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Duhatschek: Recasting the 2004 entry draft, Calgary style

Timmy: Your post on general manager trivia had me digging back into the files to recall the details of the 2004 entry draft, Darryl Sutter's second as the Calgary Flames' general manager. In his first, Sutter hit a major home run, taking Dion Phaneuf ninth overall, behind both Ryan Suter (Nashville) and Braydon Coburn (Atlanta), an astute first foray into the drafting guessing-game for a novice GM. (If only Sutter had stuck to his Western Hockey League roots with his second choice at No. 39 and grabbed Shea Weber instead of Tim Ramholt, we'd really be singing his praises here; Weber went 10 spots later to the Predators and may be closing in on Phaneuf, his defence partner on Canada's world junior team, in terms of his overall game and impact. Ramholt? He may never play in the NHL). But in 2004, Sutter was low on draft picks, so he swapped quality for quantity. He had the 19th choice that year, but traded it to the New York Rangers (along with No. 247 overall) in order to get the 24th choice, plus the 46th. Not bad on the surface - moving down five places in the first round to move up almost 200 spots in a subsequent round.

The problem was three of the players chosen between 19 and 24 are all making an impact in the NHL already. After the Rangers took Finland's Lauri Korpikoski with their pick, the New Jersey Devils traded up two places to draft Travis Zajac at 20. The Colorado Avalanche then took Wojtek Wolski at 21; and the Ottawa Senators took Andrej Meszaros at 23; before the Flames finally stepped to the microphone to select Zajac's teammate in Salmon Arm, Kris Chucko. Wolski and Zajac both had excellent years as NHL rookies; Meszaros, only 21, already has two full NHL seasons under his belt as a defenceman, where few prospects ever step in as teenagers and play regularly. If Calgary has an organizational need right now, it's for another quality young defence prospect; Meszaros would look pretty good there. Chucko may eventually play in the NHL; he had the grit, while Zajac was known for his skill as juniors. But considering that Zajac and Meszaros will now meet in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, while Wolski had a 50-point rookie campaign, it makes you wonder: Sometimes, at the NHL entry draft, maybe it's better to stick with the bird in the hand.

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