Brian Burke on drafting philosophy: 'We don't draft on skill, that's the second thing to us'

Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports

Acting Calgary Flames general manager and president of hockey operations Brian Burke addressed an audience in Lethbridge, Alberta this week for a "Business Working with the Community" presentation. 

During the speech the bombastic front office executive touched on his drafting philosophy at length, and said a number of eyebrow raising things. Like, for example, "We don't draft based on skill, that's the second thing to us. We think you have a better chance of succeeding if you bring in character people than if you don't."

Here's the full context of that quote:

We place great value and great pride on researching a player’s character work ethic, accountability, empathy and coachabilty.
We have a list of adjectives on the list and I think there are about 20 and I think ‘work ethic’ appears four times out of that 20. We try to research the kids, at least in the top-three rounds where we have the assets to do it, we make mistakes like everybody, but we try our best. We don’t draft based on skill, that’s the second thing to us. We think you have a better chance of succeeding if you bring in character people than if you don’t.

So that’s a priority for us. We do have a DND list, Do Not Draft. Some teams will evaluate a guy and say ‘He has NHL skills, but he’s a head case, so put him in the second round.’ To me, he’s still a head case in the second round, so we just take him off the list.

The easy joke here is to suggest that not drafting for skill likely resulted in Burke-run teams picking players like Nathan Smith, Mark Mitera and Tyler Biggs in the first round. 

Of course, an honest assessment of Burke's draft record would suggest that he's been relatively successful at the draft table as a general manager. Over his many years drafting hockey prospects, Burke has selected a handful of major NHL stars (Ryan Kesler, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Chris Pronger), in addition to useful players in later rounds (Matt Beleskey, Manny Legace, Kevin Bieksa).

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Brian Burke on drafting philosophy: 'We don't draft on skill, that's the second thing to us'
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