Philadelphia Flyers draft preview

By Bill Meltzer

Going into the 2001 NHL entry draft, the Flyers organizational depth chart is lacking in quality prospects at every position except goaltender. There are a handful of forwards and defensemen with NHL potential in the system (such as defenseman Bruno St. Jacques and forward Alexander Drozdetsky) but there is nobody developing into a “can’t-miss” type of prospect.

It has been widely speculated that the Flyers will select a defenseman with the 23rd overall pick this year, because the team’s single biggest positional need is on defense, especially with the core of their sometimes-shaky NHL blueline starting to age. Names such as Tim Gleason, Lukas Krajicek, Mark Popovic, Fedor Tyutin, and Igor Knyazev have been bandied about as potential selections.

The Flyers could only hope that they had anything near the system type of depth and up front that they have in goal. After all, a team only needs two goalies, but they need twelve forwards and six defensemen. Unfortunately, going into the 2001-2002 season, most of the Flyers call-up players will probably continue to be minor league veterans such as Mark Greig. There is a chance that perhaps someone like Tomas Divisek or Vaclav Pletka could take a step forward and challenge for a spot with the big team, but that is far from a certainty.

The Flyers 2000 draft class almost exclusively featured the selection of forwards. This year, positional preference will tip otherwise balanced scales toward defenseman. That presents a wonderful opportunity– and a daunting challenge. Defense may be the single hardest position to project, and Bob Clarke’s Flyers have been especially poor drafters of defensemen. They’ve done great with goalies and had sporadic success with forwards, but defense has been a black hole.

Too often during Bob Clarke’s second GM reign in Philadelphia, the Flyers have used early picks to take huge “project” blueliners with little or no offensive upside. Sadly, almost all of them turned out not only to lack offensive ability, they also did not possess the wheels, passing skills and/or the positional smarts to play the position as a pro. The team can ill-afford more picks like Shane Kenny, Kris Mallette, or Jeff Feniak (none of whom were signed). Current Trenton Titan Ian Forbes, a 1998 second rounder, is a longshot to ever play in the NHL. Only Jason Beckett (1998, 42nd overall) looks to have a potential NHL future, and even he has work to do with his puckhandling and skating.

If they are going to fail with a high-to-mid round defensive pick, it should be with a player with an all-around upside who just didn’t develop (1998 4th rounder J-P Morin, for example, or the just-traded Mikhail Chernov) than with someone who didn’t have much upside in the first place.

The only current Flyers defenseman who was drafted by the team was Chris Therien (a Russ Farwell 3rd round pick 1990). Ex-Flyers Janne Niinimaa, Dmitri Yushkevich, and Aris Brimanis were also Farwell picks. None of the defenseman drafted by Clarke in his second Flyers tenure have become a full-time starter for any NHL team, although the late Dmitri Tertyshny may well have done so and Clarke was the one who signed current Flyer Andy Delmore as a rookie free agent.

Unless Clarke can quickly reverse his drafting record with defenseman (of course, it’d also be of enormous help if current system players such as St. Jacques, Beckett, and free agent signees Jim Vandermeer and Joe DiPenta prove to pan out) the Flyers future on the blueline looks bleak indeed, especially as the premium on trading for solid defensemen or signing them as free agents gets higher and higher every year.