Will Flyers roll the dice and make a risky pick with their first-round draft choice Tuesday?
The Flyers should get a solid prospect at No. 23 Tuesday, but will they take a risk by drafting a player who suffered an injury last season but has ultra-promising potential?
Since the Flyers' farm system has reasonable depth at each position, Brent Flahr was asked last week if that allows him to take a bigger swing at a high-risk first-round prospect with a big upside.
Flahr, the assistant general manager who is in charge of the team’s draft, said the Flyers take "all the little things into account when we’re making our lists. There are certainly players that are more risky when taking them. Some maybe have skating issues or character issues or whatever.
“When we do our lists, when we put it in order, we take all those things into account when we get going,” he added. “Obviously if there’s tremendous upside of a player and we feel confident that we can help this player to get where he needs to be, then we will draft him. [If] the concerns are so significant that our scouts and staff don’t feel comfortable with it, then we fold.”
Injuries are another factor that make a promising player risky, and when the Flyers select 23rd in the first round Tuesday, center Hendrix Lapierre and defenseman Justin Barron are among the players who fall into that group. Both may be available at No. 23. Both fall into a high-risk, high-reward category.
Lapierre, a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder with terrific playmaking skills, was once regarded as a top-10 prospect, but he has slipped because of a spinal injury caused by a concussion he suffered in February 2019. McKeen’s Hockey ranks him as the draft’s 20th-best prospect.
Will he slip all the way to the Flyers at 23? Probably not, but if he does, he would be an intriguing selection.
Ranked as high as No. 2 overall by TSN’s Craig Button before his injury, Lapierre was limited to 19 games in the QMJHL this season, collecting two goals and 17 points for Chicoutimi.
The Flyers took somewhat of a gamble when they selected center Nolan Patrick No. 2 overall in 2017 despite an injury-plagued past — he missed last season with a migraine disorder — so you wonder if they would take another risk on a high-profile player with medical problems.
Barron (6-2, 195), another player from the QMJHL, is a righthanded-shooting defenseman whose season was cut short by a blood clot. He had a minor surgical procedure on his shoulder recently, and his health problems will probably make him available when the Flyers make the 23rd pick.
The smooth-skating Barron had four goals, 19 points, and a minus-19 rating in 34 games last season for Halifax.
If he’s healthy, he could be a potential steal for some team. In Bob McKenzie’s preseason draft rankings, NHL scouts had him listed as the draft’s No. 2 defenseman (behind Jamie Drysdale) and the No. 10 player overall.
Flahr said the first round is strong.
“I think the 10, 11 names are pretty similar on most teams' list, probably different order, which should create some interest in the draft just how it falls," he said. "After that, I think there’s some depth through the first round. It’s going to be real interesting after a certain point to see where these players go and see who’s left when we’re picking at 23.”
Lots of video
In regard to prep for the draft, Flahr said that since most amateur leagues were shut down by the coronavirus, the year has been it has been a unique one for scouting.
“At the same time, we went all in. Our guys stayed busy, watching video,” he said. “We’ve met every week online, virtually. ... We’ve had some fresh views. We’ve done our research, seen what players have been doing, where they’re at physically.”
The fact that this year’s draft will be held virtually shouldn’t affect trade talks, general manager Chuck Fletcher said.
“I’m not sure the setup will make a big difference," he said. "Things have sort of changed. I remember in the ’90s, when I first started, there seemed to be more in-person communication, even more phone calls, than what there are now. It’s changed a little bit more. Guys are as likely to communicate by phone or even by text as they are by walking across the draft floor. I don’t think it will impact anything. Teams have been talking for a couple weeks. They will continue to talk.”
Usually when you go onto the draft floor, Fletcher said, “you have a pretty good idea about what may or may not be out there, what teams may want to move back or move up [in the draft]. Usually you do your homework in advance, and once the draft begins you generally have a good idea of what’s around. I don’t think it will impact it.”