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Button impressed with blend of skill and size in draft picks

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames

PHILADELPHIA, PA – While it’s still too early to put a stamp of approval on the Calgary Flames 2014 draft class, it appears the stars aligned the way director of amateur scouting Tod Button wanted them to.

The team has made no secret of its desire to get bigger and stronger, both in Calgary and within the prospect system, and they were able to do just that in Philadelphia.

But you have to be careful when you’re on the hunt for a particular asset in players. You don’t want to create a one-dimensional team or system.

Button feels they were able to grab players who boast both size and skill.

“You’ve got to be so careful when talking about the mandate to take size because we took guys who were big but … they got better. They improved as hockey players. We weren’t going to take them … just because they were big. It all intersected.”

The smallest player drafted by Calgary this weekend was their first selection, Sam Bennett. The fourth overall pick stands 6-feet and weighs in at 181-pounds. The Kingston Frontenacs centre was NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater after rattling off 36 goals and 91 points in 57 regular season games.

“We think he’s a high-end, top-six forward who is going to bring offence,” Button explained. “The combination of him and Sean Monahan moving forward, with some of our other centres, we think it makes our future bright.”

Adding another big, athletic netminder to the prospect stable was a priority for the scouting staff and they tagged 6-foot-4 Mason McDonald with the 34th overall selection.

“Mason McDonald is a kid who kept on getting better and better as the year went on, culminating with a real solid performance in the World U18’s,” Button explained. “It’s just a steady progression for him. Our analysis of the draft was that goalies always seem to go in bunches and once one goes, they all start going. That’s what happened here. We just wanted to make sure that we had the guy we liked the best. We got a chance to take him so we did.

“We had Mason as the number one goalie in the draft.”

Hunter Smith was the giant of the 2014 draft class, standing 6-foot-7 and 220-pounds with a frame that will likely grow a bit more. The second-year draft-eligible forward blossomed in the 2013-14 season, moving from a one-dimensional player to a versatile power forward who scored 16 goals and 40 points through 64 games.

“There’s a little bit of undercurrent with Hunter because we liked him last year,” Button said. “He didn’t play a lot. He only played 30 games last year. We didn’t have him on our draft list but we wanted to bring him through our development camp but it didn’t work out.

“So we kept on tracking him this year. Last year, he was a big kid that was a project. This year, he added some skill to his game … he was productive. The whole package got better and the player got better. He improved and we thought he was certainly a top three round pick.”

With the 64th pick, the Flames went with Albertan Brandon Hickey from the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL. Limited to 49 games last season due to injuries, he still managed to impress scouts with his defensive awareness, physically, and competitiveness.

“[He’s] a great skater, going to Boston University. We think he can improve his offensive game. He ran into a few injuries later in the year but he’s got good size. He’s going to need a couple of years at BU but it’s a school that has a history of developing defencemen.

“We think we added a positional need there as well. His ability and his skill level intersected with our positional need with Brandon Hickey as it did with a couple of other guys.”

The Flames went with another defenceman in the sixth round, selecting Swede Adam Ollas Mattsson with the 175th pick. The rearguard clocks in at 6-foot-4 and 214-pounds.

“Adam Ollas Mattsson is just an unbelievable character kid,” Button raved. “He’s the captain of their team. We project him out as a bottom-pairing guy who can play against the third and fourth lines, heavy guys. The biggest issue with Adam is his footwork and he knows that. He’s working on it. He’s just got to get his feet a little better.

“We took him for his compete, his leadership, and the ability to play against bigger, stronger forwards.”

With their final selection in Philadelphia, the Flames picked up a big-bodied right winger in Austin Carroll. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound forward authored a career year in 2013-14, scoring 34 goals and 57 points in 70 games.

“He was a guy we liked last year, came to our camp, kept on tracking him. He’s a kid who in the seventh round, his ability intersected with our positional need with size and ability on the right wing. It was an easy pick for us. We had three guys to decide between, two defencemen and him. We had already taken two defencemen so we said this is the time to take the right winger.”

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