Flyers 2005 draft preview

By Al Alven

Flyers Top 10 Prospects

1. Jeff Carter, C
2. Mike Richards, C
3. R.J. Umberger, C
4. Patrick Sharp, C
5. Dennis Seidenberg, D
6. Stefan Ruzicka, RW
7. Alexandre Picard, D
8. Rejean Beauchemin, G
9. Ben Eager, LW
10. Martin Houle, G

All things considered, the Philadelphia Flyers were quite pleased with
their drawing of the 20th overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft
lottery.

The team would have preferred to end up in a better
position to select or trade up to obtain local product Bobby
Ryan, but general manager Bob Clarke and company still managed to move up
eight slots from their 2004 draft position.

Ryan, the Cherry Hill, New Jersey native who grew up a
Flyers fan and maintains close personal ties to Clarke, is
expected to be a top five pick. Both player and team have
affirmed their mutual interest on numerous occasions, but it
is unknown at this point just how hard Clarke will push to
obtain the Owen Sound (OHL) forward’s rights.

The price may be too steep, but the mere possibility of a
major move by the Flyers serves as one of the more
intriguing subplots heading into Saturday’s entry draft in Ottawa.

Regardless of what moves the team does or doesn’t make on Ryan, the
Flyers will be in position to add yet another quality prospect to a farm system that, by all accounts, is in the best shape it has been in for a long, long time.

Team Needs

The team’s 2005-06 roster will include 2003 first round draft
picks Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, forward Patrick Sharp,
defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Dennis Seidenberg, and
goaltender Antero Niittymaki, all of whom played key roles
in helping the Philadelphia Phantoms capture the AHL’s
Calder Cup championship last month.

They will join a veteran core that is expected to help the
Flyers not only remain competitive in the post-lockout NHL,
but evolve into an immediate Stanley Cup favorite.

On paper, the team looks solid at every position and will
boast a balanced mixture of youth and experienced talent. As
is the case with any unproven entity, however, many
questions and uncertainties surround the team’s ultimate
chances for success.

For instance, to just what degree of effectiveness will
Carter and Richards contribute to the team in their rookie
seasons? Will Pitkanen’s dominance during the Phantoms’
postseason run pay dividends upon his return to the NHL? Can
Niittymaki, the MVP of the AHL playoffs, team with incumbent
starter Robert Esche to form a formidable goaltending tandem
for the Flyers?

No guarantees means that it is difficult to pinpoint the
specific areas in which the team’s “needs” are most glaring.
The squad is set at the forward and goaltending positions,
and Clarke has stated that he will not hesitate to fill any
vacancies on the blueline via free agency.

Thus, come training camp, the main focus of head coach Ken
Hitchcock’s attention will be the establishment of total
team chemistry. Obviously, for better or worse, several
highly-regarded prospects will play a key role in
determining just how far the Flyers go next season. They
will be counted upon to perform in regular roles when the
puck drops on October 5th.

Organizational Strengths

As was evidenced by the Phantoms’ performance this past
spring alone, the Flyers currently boast a farm system that
is loaded with high-end forward prospects. Carter and
Richards head an impressive list that also includes centers Sharp and R.J. Umberger, perhaps the AHL team’s top all-around performer this season, and left winger
Ben Eager.

Stefan Ruzicka, who has posted big numbers for Owen Sound in
the OHL over the past two seasons, is expected to be signed very soon, and will likely join the Phantoms next season.

The Flyers do not have any other “standout” prospects at the
major junior or collegiate levels to speak of, but there is
plenty of collective character and appears to be a number of
potential NHL role players in the ranks.

In particular, keep an eye on Freddy Cabana (Halifax
Mooseheads, QMJHL), David Laliberte (P.E.I. Rocket, QMJHL),
Gino Pisellini (Plymouth Whalers, OHL), Ladislav Scurko
(Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL), Ryan Potulny (Minnesota, NCAA)
and Rob Bellamy (Maine, NCAA) next season.

The Flyers used the last two drafts, essentially, to restock their system with quality forward talent. The team may use a couple of its upcoming picks on centers of
wingers who rank highly on individual scouts’ personal
lists, but expect to see more of an overall focus on other
positions this time around.

Speaking of which, goaltending depth is another apparent
strength of the organization. However, it is also a position
with many question marks. Niittymaki, of course, will join
the Flyers this fall. But that promotion, coupled with
veteran Neil Little’s decision to continue his career in
Finland, will mean a completely fresh goaltending pairing
for the Phantoms.

Rejean Beauchemin, who starred for the Prince Albert Raiders
(WHL) over the past two seasons, has the inside track to be
named the team’s starter, but still has to be signed. He
will likely be joined by one of four netminders — QMJHLers
Martin Houle (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles) and David
Tremblay (Gatineau Olympiques) and NCAA graduates Bernd
Bruckler (Wisconsin) and Dov Grumet-Morris — all of whom
also have yet to ink their first pro contract.

With the exception of Houle, a 2004 draftee, the Flyers will
lose the rights to each of the aforementioned goaltenders if
they are not signed by this week. Even with the option of
assigning one or two of them to the Trenton Titans, the
team’s ECHL affiliate, it is unlikely that the organization
will be able to retain them all.

The Flyers’ only other netminding prospect is 20-year-old
Ville Hostikka, a rather obscure talent who has toiled in
the Finnish junior ranks since being drafted with the team’s
final selection in 2003. Thus, expect the organization to
use at least one of its seven picks on Saturday to replenish
the goaltending depth of its farm system as needed.

Organizational Weaknesses

A few years ago, defensive depth was considered to be the
unquestioned strength of the Flyers organization.

With Pitkanen and 2001 first round draft pick Jeff Woywitka
(who has since been traded) serving as the acknowledged
cornerstones of the team’s efforts to restructure its system
from the blueline out, the Flyers began to turn their
attention to replenishing their forward and goaltending
stocks.

Now that that task has been accomplished, the focus is about
to return to defenseman. It is the nature of this circular
business that when a team successfully develops and promotes
young players, additional organizational voids are created
and must, in turn, be filled in.

Pitkanen and Seidenberg are set to return to the Flyers this
fall. Randy Jones and Freddy Meyer, both of whom have been
major contributors on the Phantoms’ blueline over the past
two years, are likely to see time with the NHL team in 2005-
06 as well.

This will leave 20-year-old Alexandre Picard as the de facto
top defensive prospect in the Flyers’ system. Picard, who
carved out a solid QMJHL career with Cape Breton and
Halifax, made a high-pressure pro debut with the Phantoms
during the Calder Cup Finals, more than holding his own in
two games as an injury fill-in. His full-time addition to
the team will be made official shortly.

The aforementioned promotions will also create plenty of
opportunities for young rearguards like rookie Charlie Cook
and second-year pros David Printz, Rosario Ruggeri and
Stephen Wood to play regularly and make their marks with the
Phantoms next season.

Beyond the pro ranks, the Flyers are excited about the
development of incoming collegiate freshmen R.J. Anderson
(University of Minnesota) and Chris Zarb (Ferris State
University), and sophomore Travis Gawryletz (University of
Minnesota-Duluth), all 2004 draftees.

Each of those players are a few years away from turning pro,
but they represent the beginning of the next wave of young
defensemen to be developed by the organization. Expect that
trend to continue with the selection of at least two or
three more defensemen this Saturday.

Many observers point to a lack of offensive wing depth as
another weakness for the Flyers, but the team has proven
successful in the past at converting amateur centers into
effective wingers at the professional level. The most notable example of this is Simon Gagne, a player who earned near-legendary status while piling up points as a
centerman for the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL. The Flyers
were loaded with veteran pivots when Gagne joined the team
in 1998-99, so the talented young forward was converted to
left wing.

After an initial adjustment period, he grew into and
excelled at his new position. The Flyers feel that, if
roster allotment dictates such, Carter, Richards, Sharp and
Umberger, all natural centers, can be switched to their
respective wing positions with no loss of effectiveness or
potential on their parts.

If nothing else, training centers to play an additional
forward position (and vice versa for incoming wingers) can
only benefit the organization, especially when injuries
arise, or for the purposes of general line juggling. The more options a team has in this regard, the better.

Draft Tendencies

The Flyers tend to follow a fairly straightforward drafting
system, employing the best player available approach in
the early rounds, then focusing more on particular positions
and organizational areas of need in later rounds.

Generally, the drafting committee adheres to a themed game
plan. For instance, in both 2003 and 2004, the Flyers used
seven of their 11 picks on forwards. In 2001 and 2002
combined, nine of the 16 players taken were defensemen.

Three times in the mid-late 90s, the organization used its
first pick on a goaltender (Brian Boucher in 1995, Jean-Marc
Pelletier in 1997, and Maxime Ouellet in 1999). Since then,
the Flyers have drafted eight netminders, each no earlier
than the fifth round. The team used just one of its 11 picks
last year on a goalie, taking Martin Houle in the eight
round (232nd overall).

When it comes down to making individual selections, the
Flyers put tremendous stock in adding character players to
the organization. This was the determining factor in the
team’s decision to draft Jeff Carter (11th overall) over
several more highly-touted prospects in 2003. The team’s
first pick last year, third-rounder Rob Bellamy (92nd
overall), is another example of this strategy.

The Flyers have also seemingly gotten over their reputation
as a team that prefers to draft predominantly North American
talent. If there ever was a European bias, one quick scan of
the team’s current NHL roster, recent draft picks and
organizational depth chart will reveal that it no longer
exists.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection
(Hockey’s Future mock draft result):
Matt Lashoff, D,
Kitchener Rangers, OHL

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.