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Flyers hoping to score big in deep draft class

Director of scouting Chris Pryor says he's never seen prospects as 'dominant as this group.'

THE NHL DRAFT is 22 days away, but there is little intrigue as to how Round 1 will begin on June 26 in Sunrise, Fla. - not with two generational talents who have set themselves apart from the rest.

Connor McDavid will go No. 1 to Edmonton.

Jack Eichel will quickly follow at No. 2 to Buffalo.

After that? Anyone's guess.

But with a crop of talent that rivals the all-time deep draft class of 2003 - when the Flyers nabbed Jeff Carter at No. 11 and Mike Richards at No. 24 - the Flyers are in a solid position to pick at No. 7.

"I think as a group, this might be as good as that group back in 2003," Flyers director of scouting Chris Pryor said yesterday in a conference call from the draft combine in Buffalo. "You look at the top-10, I have never seen a group, just representation at the world junior [tournament], that's as dominant as this group this year. It does tell you about the caliber. It stems from the guys at the very top . . . when you've got guys of that caliber, sometimes the trickle-down effect tells you what kind of year it is, and it's lived up to expectations.

"We're happy. Obviously, we don't want to be picking this high every year, but if we had to, we're fortunate enough to have some nice options there, as will be our other picks. It's a good year to have the picks we have."

The official draft order has not been set, pending the Stanley Cup final, but the Flyers are slated to pick seven times in the first 99 slots: their own first-round pick (seven), Tampa Bay's first (29/30), Chicago's second (60/61), San Jose's third (70), Tampa Bay's third (90/91), their own fourth (98), and Columbus' fourth (99).

Five of those picks were acquired by Ron Hextall since taking over as general manager last May 7 - in trades for Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen, Tye McGinn and Scott Hartnell. Coburn and Timonen, of course, are facing each other for the Stanley Cup.

"When it's as deep as it is this year from the first round, it usually pushes a group of second-round players down a little further," Pryor said. "We're pretty excited to think there's going to be an area where we pick in the second round that there's going to be somebody there that normally might be a little bit higher in normal years. We're going to have a couple options in the second round."

Due to flight delays early in the week, Hextall did not attend this week's combine, which wraps up Saturday at Buffalo's HarborCenter. Fitness testing will be conducted tomorrow and Saturday, though Pryor admitted more emphasis is placed on individual interviews with prospects.

The Flyers' amateur scouts, also in Buffalo, diligently watched and tracked each player throughout the season. Unlike the NFL or maybe NBA, strength and agility tests do not translate as easily to the ice - and rarely offer a predictive glimpse.

Though this may be an historically deep class, with more players than ever likely ready to jump to the NHL this fall, Pryor said the Flyers are not placing any emphasis on a player being "NHL ready."

This class is top-heavy at forward, which seems to benefit the Flyers, who have more organizational holes up front than on defense.

It's just deciding on a forward after McDavid and Eichel may prove tedious. Lawson Crouse, Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Dylan Strome and Pavel Zacha are all neck and neck from No. 3 through 10 or 12.

That could open the door for a defenseman such as Noah Hanifin or Ivan Provorov to add to an already strong stable.

"From a needs standpoint, [a forward] would be obvious, but we've always had the philosophy of 'best player available' and Ron's been taking the same approach," Pryor said. "A conversation is going to arise if there are two players you deem comparable, pretty close, and we're going to have to make that call as a group at the table. But if there's a discrepancy between the two and there's a gap, you have to take the best player."