There is not just a void in the city of Philadelphia; there is a black hole. It only took 48 hours for the present and future of Broad Street to be shifted so dramatically that it felt as if fate itself had been disrupted. On the other side of a draft weekend that confused and frustrated anyone associated with the Flyers is the slight glimmer of hope. Though there is a void, there is now something in the prospect pool that can fix the team still awaiting the return of the Stanley Cup since the days when the Bullies themselves called Broad Street home.
There is no question that Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were the anchor for the Flyers’ franchise. Richards, only a few years back, had been declared the next Bobby Clarke and was one of the strongest two-way forwards in the league while wearing the "C.". Carter was the statistical leader at even strength and former runner-up for the Rocket Richard Trophy. Together they were the backbone that was supposed to lead the Flyers back to the pinnacle of the National Hockey League.
During 2006-07 in which the Flyers finished in last place, it was Richards and Carter in the prospect pool that gave the Cup-starved city a future. Now it falls on the hands of two prospects who were acquired directly because of those trades; the two centers Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.
There will certainly be a lot pressure on these two to perform in Philadelphia. Schenn may be one if not the top prospect in the hockey world right now, but he is still a 19-year-old with less than 10 NHL games to his credit. Couturier, at 18, has yet to even test the professional waters let alone suit up for an NHL team.
Even so, the top NHL prospect and the center many at one point thought could go 1st overall in 2011 will need to demonstrate that they can at least contribute a sizable amount to the NHL in the upcoming years. Though complete replacements may not be necessary for the Flyers’ Cup hopes, the team’s young talent rising up to the challenge as the new leaders will be.
There was also another movement within the organization outside of just getting younger that was not only evident in the trades made the day before the draft but throughout the draft as well. At the end of last season, the Flyers’ forward core averaged just over 6’0. With the nine acquisitions in the draft weekend including six drafted skaters, 22-year-old Jakub Voracek, 22-year-old Wayne Simmonds, and top prospect Brayden Schenn, the Flyers acquired an average height of 6’2.
Sean Couturier, C – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
1st Round, 8th Overall
Height: 6’4, Weight: 197 lbs
One of the single best possible scenarios for the Philadelphia Flyers occurred on day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft when QMJHL superstar Sean Couturier fell to them at the 8th spot. Slated to go 1st or 2nd overall just a year ago, Couturier certainly has the talent to replace either Mike Richards or Jeff Carter in the Flyers’ lineup within a couple of seasons if not sooner.
Couturier held the highest point-per-game average in the entire draft notching 96 points in 58 games for a 1.66 average. It marked the second straight season where he hit 96 points having hit the number as a 17 year-old in 2009-10. That is not the start of Couturier’s offensive success though. As a 13 year-old, he was dominating 17 year-olds in the Midget AAA league offensively and two years later made his debut in the QMJHL as a 15 year-old with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. That same year his outstanding two-way play kept him in a complementary role that included stints on the wing and on the blue line for a 2008-09 Voltigeurs roster that came away with the QMJHL Championship. Couturier scored 31 points in 58 regular season games and another 8 points in 19 playoff games that year.
This season Couturier also got the opportunity to play for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships as the only 2011 eligible prospect to make the team. He notched two goals and an assist in seven games.
"My main goal is going to be to try to make a spot on the roster," Couturier said when asked about his plans for 2011-12, "to keep working hard during the summer, and improve myself and be ready for camp. Once I get there, I just want to show what I’ve got."
Couturier has established himself as not only an offensive force at the junior level but an elite defensive force as well; something that could get him a long look at the Flyers’ training camp having lost their shutdown center and former Selke runner-up Mike Richards. Coupled with the expectations placed on him by the fanbase and franchise, there are those that felt that Couturier may have been the safest pick of the early first round since he brings a complete and mature two-way game to the ice. While he may be fighting a losing battle when the organizational depth at center is considered, he possesses the potential to force the Flyers to keep him on the roster.
Despite the obvious pursuit of size, the Flyers still decided to bring the 5’10 center Nick Cousins into the lineup. His sandpaper game has a ton of appeal to the organization, but it may be his offensive upside that sold the team enough to take him with their second selection. He finished as a point-per-game forward in his second full season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, and that mark placed him second on his team in scoring behind Daniel Catenacci, who was taken nine picks later by the Buffalo Sabres.
"I think I bring some grit to my game," Cousins explained when asked how he would fit in with the Flyers’ organization, "I think I have a good offensive upside that not too many players have." He also believes that he has the playmaking abilities to compete at the NHL level down the road. In that regard, his 39 assists in 2010-11 are certainly nothing to ignore, but his team leading 29 goals may speak just as loudly.
Cousins brings a very balanced and sometimes edgy game that any team can use, and was recognized by Team Canada by taking part in the 2010 IIHF U18 World Championships. Though Canada failed to medal in the tournament for the third straight year, he tied Mark Scheifele, who was taken seventh overall by the Winnipeg Jets just one selection before the Flyers selected Couturier, for the title of highest scoring forward on Team Canada’s roster with eight points in seven games. Once again, it was balance that allowed Cousins to compete at such a high level as he walked away from the tournament with four goals and four assists.
This is the kind of versatility Cousins will need to display in order to pursue an NHL career. Next to a cast of much bigger skaters chosen by the Flyers in 2011, he may stand out in more ways than one.
With Brayden Schenn joining a prospect group including Eric Wellwood and Brendan Ranford to complement a young core of forwards already competing at the NHL level, many projected the Flyers to attack the blue line on draft day possibly as early as the first round. Instead General Manager Paul Holmgren waited until the fourth round to take the first and only defensive acquisition he would make on draft weekend.
Colin Suellentrop originally of Plantation, Florida brings a welcomed right-handed shot to the Flyers’ prospect pool as well as size and an overall enjoyment of the more physical intricacies of hockey. The organization hopes that his edgy defensive game will eventually allow him to make life miserable for opposing forwards that otherwise would freely enter their zone. He possesses the tools to make this transition possible, and though he is not an elite skater, he can hold his own.
In just a year there has been a drastic change in Suellentrop that brought him to the fourth round of the NHL Entry Draft. As an OHL rookie in 2009-10, he walked away with a team worst minus-37 rating. The team itself struggled that year, and his only offensive additions to the team came in the form of a goal and five assists.
Things changed completely for the Oshawa Generals and Suellentrop in 2010-11 though as he finished at the top among defensemen in plus/minus with a plus-21 rating. His six points the prior year turned quickly into fourteen. He was developing into the shut-down defensemen that the Generals hoped they would see.
Though Suellentrop may not possess the offense or the puck-handling skill to make into the NHL in a all-around role, his unique abilities offer the organization something to build on. He will continue his development with the Generals for now.
Just two selections after Suellentrop, the Flyers opted to go with yet another forward, this time in the form of German-born Marcel Noebels, a winger for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. Before the draft Noebels felt as if Philadelphia and Vancouver were the two organizations most interested in him, and the Flyers feel like they found a gem with the 118th overall pick.
Noebels scored 28 goals last season on a team that scored the fourth fewest goals in the league. He only picked up 26 assists, but scouts believe that his playmaking abilities would show up on his stat line had there been more talent surrounding him in Seattle. The 54 points he netted in 66 games may not quite push the point-per-game mark, but the now 19-year-old Noebels has his first taste of the North American game. He joined the Thunderbirds with the hope of one day making it to the NHL. On draft weekend he came one step closer.
Noebels already has professional experience having played 13 games for the Krefeld Pinguine of the DEL in 2009-10 notching a goal and two assists during that span. Now he has the opportunity to return. The Krefeld Pinguine, Noebel’s hometown team, have submitted a contract offer, one which he will discuss with the Flyers’ organization. The DEL offers a professional experience and a higher level of competitiveness as opposed to the WHL, but there are other downfalls. The larger rinks trend away from the type of game that Noebels excels at. THe game is also not as quick or physical, and this is a critical time for his development into the physical, offensive winger that the Flyers are looking for.
Petr Placek, RW – Hotchkiss School (USHS)
6th Round, 176th Overall
Height: 6’4, Weight: 210 lbs
In keeping with the draft theme of size, the Flyers selected Petr Placek in the sixth round out of Hotchkiss School in Connecticut. He is the largest of the Flyers’ selections in 2011 and is only matched in height by 1st round pick Sean Couturier. Within the pool, only defenseman Oliver Lauridsen and possibly Tom Sestito trump Placek.
It is also a rarity to see Czech-born players compete among the highschool ranks instead of venturing to Canadian Juniors or staying within the Extraliga. Injury has further promoted the mystery that is Petr Placek. In 2009-10, he scored 32 points off of 16 goals and 16 assists in 24 games. Last year he managed only 17 points in 16 games.
There are some things that are not a mystery though. Placek comes with a ton of size, a ton of intelligence, and a ton of work ethic. For fall 2011 he will be taking all of those things to the University of Havard’s ice hockey program where he immediately becomes for the Flyers’ organization what he should be: a long term project. A lot of Placek’s potential is untapped, and while he held a very high midterm ranking among North American skaters before the injury, there are a lot of question marks surrounding him.
NCAA projects, those drafted by the Flyers and those signed as free-agents, have been working out well for the Flyers recently. Oliver Laurdisen is among those drafted by the organization, and like Placek, he brought a ton of size, work ethic, and hockey IQ to the college ranks without much in terms of expectations. The Flyers signed Lauridsen at the end of last season, earlier than many expected. Placek would hope that in a couple of years that it is his turn to sign an NHL contract, but he will need to show that there is some skill to his game outside of just raw potential.
At 15, Placek researched Hotchkiss School from the Czech Republic and asked to attend since he felt it was the best location to further himself both on the ice and in the classroom. If he had not shown such maturity at an early age, he may have stayed in the Czech junior system and may have even been drafted higher. To him that does not appear to be a significant concern. The only thing that lies before him is Harvard, and he will take things one step at a time.
Derek Mathers, RW – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
7th Round, 206th Overall
Height: 6’3, Weight: 226 lbs
There are quite a few things that come to mind when discussing Derek Mathers. None of those things equate to goal-scoring, but Mathers has a unique set of abilities all his own. It is also entirely possible that the Flyers looked at their 206th overall selection in the 2011 draft and decided to take the biggest, most menacing player left on the board. It would certainly fit the offseason theme, and "menacing" certainly describes the 6’3 enforcer for the Peterborough Petes.
Mathers scored a goal and notched four assists through 55 games in 2010-11 with 171 penalty minutes to show for his efforts. He is not interested in dazzling crowds but instead focuses protecting his teammates. Though he describes himself as a Milan Lucic type player, his skating and offensive abilities leave a lot to be desired. Then again, Lucic did not break 25 points until after he was drafted by the Bruins in the 5th round in 2006. The Flyers hope for the same kind of return-on-investment where Mathers is concerned.
For now, Mathers will have to work on every aspect of hockey, particularly skating. If he cannot manage to keep up with the speed at the NHL level, he will have a hard time finding a position in the lineup. To his credit, he has become an extremely smart and tactical fighter who knows when, where, and how to fight his battles. He will be returning to the Petes for the 2011-12 season.