Flames draft defenceman, but still looking for NHL-ready help

Watch as the Calgary Flames draft Juuso Valimaki with the 16th overall pick.

The Calgary Flames goal this weekend was to land a top-four defenceman. Mission accomplished.

Well, kind of.

They got one. It just might take a few years for him to prove it. The Flames drafted 18-year-old Finnish defenceman Juuso Valimaki 16th overall Friday night in Chicago, giving the Flames additional depth at a position they’ve loaded up on with prospects.

And while the Flames aren’t expecting the Tri-City Americans product to make the jump alongside T.J. Brodie on the second pairing this year, the team sees him as a perfect fit for that spot long-term.

“I just think he’s going to be a real strong, solid player for a lot of years,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving of the smooth-skating, fun-loving Finn. “To play this position you’ve got to be able to think and play the puck. We really like the player here, his compete and what he brings. He’s versatile, he’s competitive, he’s big and we really like his brain. A couple picks before him the boys were really crossing their fingers he’d still be available and we were thrilled we got him.”

The Flames hope to soon be able to count on farmhands Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington, or Harvard sophomore Adam Fox to bolster a blue line anchored by Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and Brodie.

Valimaki is a solid addition to the list.

A 6-foot-2, 201-pound puck-moving defenceman who put up an impressive 61 points (including 19 goals) in 60 games as a second-year Americans leader, Valimaki was the 11th-ranked North American skater by Central Scouting. Considered a well-rounded defenceman who sees the ice well but isn’t overly physical, Valimaki won a gold medal with Finland at the under-18 world championships two years ago. Last year he was a second team WHL all-star, attracting plenty of attention for his overall game.

After being announced as the Flames’ selection he gave warm hugs to both of his emotional parents and thanked them on the Sportsnet broadcast for supporting him endlessly along the way.

“I’m just so happy to have them with me here and in Tri-City,” said Valimaki, whose mother moved from Finland to Tri-City to look after her son.

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Now the Flames will do what they can to support his development into an NHLer as soon as possible. Barring a trade, it will be the Flames only pick until the fourth round Saturday.

A trade is exactly what the Flames showed up in Chicago with hopes of making this weekend as the club’s shopping list is topped by the need for a significant defenceman who can play on the Flames second pairing.

Rumours that have swirled for over a year about their interest in the Islanders’ Travis Hamonic intensified the last few days. With so many teams in need for a top-four defenceman the price tag for Hamonic is a reported to be two first round draft picks, which is unlikely to be met.

So the Flames search continues. A fifth defenceman is also needed in Calgary as none of the Flames defensive prospects are considered ready to step into significant roles just yet.

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Michael Stone, whose arrival in Calgary via trade with Arizona last year coincided with a 10-game winning streak by the Flames, is still a possibility, but he is a UFA next Saturday. The Flames opened up almost $12 million in salary space at season’s end with Dennis Wideman ($5.25 million), Deryk Engelland ($2.9 million) and Ladislav Smid ($3.5 million) all coming off the books.

And while restricted free agents Sam Bennett and Micheal Ferland are in line for significant raises this summer, the Flames have the cap space to sign a significant defenceman or two. They’d prefer to do it via trade as opposed to free agency next week when the list of top blue liners Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dmitri Kulikov, Michael Del Zotto and Brendan Smith isn’t overly enticing, especially when you consider how much they’ll be overpaid.

The Flames also have the 109th, 140th, 171st and 202nd picks, although it remains to be seen if any of them are used to land the experienced defenceman they came to Chicago to nab.

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