BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Calgary Flames solved two big needs on the first day of the NHL draft weekend.
Not only did the Flames land a potential top line winger with the No. 6 overall pick in Matthew Tkachuk, but Calgary also got the No. 1 goaltender they were desperately seeking this off-season, acquiring Brian Elliott in a trade with the St. Louis Blues.
It was a hit on two fronts for Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who suggested before the draft that he’d like to keep the top pick and land a goalie.
Calgary sent the 35th overall pick in this year’s draft and a conditional third round selection in 2018 to pry Elliott from the Blues.
“It’s a good day,” said Treliving after the first round late Friday night.
Tkachuk represented hope for the future and perhaps the present. The 18-year-old son of long-time NHL winger Keith Tkachuk is coming off a Memorial Cup win with the London Knights, where he posted 20 goals and 20 assists in only 18 Ontario Hockey League playoff games.
He scored two goals, including the overtime winner, in the Memorial Cup championship game.
Treliving said the allure of Tkachuk’s “brains and competitiveness” made him their obvious choice.
“To me, he plays in the guts of the game,” Treliving said. “He’s got an innate ability around the net and the places that you have to go to score goals in this league, he goes there and he is an absolute pain in the rear-end to play against so we’re excited to have him.”
Proof of those “guts”, Treliving said, was evident in Tkachuk’s willingness to play through a badly sprained ankle and shoulder injury during London’s playoff run.
Tkachuk was particularly enthused to land in Calgary, describing the Flames as his desired location after the draft combine interview. He was impressed by Treliving and the management ranks he came upon in that process and says he heard glowing reviews about the organization from family and his agent.
“A couple picks in I knew that this was going to be the team,” Tkachuk said. “And I had them circled since I talked to them at the combine and visited them after the combine.
“This is the place I wanted to be and the place I’m going to have the best shot.”
Tkachuk, a St. Louis area native and product of a blossoming minor hockey league program, said he had close to 100 friends and family at First Niagara Center, all of whom were excited to see him land in his desired location.
Calgary was seeking more high-end offensive talent to pair with rising stars Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and Tkachuk fits that bill. The U.S. National Development Program product finished fifth in OHL scoring during the regular season, posting 30 goals and 107 points in 57 games.
“I hope to make the team sooner than later and help the team win,” Tkachuk said, telling Treliving as much during a recent conversation.
Treliving said the answer to that question would have to wait, though the Flames have demonstrated a willingness to use teenagers at the NHL level, including Monahan and Sam Bennett, the fourth overall pick in 2014.
Calgary entered the draft with 10 picks, including three in the second round – one of which was dealt to the Blues for Elliott.
“We really like Brian,” Treliving said. “He’d been on our radar for quite some time.”
Elliott should, at the very least, stabilize the club’s goaltending, a weak point in missing the playoffs last season. The Newmarket, Ont., native had an impressive .930 save percentage for St. Louis this year, splitting the net with an emerging Jake Allen.
The 31-year-old Elliott held the crease for much of the post-season, helping his team to the Western Conference final.
Elliott has the second-best save percentage (.925) of any goaltender since he joined the Blues in 2011, topped only by the Devils’ Cory Schneider.
The Flames were enthused by that ability as well as a character and work ethic that drew rave reviews from former teammates. Elliott comes at a reasonable cost, with only a year remaining on a three-year contract which carries a $2.5 million U.S. cap hit.
“I felt when you look at the combination of the player, the person, the acquisition cost, the contract, we thought it was a smart move for us,” Treliving said.