The most important day of the NHL season isn’t the day the Stanley Cup is handed out. It isn’t opening day of the season, the trade deadline, or the start of free agency.
It’s the first round of the NHL Draft.
But for every Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk, there are also some players who for one reason or another, never seem to find their footing.
This list will be dedicated to those Flames picks who never fulfilled their NHL potential, not players like Sven Baertschi, who disappointed in Calgary but carved out a career elsewhere.
Here’s a list of the top 10 draft busts in Flames history, listed in reverse chronological order.
You’ll notice a trend on this list of players drafted in the late first round by Calgary between 2004 and 2009. Mercifully, Tim Erixon was the final player to end a futile decade of drafting.
Selected 23rd overall by Calgary, Erixon was pegged to be the next great two-way defender for the Flames with his mix of size and mobility from the point.
It was never to be as Erixon never played for Calgary, with the team shipping him off to the New York Rangers with a fifth-round pick in exchange for Roman Horak and two second-rounders.
Spending time in Columbus, Chicago and Toronto as well, Erixon hasn’t played in the NHL since 2015 after posting two goals and 14 points in 93 career games.
Players they could have had: Marcus Johansson (24th overall), Kyle Palmieri (26th overall), Ryan O’Reilly (33rd overall)
One of the most decorated junior players on this list, Greg Nemisz won two Memorial Cups with the Taylor Hall-led Windsor Spitfires after being drafted by Calgary in 2008.
Expectations of becoming an NHL power forward never panned out for the six-foot-three right winger after a couple cups of coffee with Calgary.
Between 2010 and 2012, Nemisz played in 15 games with the Flames and was only able to muster a single assist in that time.
Spending five years as a depth player in the American Hockey League, the Windsor native retired in 2015 and is currently an assistant coach with the Oshawa Generals.
Players they could have had: Tyler Ennis (26th overall), John Carlson (27th overall), Jake Allen (34th overall)
Drafted as the heir-apparent to Flames great Miikka Kiprusoff, Leland Irving never had the chance to battle for the team’ starting goalie position.
Irving was drafted from the WHL’s Everett Silvertips and spent three years in the minors before getting his first sniff at the NHL.
Playing in 13 games for Calgary between 2011 and 2013, Irving’s numbers were far from thrilling with a 3-4-4 record, 3.25 goals against average, and a .902 save percentage.
Released after the 2012-13 season, Irving bounced around Europe and recently played in six games for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.
Players they could have had: Nick Foligno (28th overall), Michal Neuvirth (34th overall), Jamie McGinn (36th overall)
In today’s NHL, it’s very unlikely that Matt Pelech would have ever been considered as a first-round prospect, but over a decade ago it was size and toughness that trumped everything else.
Standing at six-foot-four and 235 pounds, Pelech was touted as a stay-at-home defender that could one day crack the NHL, despite only scoring six points in 31 games in his draft year.
Pelech’s Flames career lasted only five games in the 2008-09 season, but he was able to post three points over that stretch.
Playing in eight more NHL games with the San Jose Sharks, Pelech is still active in Europe most recently playing with ERC Ingolstadt in Germany.
Players they could have had: Matt Niskanen (28th overall), James Neal (33rd overall), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (35th overall)
A rare first-round pick out of junior ‘A’ hockey, Kris Chucko was selected 24th overall in 2004 after scoring 87 points in 53 games with the BCHL’s Salmon Arms Silverbacks.
Dubbed a project player from the start, Chucko played two years of college hockey at the University of Minnesota and two more years in the minors before getting his first NHL call up.
His NHL career was short to say the least, dressing for two games in the 2008-09 season with his only stat being two minutes spent in the penalty box.
Chucko’s career came to a close after suffering a serious concussion in 2010 with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat, choosing to retire at the end of the season.
Players they could have had: Cory Schneider (26th overall), Jeff Schultz (27th overall), Mike Green (29th overall)
Calgary is lucky they hit on their first round pick in 2003 with Dion Phaneuf, as their second round selection in Tim Ramholt never made an impact at the NHL level.
A rising player in the Swiss national system, Ramholt came over to Canada in 2003 to play with the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and played in back-to-back World Juniors.
While he put up solid numbers at the AHL levels, the Swiss defender only received a single call up with Calgary and dressed for just one game in the 2007-08 season.
That hasn’t stopped Ramholt from carving out a successful career in his home country though, playing over 500 career games in the Swiss national league.
Players they could have had: Patrice Bergeron (45th overall), Matt Carle (47th overall), Shea Weber (49th overall)
It was a perfect storm for Flames in the 2000 draft, in need of a goaltender with one of the nation’s top prospects playing in their own rink with the Calgary Hitmen.
That storm never came as when Krahn ended his junior career with the Hitmen, the Flames acquired a promising Finnish netminder named Kiprusoff.
A nagging knee injury kept Krahn in the minors season after season, but was able to live his NHL dream for 20 minutes during the 2008-09 season with the Dallas Stars.
Although his NHL career never worked out in Calgary, he still calls the ‘Stampede City’ home 18 years after hearing his name called on the draft floor.
Players they could have had: Ron Hainsey (13th overall), Marcel Hossa (16th overall), Brooks Orpik (18th overall)
Easily playing the most NHL games on this list at 230, Fata is often billed as a draft bust due to his high ceiling and where he was picked.
A sniper in junior with the London Knights, the explosive skating Fata played in just 27 games with Calgary between 1998 and 2001, when he was eventually moved to the New York Rangers.
Fata’s most productive season ironically came the season Calgary went to the Stanley Cup Finals, netting 16 goals and 34 points in 73 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Finishing his career off with stints in Switzerland and Finland, Fata retired from the sport in 2014.
Players they could have had: Manny Malholtra (7th overall), Nik Antropov (10th overall), Alex Tanguay (12th overall)
Incredibly, Calgary had back-to-back years with sixth overall picks and whiffed on both of them after choosing Daniel Tkaczuk the year prior.
Torching the OHL for 334 points in 238 games, Tkaczuk had the potential to become the next breakout player for the Flames alongside Jarome Iginla.
Although his NHL career only lasted 19 games in the 2000-01 season before being sent permanently to the minors, Tkaczuk did manage to score four goals and 11 points in that time.
These days, the 38-year-old is living his NHL dream in a different capacity as skills coach with the St. Louis Blues.
Players they could have had: Paul Mara (7th overall), Sergei Samsonov (8th overall), Marian Hossa (12th overall)
One of only a handful of Flames first rounders to never play a game in the NHL, Mattsson played almost his entire professional career in his home country of Sweden.
His only North American experience came between 1995 and 1998, dressing for 174 games with the AHL’s Saint John Flames before heading back to Europe.
One of the most consistent players during his time in Sweden, Mattsson helped Sweden to the 2006 World Championship gold medal and is a four time Swedish Elite League champion.
Retiring in 2012, Mattsson has spent the last six years as an assistant coach with the SHL’s Malmo Redhawks.
Players they could have had: Saku Koivu (21st overall), Todd Bertuzzi (23rd overall), Sean Donovan (28th overall)