So whom should the Flyers select in Round 1 on Tuesday?
Well, it depends on which players are still available with the 23rd overall selection, of course, but from here the Flyers need a forward because their farm system is stronger on defense. Reinforcements are needed on the offensive side, so even if promising right-handed defenseman Justin Barron is available at 23, they should pass.
You have to love the potential of playmaking center Hendrix Lapierre. A neck injury last season has dropped his stock, but, unfortunately, he probably won’t be on the board when the Flyers make their first pick.
There are plenty of intriguing candidates who could be available, including 5-foot-11, 192-pound right winger Jacob Perreault, who had 39 goals in 57 games for Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League last season. Yes, he has some defensive holes in his game, but not many 18-year-olds are polished two-way players. He does have a great shot and he is the type of sniper the Flyers need in their system.
If he is available, he’d be a great choice. He has the bloodlines, too, as his father, Yanic, scored 247 career NHL goals.
Left winger Lukas Reichel would be another great choice. Playing against men in Germany, he had 12 goals in 42 games last season. He has a high hockey IQ and is a good skater with a terrific shot. Unlike Perreault, he has a better grasp of the defensive side. He, too, has NHL bloodlines. His uncle, Robert Reichel, had a pair of 40-goal seasons with Calgary.
Besides Lapierre, there are several centers who will interest the Flyers, including Dylan Holloway of the University of Wisconsin; Connor Zary, who had 38 goals in 57 Western Hockey League games; Brendan Brisson, the USHL’s rookie of the year; speedy Ridly Greig, whose father, Mark, is a Philadelphia scout; Anton Lundell, an elite Finland product who will probably be gone by the 23rd pick; and Mavrik Bourque, who put up 29 goals and 71 points in 49 QMJHL games last season.
Greig has a great combination of quickness and grit — think Travis Konecny — but the Flyers may bypass him (if he’s available) because Mark Greig thinks there may be too much pressure on him if he plays for his dad’s employer.
If all of the aforementioned players are available at No. 23 – and that is a long shot – Perreault is the player the Flyers should take. He fits all their needs and looks like a future top-line winger.
If Perreault is gone, here are the players I like, in order: Lapierre (he seems healthy now and has great upside), Reichel (besides his scoring, he is a relentless forechecker), and Zary, who has great hands and a wicked shot but needs to improve his skating.
The Flyers have had some good success drafting players 23rd overall or later since the franchise started in 1967-68.
Here are some of the productive players they have chosen between 23 and 40: Tom Bladon (No. 23, 1972); Jimmy Watson (No. 39, 1972); Pelle Lindbergh (No. 35, 1979); Scott Mellanby (No. 27, 1984); Mikael Renberg (No. 40, 1990); Janne Niinimaa (No. 36, 1993); Justin Williams (No. 28, 2000); Mike Richards (No. 24, 2003); and Travis Konecny (No. 24, 2015);
In addition, they have made some shrewd picks later in drafts, including Dave Schultz (No. 52, 1969), Don Saleski (No. 64, 1969), Paul Holmgren (No. 108, 1975); Pete Peeters (No. 135, 1977); Ron Hextall (No. 199, 1982); Dave Brown (No. 140, 1982); Rick Tocchet (No. 125, 1983); Pelle Eklund (No. 161, 1983); Chris Therien (No. 47, 1990); Vinny Prospal (No. 71, 1993); Patrick Sharp (No. 95, 2001); Dennis Seidenberg (No. 172, 2001); Patrick Maroon (No. 161, 2007); Shayne Gostisbehere (No. 78, 2012); Oskar Lindblom (No. 138, 2014); and Carter Hart (No. 48, 2016).
Yes, the draft – Tuesday’s first round will be followed by Rounds 2-7 on Wednesday – is a crapshoot. But pristine scouting, and a little luck, such as having a coveted player fall down to your team, is the best way to develop a Stanley Cup champion. For proof, look at this year’s Cup champs, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In this year’s Finals, the Bolts used 11 players they selected in the draft. The Lightning haven’t just done extremely well in the first rounds. They drafted future stars Nikita Kucherov (58th overall in 2011) and Brayden Point (79th in 2014), for instance, with later picks that played a major role in their championship.