Calgary Draft Picks:
#16 – Juuso Valimaki
#109 – Adam Ruzicka
#140 – Zach Fischer
#171 – D’Artagnan Joly
#202 – Filip Sveningsson
Calgary needed a top-four defence prospect who can quarterback a powerplay in a few years, and managed to find just that with the sage selection of Juuso Valimaki at 16th overall.
Valimaki is dangerous in the offensive zone thanks to his puck skills, vision and cannon shot. He has lots of options when he has the puck, and utilizes all of them, especially on the powerplay. Despite playing on a Tri-City team with few natural scorers besides Michael Rasmussen, who missed the final two months of the season, Valimaki managed to collect 22 assists on the powerplay and helped turn Morgan Geekie into a 35-goal scorer. Look for that assist total to reach 30 or more next season as Valimaki quite likely becomes the top-scoring defenceman in the WHL in his final junior season.
It’s Valimaki’s play without the puck that will still need refining before he’s ready for NHL action as the sturdy blueliner has issues with his lateral agility that were especially noticeable at the U-20’s when he was facing the fastest junior players on the planet and was prone to being caught flat-footed. He can also run around too much in his own end, and that’s a habit that will hopefully get broken with experience.
Calgary’s remaining four selections all came after the top 100, and considering how late in the draft they were picking the Flames managed to get good value with those picks.
Sarnia Sting center Adam Ruzicka was one of the draft big droppers as last summer many considered him to be a first-round candidate. Despite being able to score some flashy goals this season and demonstrating his offensive skills to the scouting world, Ruzicka struggled to take care of the defensive part of his game, largely because he did not compete at a level that he will need to reach to one day earn an NHL spot.
Justifiably passed over in the previous two drafts, it’s safe to say that fifth-round pick Zach Fischer blossomed into a power-forward prospect as a 19-year-old. After compiling 23 points and 38 penalty minutes in his first two WHL seasons Fischer scored 34 goals and added 145 penalty minutes in a breakthrough season in Medicine Hat.
Fischer used his size, strength and shot to overpower WHL defencemen and goalies this season, and the Flames will be hoping that he can step into the WHL next season and do the same. He may need a year at the ECHL level to work on his skating unless he has a very good offseason in that regard…there will need to be a significant improvement in that department before he’s close to competing for an NHL job.
D’Artagnan Joly has the wingspan, skating, shot and puck skills to develop into a decent pro prospect if he can put on the requisite muscle and learn to compete at a much higher level. Skinny and weak, scouts would like to see him get much stronger and start showing a willingness to go to the dirty areas.
Filip Sveningsson is yet another prospect with above-average skills that will need to get stronger and work on his defensive game and competitiveness. Despite putting up good numbers in Swedish junior the skilled winger was never invited to play in any U-18 events because of those concerns about his willingness to play a 200-foot game and be responsible away from the puck. Well worth a seventh-round pick considering his skill set.
Grade – C : As one of the few teams with just one pick in the top 100, Calgary nevertheless was able to address a huge need on defence with that one high selection in Valimaki. He will step into a top-four slot on Calgary’s defence as soon as his lateral agility is up to NHL standards and pile up a lot of points as one of Calgary’s offensice defencemen. He also has the size, competitiveness and work ethic to work on his defensive game enough to become a force on the defensive end as well.
With the exception of Fischer, Calgary focused on skilled players late in the draft who need to learn the work habits necessary to be trusted by NHL coaches enough in the future to earn a spot in the lineup. Ruzicka is the best best as he already has a pro body and skills…there will have to be huge gains in his effort away from the puck, however.