After replenishing their farm system with a total of six defensemen over the last two NHL drafts, the Flyers are expected to select a forward with their No. 1 pick — 23rd overall — next Tuesday.
That is if they keep the selection.
General manager Chuck Fletcher expects the Flyers to make the pick, but he did not rule out dealing it.
“Obviously, you will consider moving anything if the trade makes sense,” he said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “But it’s a pretty good first round and we should have the ability to draft a pretty talented player with that pick.”
Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Jack Eichel are among the marquee forwards who could be on the trade block. The Flyers would have to give more than their top-round pick to acquire one of them, but it would be a start.
Fletcher said he was “going in with the mindset that we’re using the pick, but obviously when you talk to teams, if there’s something we can do to make our team better, we’ll look at that.”
This year’s virtual draft will be held next Tuesday (first round, starting at 7 p.m.) and Wednesday (Rounds 2-7, starting at 11:30 a.m.). The draft, originally scheduled to be held in Montreal, was postponed in June because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Flyers have seven picks, including two in the seventh round because of a trade with Montreal. They do not have a third-rounder, having dealt it last June (along with a second-rounder in 2019) to San Jose for Justin Braun.
The New York Rangers won the draft lottery, and it will be shocking if they don’t select Alexis Lafreniere, a left winger with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, with the No. 1 overall pick.
Brent Flahr, the Flyers' assistant general manager and the man who heads the team’s draft board, called the first round strong and said it had good depth. “Lots of different types of players,” he said on Tuesday.
With the pandemic causing havoc with amateur and college seasons, and the IIHF Under-18 World Championships canceled, preparation for the draft has been unique. Scouts weren’t able to watch as many games, making video more important than usual in their evaluations. In addition, the scouting combine was canceled and teams couldn’t rate prospects in several physical-fitness areas.
“All the teams are in the same position, so that’s just the reality of it,” said Flahr, who has been meeting online regularly with his scouts to share player evaluations and discuss drafting strategies. “We did our list back in June in preparation for a potential June draft. Since then, certain leagues have started up again. We’ve had some fresh views. We’ve done our research, seen what players have been doing, where they’re at physically.”
The Flyers took three defensemen in their first four picks in 2019, including Cam York in the opening round (14th overall).
Some of the highly-rated players who could be available when the Flyers make the No. 23 overall pick: Right wingers Jacob Perreault (5-11, 192), Sarnia (OHL), and Noel Gunler (6-2, 175), Lulea (Sweden); centers Hendrix Lapierre (5-11, 180), Chicoutimi (QMJHL); Dylan Holloway (6-0, 205), Wisconsin (NCAA); Connor Zary (6-0, 178), Kamloops (WHL); Brendan Brisson (5-11, 180), Chicago (USHL); Ridly Greig (5-11, 165), Brandon (WHL); left wingers Jake Neighbours (5-11, 195), Edmonton (WHL), and Lukas Reichel (6-0, 170), Berlin (Germany); and defensemen Justin Barron (6-2, 195), Halifax (QMJHL), and William Wallinder (6-4, 190), MoDo (Sweden).
Greig’s father, Mark, is a longtime Flyers scout who once played for the team. Mark would prefer the Flyers not select his son because of the pressure he would face. Fletcher, however, said the Flyers will take the best player available — even if it is Greig.
“Based on our preliminary thoughts, we think there’s going to be somebody [who falls] to us that we like,” Fletcher said. “There may be several players that fall to us that we like, in which case we can entertain moving back” in the draft with a trade.
Fletcher said he was more likely to move back in the draft than up. He and Flahr said they would take the best player available in Round 1 regardless of their position.
Ray Whitney has the most goals (385) and points (1,064) among players drafted No. 23 overall in NHL history. He had a 22-year career. … The Flyers drafted defenseman Tom Bladon 23rd overall in 1972 (second round) and he was a key member of the Stanley Cup championship teams in 1974 and 1975. Bladon reached double figures in goals in five of his six seasons with the Flyers. … Todd Bertuzzi (314 career goals) and Ryan Kesler (258) were also drafted 23rd overall. … Among notable recent draft picks at No. 23: Vancouver’s high-scoring Brock Boeser in 2015.