with the Flames in the 2014 offseason. He succeeded Brian Burke, who had served as the acting GM after Jay Feaster was relieved from the position in December 2013. Treliving had a few months to settle in before the 2014 draft, which was held on July 27.
As it turned out, his first selection as GM was a historic one. In 2014, the Flames drafted fourth overall, which was the highest pick in franchise history. Prior to that, the Flames had selected no higher than sixth overall since the team relocated from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980.
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The new GM called Sam Bennett to the stage with that fourth-overall pick. Bennett made his NHL debut in the final game of the 2014-15 season and was a regular in the line-up during the playoffs. But ever since, he hasn’t made the leap into the top six.
In 2015-16, his rookie season, Bennett posted 36 points. He hasn’t reached even 30 points since, and, in 2019-20, he was on pace for his worst offensive output yet before the league paused play due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Picks that immediately followed Bennett have produced similarly middling results. These include Michael Dal Colle (fifth), Jake Virtanen (sixth), and Haydn Fleury (seventh). But multiple stars were also chosen later in the first round, including William Nylander (eighth), Nikolaj Ehlers (ninth), Dylan Larkin (15th), and David Pastrnak (25th).
The remainder of the team’s 2014 draft group included Mason McDonald, Hunter Smith, Brandon Hickey, Adam Ollas Mattsson, and Austin Carroll. Not one of these players has made their NHL debut. Treliving’s first Flames draft – which includes the highest draft pick in franchise history – has to be viewed as a disappointment unless Bennett can step up his game. He’s shown grit and clutch performances in the playoffs, but he’s yet to establish himself as a consistent offensive threat at the NHL level.
Flames 2015 Draft: Andersson, Kylington, Mangiapane
Treliving’s second draft presents virtually the polar opposite of his first. In 2015, the Flames went without several high-round picks as a result of trades, but the GM made astute selections in the later rounds.
Ahead of this draft, Treliving had dealt the team’s first-round pick to the Boston Bruins as part of the Dougie Hamilton trade. They also lacked a third-rounder – which was moved in a multi-draft pick swap – and a fourth-rounder – which left in an earlier trade made by Jay Feaster. But with just five selections in total – two in the second round, and one in the fifth, sixth, and seventh – Treliving found two mainstays for the current line-up and another who’s on the verge of becoming an everyday player.
Related: Who’s Never Picked #1 in the NHL Draft
The GM’s first pick in the 2015 draft was Rasmus Andersson at 53rd overall. He quickly earned a spot with the team and has emerged as a top-four defender. Oliver Kylington then followed at 60th overall, also in the second round. He’s played in close to half of the team’s games in both of the last two seasons, filling the role of the sixth or seventh defenseman.
Treliving later got a draft-day steal when he picked Andrew Mangiapane in the sixth round, 166th overall. Mangiapane has rapidly risen in the team’s depth chart and enjoyed a breakout season on the second line in 2019-20. The other picks in this draft were Pavel Karnaukhov, in the fifth round, and Riley Bruce, in the seventh. Karnaukhov has remained in the KHL, while Bruce currently plays for the University of Toronto.
Treliving sacrificed in trades several key picks in the 2015 draft, but he countered those moves with resourceful selections on draft day. The GM also dodged a bullet, as the Bruins used the Flames’ first-round pick to select Zachary Senyshyn (15th) right before successive selections of Mathew Barzal (16th), Kyle Connor (17th), and Thomas Chabot (18th). To date, Senyshyn has only played in six NHL games, while the other three are established stars in the league.
Flames 2016 Draft: Tkachuk, Dubé, Fox
After a disappointing 2015-16 season saw the Flames miss the playoffs, Treliving stockpiled nine draft picks ahead of 2016 draft day. The GM didn’t miss with these picks, either.
He started off draft day with the pick of Matthew Tkachuk, a steal at sixth overall. In five seasons with the Flames, the high first-round pick has established himself as a premier talent and agitator in the league. The team was fortunate that he fell to sixth, also, seeing as Jesse Puljujarvi (fourth overall) and Olli Juolevi (fifth overall) haven’t established themselves with their Pacific Division rival teams.
The second round was also a success for the Flames, as they chose Tyler Parsons at 54th overall and Dillon Dubé at 56th. Parsons remains a highly-ranked goaltending prospect in the team’s system, while Dubé graduated to a third-line role with the Flames in 2019-20.
The GM also selected 2019-20 star rookie defenseman Adam Fox in the third round. Fox chose not to sign in Calgary following his collegiate career, but he later formed part of the package that brought Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to the Flames.
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The 2016 draft also produced Linus Lindstrom, Mitchell Mattson, Eetu Tuulola, Matthew Phillips, and Stepan Falkovsky. Falkovsky is no longer with the organization, and Mattson is playing college hockey. Lindstrom currently plays in the Swedish Hockey League. Both Phillips and Tuulola are gaining experience at the AHL level. Phillips, the sixth-round pick, even earned a call up to the Flames in December 2019, though he didn’t make his NHL debut.
This draft added key pieces to the Flames’ current roster and, realistically, could continue to shape it in the years to come. It stands out as Treliving’s strongest performance at the draft to date.
Flames 2017 Draft: Valimaki, More Traded Picks
Ahead of the 2017 draft, Treliving had surrendered a second-round pick in a forgettable deal for Curtis Lazar and a third as part of a package to acquire Michael Stone. Hence, the GM needed to make his first-round selection in 2017 count.
In a draft year that produced only moderate success in the first round, the Flames GM made a pick that all signs would suggest was a success: Juuso Valimaki, at 16th overall. He’s now 21 years old and likely would have had a regular role with the team in 2019-20 had he not suffered a torn ACL in the off-season. He played in 24 games in 2018-19 and is the team’s most cherished prospect.
Picks that followed Valimaki in the later rounds were Adam Ruzicka, Zach Fischer, D’Artagnan Joly, and Filip Sveningsson. Ruzicka, a fourth-round pick, made the jump to the AHL in 2019-20 and is viewed as the best of the bunch outside of Valimaki. Look for Valimaki to enter the line-up in the coming seasons, which could boost the grade of this draft year.
Flames 2018 Draft: Hamonic, Smith Trades Take Their Toll
The Flames’ 2018 draft faced slim odds of success, considering their first selection wasn’t until the fourth round. Treliving had sent out the team’s first and second-rounders to the New York Islanders for Travis Hamonic, and its third in the trade that acquired Mike Smith one year earlier.
So far, the 2018 draft has unsurprisingly made no impact at the NHL level – for the Flames, at least. With the team’s first-round pick, the Islanders selected Noah Dobson 12th overall. He stepped into their line-up as a 19-year-old in the 2019-20 season.
But there’s still hope for the Flames’ picks, who all went between the fourth and seventh rounds. Martin Pospisil, Demetrios Koumontzis and Milos Roman were all fourth-round selections, Emilio Pettersen was a sixth, and Dmitry Zavgorodniy went in the seventh round.
Pospisil graduated to the AHL’s Stockton Heat in 2019-20. Zavgorodniy also upgraded his status with a dominant 2019-20 season on a line with Alex LaFrenière in the QMJHL. This past season, Koumontzis and Pettersen played college hockey, while Roman spent another campaign with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants.
When Treliving’s trade strategy involves parting with high-round picks, it can place unreasonable expectations on the later-round selections. But this draft group still has room to grow in the coming seasons despite its uphill climb. Zavgorodniy especially is a prospect to watch moving forward.
Flames 2019 Draft: Pelletier, Wolf
The Flames received the 26th overall pick in the 2019 first round after a strong 2018-19 regular season ended with a first-round playoff exit. Treliving used that pick to select Jakob Pelletier, who was followed by Ilya Nikolayev, Lucas Feuk, Josh Nodler, and goaltender Dustin Wolf.
Pelletier has continued to excel in junior since 2019 draft day. At 5-foot-9, he’s on the smaller side, but he says he’s “going to play big.” In 2019-20, he stayed true to his word by posting 82 points in 57 games with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. The Flames have high hopes for Pelletier.
The ceiling for the other skaters remains somewhat unclear, but we aren’t even a full season removed from this draft just yet. Nikolayev remains in Russia’s MHL, where he had a middling 2019-20 season. Both Feuk, who’s in the Swedish Hockey League, and Nodler, who just played his first season of college hockey, had underwhelming offensive outings in 2019-20.
Wolf, on the other hand, has nothing left to prove in the WHL after consecutive seasons with a sub-2.00 goals-against average and save percentage over .935%. The organization will hope that he makes a smooth transition in the next stages of his development.
Treliving’s Draft History: A Final Grade
Current Flames roster players drafted by Treliving:
- Forwards: Bennett, Mangiapane, Tkachuk, Dubé
- Defensemen: Andersson, Kylington, Valimaki
As GM of the Flames, Treliving has largely found an effective balance between trades of high draft picks – which have brought in established players – and being sure to replenish the team’s prospect pool. In certain years, his strategy has faltered, such as in the 2018 draft, but he and the scouts have also routinely made impressive later-round selections, such as in the 2015 and 2016 drafts (Andersson, Kylington, Mangiapane, Dubé, Fox, and Parsons).
When he has kept his first-round picks, the Flames GM usually makes the most of them. His tenure as GM didn’t get off to the best of starts with the pick of Bennett, but he’s at least been a regular in the lineup since his age 19 season. Tkachuk was a glowing success, and Valimaki and Pelletier look to be on their way to showing what they’ve got at the NHL level – as picks in the latter half of the first round, at that.
Treliving’s six-year draft history has added core and complementary pieces to the Flames’ current line-up and its minor league system. At the AHL level, these drafts have yielded a set of young forwards (Phillips, Tuulola, Ruzicka, and Pospisil) who could contribute in the NHL in the years to come. Parsons and Wolf, likewise, remain promising goaltending options for the team’s future.
Overall Grade: B+
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