Yesterday, we did a bit of poking and prodding at the Calgary Flames’ drafting results since Brad Treliving became general manager and compared them to the six prior drafts. Today, we’re digging into the philosophy behind their drafting.

Last week, Treliving had his weekly conference call with local media. On that call, he let it slip that the team doesn’t usually draft for position. That comment was in the context of the team’s recent rush to sign free agent defenders – Colton Poolman, Connor Mackey and Johannes Kinnvall fill an organization void caused by the team not selecting a single blueliner since Juuso Valimaki in the first round in 2017. Simply put, they make their list and select the best player available.

But during his remarks answering a few questions on drafting, Treliving revealed a few interesting things.

Here’s Treliving on the team’s signing of late round picks Emilio Pettersen and Dustin Wolf:

Our marching orders here is every pick counts. I don’t care if it’s a first round pick or a seventh round pick, you’ve got to make the picks count. The staff has done a hell of a job. It’s a testament to the staff that you’re signing a sixth and seventh round pick. And now we turn them over to our development staff.

One of the things that when we came here five years ago that we really invested in was development. Drafting is important. It’s critical. Development is right there. I don’t think it gets enough attention. Development isn’t just phoning in and seeing how you’re doing today. We’ve invested greatly in our development staff, and it’s a big group. So the minute they’re drafted or the minute they’re signed, the first call they get is from me, the second call is from our development team that takes everything from their nutrition to their strength and conditioning to skating coaches to every step of the way. So it doesn’t really matter what round you’re drafted in, that next stage of development is critical. And the proof’s in the pudding that we’ve been able to develop some guys and get them to the NHL regardless of whether they’re first, second, sixth, seventh, that’s a testament to the scouting staff and the development team. We’ve got three more here in the pipeline for them to work with.

Just judging from the team directory, the Flames have the following development staffers on call: Ray Edwards (the head development honcho), Ron Sutter (player development guru), Brian McGrattan (player assistance), Matt Brown (mental performance coach), Dawn Braid (skating consultant) and Ryan van Asten (strength and conditioning). Oh, and if you’re a goalie like Wolf you have goalie coaches Jordan Sigalet and Thomas Speer helping out, too. In previous regimes, development was much more ad hoc.

When asked about what he’s doing differently, Treliving declined to emphasize differences with prior regimes and instead talked about what the Flames look for and value when evaluating players:

Without getting too deep in it, we’ve put an emphasis on certain qualities that we think are important for players to play in today’s game. And skill, you need skill. So to me, when you look at skill, hockey sense and competitiveness, it’s hard to play in the game if you don’t have an elite quality in one of them. That’s what we continue to try to find. You need to have a real competitive spirit to be an NHL player, so we focus really on those three aspects. You can find players late in the draft, and give credit to the scouts. We have a criteria that we look for, but thankfully – touch wood – we’ve been able to hit.

Now we’ll see. As I say to all these players: lots of guys sign contracts, only 700 get to play in the league every year. Just because you’ve signed one, the work just begins. But if you keep coming back, and to me you have to have a real set criteria of what’s important to you, and you stick to it. And our guys have stuck to it and we have sort of a model of a player that we’re looking for. You need to be able to think, you need to be highly, highly competitive, and you need to have skill, and so those are areas we really focus in on.

Later on, Treliving seemed to reveal a bit more about the team’s later round philosophy when discussing the selection of Wolf late in 2019:

At the time that we got to that pick and said ‘What’s the best player on the board?’ We felt his athleticism and his competitiveness were elite. They’re elite qualities. And so when you’re getting into the seventh round, you’re not finding the perfect player. But you’ve got to find an elite quality. So you always step back: what’s going to get him to the league? It might not be his size, but he’s got two elite qualities: athleticism and competitiveness. Those are the things that you fall back on.

Speaking more about Wolf, Treliving dug deep into why the club values competitiveness:

Competitiveness to me is so important. Because it’s not just competitiveness in a game, but competitiveness… We talk to them, you’re trying to be one of 700, right? There’s 700 kids that play in my community. So you’re trying to be one of 700 in the league, you’ve got to have a competitiveness to try to get to that. It’s not just even competitiveness in an NHL game, you’re going to be dealing with so many obstacles to try to get you to a chance where you have a chance to compete. I think that’s just a must.

If nothing else, it feels like the Flames have a very clear idea of what things they value, a pretty clear idea of how to build those values into a draft list, and they’ve put a bunch of resources into translating the drafted players into the pros.

It’s obviously not a perfect process – they’re dealing with teenagers for much of it – but it seems like an improvement over prior approaches.