We kicked off our look at the Flyers’ potential draft strategy earlier in the week by checking out the different groupings of prospects in this year’s NHL Draft. In that, we made the assumption that the Flyers will likely be picking outside the top 10. As of last night’s lottery, it seemed as though there was hope the Flyers could stick in the top 10, however. But alas, no such luck.
NHL Draft Lottery
With the NHL draft lottery taking place last night, the Flyers found themselves like many NHL teams: unlucky. While the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers ,and Chicago Blackhawks all bumped up (each picking in respected order, #1-3). The Flyers found themselves dropping an expected position. Based on standings, it looked like the Flyers would be picking 10th, better than we expected when I wrote the last article thanks to their late season downfall. However, because of the Blackhawks making a significant jump into the number three position, the Flyers dropped from picking 10th to 11th.
While one position may not seem significant, it is poor luck for the Flyers, as there is believed to be a drop in talent level outside the top 10. There is also potentially an increase in time as it pertains to the readiness of the players that are available. This means it might be 2-4 years before Flyers fans see any of these players in an NHL jersey .
So who might the Flyers look to draft at 11? Let’s look at a few factors and possibilities.
Factor 1 – The Chuck Fletcher Factor
Fletcher teams have historically not done well drafting outside of the first two rounds. A brief look at his almost 10 year history in Minnesota shows a penchant towards some success in the first two rounds, but little outside of that. Fletcher’s history has also shown a trend towards U.S. born players, as well as Swedish players, in the first round. Fletcher has also had a knack in the past for taking “safe” players in the first round. Picks such as Jonas Brodin (a “safe” top four defenseman), Luke Kunin (a safe two-way third/fourth line player), and Joel Eriksson-Ek (currently a safe two-way third/fourth line player) are all examples of this. If Fletcher holds to a current strategy of “safe” picks (guaranteed NHLers, but not necessarily having first-line, first pairing, or star potential), this may be the direction the Flyers go.
If the Flyers draft in light of the “Fletcher” factor, they will like take one of the following players:
D P. Broberg from Sweden
D Victor Soderstrom from Sweden
Both defensive prospects are considered to be “safe” draft options. Both are likely NHL players, but both are likely not first pairing defensemen. Broberg and Soderstrom are considered to be two-way defenders, but they have low ceilings. If Fletcher picks like he has in the past, he will likely look to draft one of these two defensemen.
Factor 2- The New NHL and Skill
A recent change over the past few seasons in the NHL is a change in lineup compilation. In previous years, NHL rosters were split categorically based upon skill and role on a team. Historically, the first two lines of a roster were expected to bring offense, and the bottom two were expected to play a more defensive role. This is no longer the case. While a team’s top two lines may score the most on a roster, it is expected that a team’s bottom two lines also contribute to generating shots.
A team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, has skilled forwards on all four lines and no real prototypical “checkers.” The Tampa Bay Lightning are constructed similarly, with players like Mathieu Joseph who play on their third and occasionally fourth line but still can generate shots and offense in limited minutes. This seems to be the direction the league is headed, and the teams with the most overall skill on all four lines are currently some of the most successful.
If the Flyers draft for skill, they may look at the following players:
W C. Caufield
W A. Kaliyev
C A. Newhook
The Flyers may take a long, hard look at Cole Caufield. This is because of the Alex Debrincat factor. Many hockey fans are familiar with Alex Debrincat, the young Chicago Blackhawks star. When he was drafted 2016, Debrincat was taken 39th overall. He has proven to be steal, especially considering he scored 41 goals this season in only his second season in the league at the age of 21. Debrincat dropped his draft year mostly because of his size. Even though he had scored 102 goals in his first two seasons in the OHL, scouts were concerned that Debrincat’s size would be an issue. Listed at only 5’7″, many scouts believed that Debrincat would not succeed at the NHL level.
However, because of the new fast, skilled NHL, Debrincat has thrived and shown that size (or lack of it) is irrelevant to production at the NHL level. For this reason, a player like Cole Caufield is now a first-round prospect, where in the past he might have fell. Similar to Debrincat, Caufield is a small skilled forward with goal scoring ability. Caufield has been breaking records for the U.S. Development program. He is a player with intriguing upside and may be the best player available when the Flyers pick at 11.
Similar to Caufield, winger Arthur Kaliyev is a goal scorer with potentially high upside. Some scouts dislike his work ethic, and others have concluded his skating needs work. However, similar to Debrincat as well, Kaliyev has found a way to score a combined total of 82 goals in his first two years in the OHL. He has a laser shot and knack for goal scoring. He might also be the closest to NHL ready of any prospect in this list.
If the Flyers want to go with a center, Alex Newhook is also an option. Newhook has high offensive numbers in the BCHL and looks to have significant upside. However, he is playing in the BCHL, meaning occasionally stats in this league can be somewhat inflated, and it can be hard to determine the true upside of a player. If the Flyers desire a center, Newhook could be their guy. However, the Flyers have depth at this position already, so Caufield and Kaliyev are likely their best skill options. Both these players have top line scoring potential if all goes right.
In conclusion, Flyers fans are unlikely to see any of this year’s draft picks in the NHL anytime soon. However, there is much to be excited about. The Flyers could get a solid top four two-way defensemen, or a top six scoring winger. Either way, the draft is worth following as the Flyers continue to stock up on prospects.