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Flyers' rebuilding plan takes a shortcut

Thanks to incredible luck in the draft lottery, they are in line to pick a can’t-miss center: Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

The doom and gloom of the Flyers' season - they missed the playoffs for the second time in the last three years - has been replaced by hope and the belief that this franchise is about to turn the corner.

All because of the wackiest draft lottery in NHL history. Yes, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

The Flyers were not good this season. After a 19-10-3 start, they went 20-23-7 the rest of the way and became the first team in NHL history to miss the playoffs during a season in which they had a 10-game winning streak.

But they were lucky - very lucky - when they jumped from No. 13 to No. 2 in the draft lottery on April 29, and they figure to grab one of the two jewels from next month's draft: Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

Some have suggested that Ed Snider, rest his passionate soul, forced the issue by giving the hockey gods a piece of his mind for Leon Stickle's blown non-offside call in the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals, and for the 2007 draft drama in which the Flyers were denied a chance to select Patrick Kane.

Anyway, this is what I wrote in a February column, when I said it was time to break up the flawed Flyers: And those who say they'll at least get a quality first-round draft pick because of their messy season, think again. This is considered a weak draft class. After the top two players - center Nolan Patrick, who was Ivan Provorov's teammate in juniors, and Nico Hischier, a center called the Swiss Connor McDavid - there isn't much difference among the rest of the first-round talent, scouts say.

I added that unless the Flyers won the lottery (insert laugh track), they probably would get the same type of player as, say, the Pittsburgh Penguins or New York Rangers, teams that are picking late in the first round.

Ah, that was then.

My feeling at the time was that the Flyers had to deal one of their core players to get a young prospect who had the potential to be a franchise-changer.

Now, after overcoming odds that had them with a little over a 2 percent chance to climb to No. 1 or No. 2, the Flyers are primed to draft a player next month who could eventually be the team's centerpiece for more than a decade.

Again, it's sometimes better to be lucky than good.

Take the 2006-07 Chicago Blackhawks, for instance. They won the 2007 draft lottery - much to the dismay of the Flyers, who had the NHL's worst record that season - and selected a generational player, Kane, with the No. 1 overall pick. Chicago had an 8.1 percent chance to get the No. 1 selection; the Flyers finished with a franchise-worst 56 points and had a 25 percent chance to draft No. 1.

The Flyers got some justice from the hockey gods in this year's draft lottery, making the biggest jump in history.

Whether Patrick or Hischier falls to them at No. 2, it will greatly speed up the franchise's return to relevancy.

The Flyers' farm system has made great strides in recent years, but most of the top prospects are defensemen and goalies.

Their stroke of good fortune, then, was just what the offense-challenged franchise needed.

Patrick and Hischier are centers who could be NHL-ready this season. If not, one of them will certainly be here in 2018-19, when Valtteri Filppula's contract will have expired.

At that point, Patrick or Hischier would fit nicely as the second-line center and would probably be a year away from replacing Claude Giroux as the No. 1 center.

There's also a chance Patrick or Hischier could make the team out of training camp this season and perhaps shift to wing on one of the top three lines.

Many people are wondering which player would fit better on the Flyers. My answer - and this is the beauty of where the Flyers sit - is that it doesn't matter. The Flyers need exactly what both players bring.

The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Patrick models his game after Anze Kopitar, a terrific two-way player. In addition to having size, speed, and skill, Patrick has a quick, hard, and accurate shot, and is considered a better defensive player than Hischier.

Hischier is more exciting and dynamic and has been compared to a young Pavel Datsyuk, who happens to be his idol. Hischier (6-1, 176) is quick, shows amazing poise with the puck, and was arguably the best player at the World Junior Championship.

In other words, the Flyers cannot go wrong. Neither player is regarded as highly as McDavid or Auston Matthews, but both look like future stars. Whichever player slips to them - assuming the New Jersey Devils, who have the first overall pick, select one of the two can't-miss centers - will instantly become the Flyers' best young forward.

The doom and gloom of 2016-17 has disappeared. There hasn't been this much excitement around the Flyers since Eric Lindros came to town.

That doesn't mean you should start planning a Stanley Cup parade. The Flyers still have holes to fill, and their goalie situation is murky. General manager Ron Hextall is well aware of that.

But the overall team scope is much improved, and becoming a Stanley Cup contender in a couple of years is now realistic if the right pieces are added in trades or through free agency.

Happy days (read: challenging for a Cup) are almost here again. Watching the prospects develop will be a fun process. The 2017-18 team could include promising rookies like left winger Oskar Lindblom, defensemen Sam Morin and Robert Hagg, and center Mike Vecchione.

And maybe, just maybe, a gift from the hockey gods.

Somewhere, Ed Snider is smiling.