You can’t teach size and to move with that size. The kid has a good hockey brain. If he can put it all together the Flames are going to have one heck of a blue chip prospect on their hands. - Ottawa 67's GM/coach Jeff Brown
CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames believe they have unearthed a diamond in the rough.
So too does his junior coach.
With their final two selections of the 2016 NHL Draft, the Flames went from one end of the spectrum to the other by picking hometown centre Matthew Phillips (all 5-foot-6, 140-pounds of him) to plucking 6-foot-7, 224-pound Belarusian defenceman Stepan Falkovsky (seventh round, 186th overall).
Sure, Falkovsky’s size is intriguing (rumour has it he needed to duck in and out of the Ottawa 67’s dressing room while barefoot) but so is his skill set.
The big lad – a reliable two-way defender – can skate.
Even more importantly, according to 67’s head coach/GM Jeff Brown, the hulking blueliner is coachable.
“He was a fish out of water when he first came here, having to adapt to the North American game and the speed of our league,” said Brown, a veteran of 700-plus NHL games as a defenceman. “But he’s a smart kid and a smart player who after realizing he couldn’t rely on just his long reach started to move his feet and he became a very effective player for us after that.”
By season’s end, the towering rearguard who speaks little English, demonstrated he had no problem acclimatizing to the North American game in the nation’s capital.
He not only finished tied with overager Evan De Haan for scoring by team defencemen with nine goals and 32 points in 58 games but finished with a team-best plus-17 rating.
Falkovsky, who also chipped in with a goal and an assist in six outings for Belarus at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, is expected to turn pro this season despite having one year of junior eligibility remaining.
Where exactly is still to be determined, however.
“Unfortunately, being an import and an overager he would take up two spots here,” Brown said. “We would have liked him back, but there is an unknown of hanging onto him. He adapted well at this level and I expect he’ll do the same at the next one.”
Flames director of scouting, Tod Button, admits the 19-year-old Minsk native was a prospect that had been on Calgary’s radar since Christmas.
“Six-foot-seven and moves the puck really well,” Button said. “Fairly mobile and wants to stay in North America and play. If he was in college, he might be one of those free agent’s that in two years everyone is looking at. We think we got a head start by getting him in the draft.”
As does Brown, who was shocked his standout defender, who went undrafted in 2015 despite being ranked 44th among European skaters, had taken so long to come off the board this time around in Buffalo.
“I was very surprised,” said Brown, whose own son Logan was taken 11th overall by the Ottawa Senators. “You can’t teach size and to move with that size. The kid has a good hockey brain. If he can put it all together the Flames are going to have one heck of a blue chip prospect on their hands.”
“I like to think,” added an optimistic Button, “that there were a few nuggets there in the fifth, sixth, seventh round.”
Perhaps a mammoth one at that.