When the first round of the NHL draft is held Friday night at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, there probably won’t be a “USA … USA … USA” chant.
But it would certainly be appropriate.
Seven or eight players from the United States National Team Development Program are expected to be taken in the opening round, including Jack Hughes, the dynamic center favored to be chosen No. 1 overall by the New Jersey Devils.
“It’s a pretty unique draft class from this group,” said Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr, who will head the organization’s draft contingent in Vancouver. “I think it’s cyclical, but it also tells you that program is really producing players. They’ve come together and had a lot of success this year, a lot of blowout wins.
"The other unique thing is where these kids are coming from. You have kids coming from California now, and in the last couple years, you’ve got kids from Arizona and all these places, which should be exciting for U.S.A. hockey.”
The Flyers select No. 11 overall, and they would love a chance to choose one of the three U.S. centers. It is highly unlikely, however, that Hughes, Alex Turcotte, or Trevor Zegras will be available at that pick.
Finnish right winger Kaapo Kakko, who has been compared to Colorado’s high-scoring Mikko Rantanen, is expected to go No. 2 to the New York Rangers.
Turcotte, who grew up in Illinois, is projected as the next member of the USNTDP to be chosen. The Chicago Blackhawks, who have the No. 3 overall pick, will probably select Turcotte or British Columbia native Bowen Byram, the draft’s top defenseman.
USNTDP players who could go in the first round besides Hughes, Turcotte, and Zegras: left winger Matthew Boldy, right winger Cole Caufield, goalie Spencer Knight, and defensemen Cam York and Alex Vlasic, who is the cousin of San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
The U.S. U-18 team has never had more than three first-round selections. That record is expected to be thrashed, probably in the first 10 picks. Maybe even sooner.
Based on the probability of where they will be selected, Caufield and Boldy might be available for the Flyers. The 5-foot-7, 163-pound Caufield, arguably the best pure scorer in the draft, is more of a long shot to slip to No. 11.
Flahr, who used to head Minnesota’s scouting department before joining his former Wild boss, general manager Chuck Fletcher, with the Flyers, is enamored with both players.
Flahr said that Caufield “has a lot of intangibles that should allow him to play as a small player,” and that Boldy “played maybe a little bit less of a role because of the depth of that team, but he’s a talented guy who we certainly like and other teams do as well.”
There is also a chance the Flyers will trade their No. 1 pick to get a proven winger, though that now seems highly unlikely because that would leave the organization without a selection until the third round. The Flyers dealt their second-round pick (No. 41 overall), which is expected to be a quality player in this deep draft, as part of Tuesday’s trade for 32-year-old San Jose defenseman Justin Braun.