Oskar Lindblom was 17 years old when the Flyers selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, when he was complete as neither a hockey player nor a human being. Ahead of that draft, International Scouting Services had him ranked as the seventh-best prospect in the world, but then a few more scouts watched Lindblom skate and decided that skating, which is fairly important for someone who plays hockey, wasn't one of his strengths. Suddenly, he wasn't so highly regarded anymore. From such consequential, and oft-premature, judgments come opportunities.
"It's hard," Lindblom was saying Tuesday morning at the Wells Fargo Center, hours before the Flyers' home opener, an embarrassing 8-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks. "There are so many players out there to draft, and I was a late-round pick. Now, I'm here.
"I don't know how often that happens, but I feel like when you're that young, it's hard to tell who's going to be good and who's not. I just kept believing in myself. Maybe I thought I was much better than I was, but I just continued to battle hard every day, and I thought I would be here one day. In the back of my mind, it was, 'I'll show them.' "
Lindblom, 22, had two goals in 23 games last season, his first with the Flyers. He scored their first goal this season, in their opening-night victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. And another low-round pick — 21-year-old rookie center Mikhail Vorobyev, the 104th selection in the 2015 draft — scored their seventh, in a loss in Denver to the Avalanche. It's too early to suggest that either Lindblom or Vorobyev is certain to develop into a star or even a mainstay in the lineup for several years, but it's not too early to recognize what it would mean to the Flyers if one or both of them did.
In taking so much time and demanding so much patience in his rebuilding of the franchise, general manager Ron Hextall did get a terrific break in 2017, when the Flyers came out of the draft lottery with the No. 2 pick, despite having just a 2.4 percent chance of moving up to that spot. It allowed them to acquire Nolan Patrick, and having the chance to draft a young player whom everyone considers an elite prospect is, of course, helpful. But among their forwards, the Flyers could also use an out-of-nowhere pick who develops into an indispensable and productive player, and their performance Tuesday night reaffirmed as much.
Such a player doesn't have to be Henrik Zetterberg (seventh round, 1999) or Pavel Datsyuk (fifth round, 1998), two Hall of Fame-bound centerpieces of the Detroit Red Wings' quarter-century of consistent excellence. He might be a top-six center or wing, such as the Penguins' Patric Hornqvist (seventh round, 2005), the Predators' Viktor Arvidsson (fourth round, 2014), or the Golden Knights' Eric Haula (seventh round, 2009). And while most of the NHL's best defensemen were first-or second-round selections, there are outliers, such as the Dallas Stars' John Klingberg (fifth round, 2010) and the Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (eighth round, 2003).
Peruse the Flyers' roster. Of their top eight returning scorers, seven were drafted in either the first or second round. The only player who wasn't is defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, whom the Flyers took in the third round of the 2012 draft. Again, this is not to suggest that Lindblom and Vorobyev, who have a combined 29 games of NHL experience between them, are bound to become major contributors, only that it would be nice for the Flyers if they did. More than nice, actually. For a team chasing a Stanley Cup in a salary-cap league, it's a terrific benefit to have young players who provide talent and depth and are low-cost, and who might yet grow into something more. For any team in a salary-cap league, it's a terrific benefit to have young players who provide talent and depth and are low-cost, and who might yet grow. Without them, there's little chance of the Flyers catching up to a team such as the Sharks, to a bona fide Stanley Cup contender.
"Those guys are really key, and that's a real credit to the scouting, the drafting, and the development that those players have come through," coach Dave Hakstol said. "Both of those guys are very capable for us."
They will have to be over the next five or six weeks, at least, as the Flyers wait for James van Riemsdyk to recover from the knee injury he suffered Saturday, though Hakstol doesn't want to ask too much too soon of either Lindblom or Vorobyev. "In terms of doing more," he said, "I think we have to be pretty careful there. We have to expect and demand that guys go out there and do their jobs, and I think if they're doing that, they'll give us opportunities offensively." Based on that debacle Tuesday night, the Flyers would welcome that, and a whole lot more.