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Joe Nieuwendyk and Lanny McDonald of the 1989 Calgary Flames (HANS DERYK/The Canadian Press)
Joe Nieuwendyk and Lanny McDonald of the 1989 Calgary Flames (HANS DERYK/The Canadian Press)

NHL NOTEBOOK

Joe Who? Avoid rush to judgement when evaluating Iginla trade Add to ...

My point is, you just don’t know at this stage of the game what the upside for Hanowski and Agostino might be. In explaining why they’d targeted these two players, Flames’ general manager Jay Feaster said that during the lockout, he had deployed his professional scouts to watch U.S. college (when they otherwise might be watching NHL games), so they got a longer look at everybody playing in the NCAA and they saw an upside in both players. Feaster predicted they would play in the NHL; he wouldn’t venture how high up on the depth chart they might play.

And that of course will ultimately factor into the evaluation of the deal. Nieuwendyk turned out to be far better than anyone, even the people who watch prospects for a living, thought he’d be. And in the case of Iginla, there were some who believed, when Dallas took him where they did, that they’d hopelessly overreached and if they’d wanted him, they could have gotten him much later in the draft.

The draft was in Edmonton that year – some even believed they picked Iginla so they could be sure their selection it would be cheered. Yeah, people ventured crazy premises like that, even before Twitter was invented. In the scouting game, where the object is to predict how a growing boy will mature into a man, everybody sees something different – and tries to find a reason why they will beat the odds and make it to the NHL. Some do. Most don’t.

There were 211 players chosen in the 2012 draft alone, and the vast majority of whom will never play an NHL game, let alone develop an NHL career. Of the ones who do make it, the largest percentage come from among the blue-chip top-10 prospects who have been scrutinized since their mid-teens. So we’ll see.

Feaster’s regime made a similar off-the-board move in last year’s draft, trading down from No. 14 to 21 to draft the longest of long shots, a high schooler named Mark Jankowski from Stanstead College, who has played 34 games as a freshman for Providence College this year and scored 18 points. They view Jankowski as a long-term project but were not averse to dropping Nieuwendyk’s name into the discussion when projecting his update – he needed to grow into his tall and rail-thin frame, but they ultimately believed he had the skill set to evolve into a top NHL player. So we’ll see.

The draft and every element that follows in terms of player development is a risky business and the people in charge should have the courage of their convictions; it’s the only way you can operate. But the price for failure is high too – and as the Flames try to unmake the mess that they’ve created these past few years, the hope among their loyal and faithful fan base is that the people with the keys to the car know what they’re doing. Otherwise, is going to look ugly for a long time to come.

THIS AND THAT : Had lunch this week with an aspiring young sports journalist who made a pretty good point about how the Flames season ended last year, with a victory in a meaningless 82nd game that jumped them to 17th in the overall standings and ultimately let them finish with the best record among the non-playoff teams. (Calgary had 90 points, Dallas and Buffalo 89, Colorado 88. If they’d lost that game, they have been tied with the Avs at 88, but Colorado had the tie-breaker, more regulation and OT wins).

It had implications for the entry draft because instead of drafting at 14, the Flames would have been at 11 – and at 11, the highly rated Swedish prospect Filip Forsberg, who’d been projected to go as high as No. 2 overall, was still available (because of the run on defencemen in last year’s draft). Washington took him instead; they had the pick from Colorado in the Semyon Varlamov trade. Then at 12, there was Mikhail Grigorenko available, who went to Buffalo and actually played some NHL games already this season. At 13, Dallas took a highly regarded defensive prospect, Radek Faksa. The point is that sometimes, the race at the bottom of the standings is as important as the race at the top of the standings – and how a win in a meaningless playing-out-the-string sort of a game may have significant repercussions on the franchise for years to come.

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