By Sonny Sachdeva, November 27 2014 —
The standard model for success in the National Hockey League is a combination of high first-round draft picks, smart coaching and a few strategic trades sprinkled on the side.
The Calgary Flames, who have raised themselves into contender status with their surprisingly strong play, have taken a different path to the top of the standings.
While the Flames boast elite young draft picks such as Sean Monahan and future star Sam Bennett — drafted sixth and fourth overall, respectively — Calgary’s success is more than the result of fortuitous drafting. Rather, it has come from the foundation built beneath this young talent — a foundation of players with unmatched character who had to prove themselves from the beginning.
Three key players in particular — defenceman Mark Giordano, winger Curtis Glencross and netminder Jonas Hiller — were all undrafted, entering the league after being passed over by all 30 NHL clubs.
This chip on their shoulders has certainly bolstered their careers, and their tireless work ethic shows in their play. Giordano and Glencross have been central figures in guiding Calgary’s young talent, while Hiller’s play has Calgary looking like a legitimate threat in the Western Conference for the first time in a while.
Calgary has become a landing spot for those passed over by the rest. Case in point is forward Josh Jooris, an undrafted yet talented player who has proved his skill at the NHL level since the Flames gave him a chance this season.
Originally called up as an injury replacement, the feisty forward has posted a respectable nine points through 15 games thus far, including five goals. His strong play has led to more ice time and a chance to stick with the big club.
Perhaps the most impressive example of Calgary’s ability to find talent that others have missed comes from Johnny Gaudreau. The thrilling rookie has taken the city and the league by storm.
While Gaudreau was a well-known name by the time he suited up for his first NHL game — having taken home the Hobey Baker award as the top player in college hockey and taking on the ‘Johnny Hockey’ moniker — the Flames noticed Gaudreau’s talent before he ever made waves with Boston College in the NCAA.
When Calgary called Gaudreau’s name in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (104th overall), he was just a kid from New Jersey who had put up a decent season for a fairly unknown team in the United States Hockey League.
It wasn’t until a few years later that he became Johnny Hockey, dominating the NCAA and leading Team USA to a World Junior Championship.
Calgary’s knack for spotting talent other teams missed allowed them to snag Gaudreau, just as it allowed them to find Giordano, Jooris and all the rest of their underrated talent.
After adopting this strategy for over a decade, the pieces are falling into place for the Flames. The team looks poised to exceed expectations come playoff time.