Patience may be a virtue.
But when your professional ice hockey team hasn’t won a championship in 44 years, impatience is your cold reality.
And so it was among Flyers fans as the draft unfolded this weekend and they watched players they knew little or nothing about just a few weeks before — but had fallen in love with via pre-draft hype since — bypassed in favor of a U.S.-born defenseman who had been listed as high as five and as low as 20 amid various pre-draft rankings.
It’s not that people don’t like the possibility that defenseman Cam York, taken 14th overall by the Flyers after trading down, might someday live up to comparisons with former Rangers all-star Brian Leetch. It’s that they don’t see him bringing much relief to the current team that they have grown so impatient with, a team that despite perennial scrambling of peripheral players remains, at its core … lacking.
(You thought I was going to say rotten, didn’t you?)
That current team already has a glut of defensemen at or near the NHL level. But the idea, promoted by some fans, that the three defensemen new general manager Chuck Fletcher drafted over the weekend increased the possibility that a current D-man would be traded isn’t necessarily an accurate one.
As constructed organizationally right now, the Flyers are heavy with forwards nearing the top of their system – that is, close to being NHL ready. Nolan Patrick, Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe, Joel Farabee, Wade Allison — these are the draft-day stars of the previous three drafts, and all but Allison, who due to injury is returning for a fourth season at Western Michigan, are likely to be playing at least in Lehigh Valley this coming season.
Go back just a few more drafts and you find Travis Konecny (2015) and Oskar Lindblom (2014).
As for defensemen close to being ready – well, they’ve all played at least a game for the Flyers already. Ivan Provorov (7th, 2015), Travis Sanheim (17th, 2014), and Samuel Morin (11th, 2013) were all first-round picks, and Robert Hagge was chosen with their second-round pick of 2013.
“Not for this pick, but certainly we were hoping to land a defenseman or two during this draft to help replenish the defenseman prospect pool,” Fletcher told PhiladelphiaFlyers.com. “But when you’re picking that high, you have to make sure you’re picking the player with the most upside.”
Fletcher said moments before though that “as the draft moved on we still had three players that we rated very highly when the time came for us to pick.” That was an answer explaining the decision to trade the 11th pick with Arizona for the 14th and 45th picks, reclaiming the second-round pick they had surrendered to San Jose, which they later packaged in a trade that moved them to 34th, where they selected Bobby Brink, a goal-scoring forward who, like Cole Caufield, seemed to slip that deep due to his size (5-8).
Get all that?
The bottom line is that, while they would have selected a forward in the first round if their draft board led them that way, they actively operated so that York was that guy. And even then, they still had to pass on Caufield and two of the centers that some projections had them taking at 11. That Caufield, Alex Newhook, and Peyton Krebs went bang, bang, bang after the Flyers picked York 14th is further evidence that Fletcher’s first pick as the Flyers GM had at least an element of need mixed into their “best available player” mantra.
Will it come back to bite him? Time will tell. But his drafts in nine years with Minnesota were as notable for who he didn’t draft in particular spots than who he did. A 2016 Hockeywriters.com analysis cited Vladimir Tarasenko, Nick Bjugstad, Brandon Saad, and Nikita Kucherov on a laundry list of names Fletcher bypassed for what turned out to be lesser players.
York needs to be a star. Or at least Victor Soderstrom (11th), Matthew Boldy (12th), Caufield, Newhook, or Krebs better not end being qualitatively better.
The law of averages are not on his side for that.