The Flyers will have the No. 13 pick in this year’s NHL draft, as determined by the league’s lottery Wednesday night, an unsurprising outcome given that they had just a scant chance of coming away with the first-overall selection.
The pick will be the Flyers’ highest since 2017, when, like Wednesday, they were likely to get the 13th pick. But at that lottery, they moved to No. 2, where they drafted Nolan Patrick. This time, entering with a 1.8% chance of getting the No. 1 pick, they stayed where the odds said they would. Draft prognosticators and experts have suggested that forward Mason McTavish of the Swiss League, center Kent Johnson from the University of Michigan, and center Chaz Lucius of the University of Minnesota are among the players who could be available at No. 13.
“”It’s a high pick; it’s a deep draft,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Wednesday. “I think our scouts are confident there will be a wide range of good hockey players available.”
The Buffalo Sabres, who had the NHL’s worst record in 2020-21, won the lottery and will have the draft’s first pick. Defenseman Owen Power, one of Johnson’s teammates at Michigan, is likely to go first. The draft will be held Friday-Saturday, July 23-24, in Secaucus, N.J.
The lottery’s result Wednesday delivered a bit more clarity to what promises to be as intriguing and consequential an offseason for the Flyers in years. After coming within one victory of reaching the Eastern Conference Final during the pandemic-truncated 2019-20 season, they finished sixth in the revamped, eight-team East Division in 2020-21 and missed the playoffs for the fifth time in the last nine years.
With the Seattle Kraken, who will have the second-overall pick, joining the NHL next season, the league’s expansion draft on July 21 will likely lead to the departure of a key veteran from the Flyers’ roster – a development that would put more pressure on the Flyers’ young players to improve their play. During his end-of-the-season media availability, Fletcher noted that, with the exception of forward Joel Farabee, who is 21 and led the team in goals with 20, too many of those less-experienced players plateaued or regressed this season.
“That’s a big concern for me,” Fletcher said. “Since 2014, this franchise has put a lot of time and effort into drafting and developing young players. Frankly, for us to take a step forward, we’re going to need that group of players to take on a bigger role, play better, and help us win games. We’re going to have to look outside the organization, but certainly it’s difficult to replace the whole team. You’re going to need your young players to take a step and be better.”
The notion that the Flyers’ first-round draft choice would step in immediately to help, however, is a long shot at best. Over the Flyers’ last three drafts, Farabee – a first-round pick in 2018 – is the only player to have made any significant contributions so far. He’s also one of just two players in those three drafts to have suited up for the Flyers at all. Defenseman Cam York, the team’s first-round pick in 2019, is the other, and he appeared in three games late last season.
Other recent drafts have not yielded the dividends that the Flyers would have hoped, either. German Rubtsov, the 22nd-overall pick in 2016, has played just four games for the team because of various injuries. In the 2017 draft, the Flyers took Patrick at No. 2, then acquired two first-round picks from the St. Louis Blues, using one of those picks to select Morgan Frost at No. 27. But injuries have hampered both players, and Patrick, when in the lineup, has not been especially productive, collecting 30 goals and 70 points in 197 games.