The 2008 Draft Class for the Philadelphia Flyers is an odd look at a success that could have been. It is not as if the organization should chalk the entire year as a front office failure, but it does boast a few cautionary tales of how doing everything seemingly correctly can still bring about disastrous consequences. A team can prepare for the worst but bad luck can find anyone at any time.
The draft started for the Flyers with a pair of 1st round picks and a 3rd floating in the Flyers' pocket. General Manager Paul Holmgren had traded forward R.J. Umberger and a 4th to Columbus for their 1st and 3rd round picks, the 1st having originally been acquired from Colorado. On the day of the draft, and with the Flyers desperately in need of puck-moving defensemen, Holmgren flipped his own 1st round pick (the 27th overall) to Washington for defenseman Steve Eminger and the Capital's 3rd round pick.
Eminger was a bust with the Flyers. The organization eventually had to dump him along with highly touted forward prospect Steve Downie on the Lightning for defenseman Matt Carle, who years later made his way back to Tampa via free agency anyway. Eminger also cost the Flyers an important 1st round pick in a year filled with strong, mobile defensemen. Washington used that pick on John Carlson, and he remains an integral piece of the Capitals' blue line.
When Luca Sbisa made the Flyers' opening roster in the 2008-09 season, he became one of the youngest players to ever suit up for the Orange and Black. With Eminger slowly showing the signs of a failed experiment, the organization desperately needed Sbisa to step up. He was fantastic in 39 games for the Flyers before he hit a slump and was loaned back to Lethbridge to finish out the 2008-09 season.
The future was bright for Sbisa, but he would not remain with the Flyers long. The young two-way defenseman was shipped out in the 2009 off-season for future Hall-of-Famer Chris Pronger along with Joffrey Lupul and two 1st round picks in the upcoming drafts.
At this very moment, Paul Holmgren may have defined his career as a GM. While Pronger helped the Flyers to a Stanley Cup appearance, and would still be a cornerstone member of the organization if not for career-ending concussion issues, the cost of opportunity lost by the Flyers over the course of a year from the 2008 Draft to the 2009 Draft is absolutely astonishing.
Even to this day, the Flyers continue to move quality assets to try and address their need for NHL caliber defensemen.
The other addition to the Flyers' 2008 draft rundown thanks to the Umberger trade was Columbus' 3rd round pick, which Holmgren used on another defensive selection. Marc-Andre Bourdon could hit hard and had a great shot, but there were serious concerns about his skating ability. He still had a few strong seasons as the captain of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and was once again named to the first QMJHL All-Stars team despite falling short of repeating as QMJHL defenseman of the year.
Bourdon had a decent first season in the AHL but struggled with injuries in his second season. A concussion set him back, and his skating was not developing well enough to keep pace with NHL play. In a surprising twist, the Flyers' blue line ended up having so many injuries in 2011-12 that Bourdon was forced into a role despite mediocre play and concussion history. It was then that he showed the organization and fanbase the very spark of NHL potential that they had been waiting to see all of this time. Another concussion pushed him out of the lineup once again, but he was not to be denied. He came back and was obviously fighting off concussion symptoms until he was set aside in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Many were hoping Bourdon could use the off-season to get a handle on his concussion problems and return to the Flyers lineup when the lockout was over. Unfortunately, issues sprung up again during the Phantoms' early season, and Bourdon has been out of action since December 2nd. His future remains uncertain at this point, but the Flyers are hopeful. He showed all the signs of developing into a useful defenseman with a hard shot, physical edge, and puck-moving abilities.
Jacob DeSerres, G, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) – 3rd round, 84th overall
NHL Games: 0
The other pick that the Flyers got in return for the Eminger trade was a 3rd round pick used to acquire goaltender Jacob DeSerres. He was desperately needed at the time in a prospect pool that boasted soon-to-be busts like Brad Phillips, Jakub Kovar, Michael Dupont, Jeremy Duchesne, Martin Houle, and Scott Munroe.
DeSerres was the highest goaltender taken by the Flyers since Maxime Ouellet, who was drafted 22nd overall in 1999. The Flyers have only drafted three moderately successful goaltenders since Ron Hextall in 1982 including Brian Boucher, 22nd overall in 1995, Antero Niittymaki, 168th overall in 1998, and Roman Cechmanek, 171st overall in 2000.
Despite some great years floating around the WHL, a QMJHL Championship, and even a Memorial Cup Championship, the DeSerres fell way short of breaking the Flyers' goaltending curse. He is now playing for the University of Calgary.
The only real spot that gives the Flyers' fanbase any hope from the 2008 draft class is actually a small but feisty fourth liner that adds far more in entertainment than the score card, unless of course you are counting the penalty minutes. Zac Rinaldo has become pound-for-pound, one of the hardest hitters in the NHL. He is not afraid of anything, even suspensions, as it turns out. The scariest thing about Rinaldo for other teams is that he is learning to control himself in a pest role where he can drag attention from the game. He is developing a talent for getting into opponents' heads, and when coupled with his reckless abandon style of play, Rinaldo is gaining a following among fans in Philadelphia.
While Sbisa plays for another organization, Bourdon languishes between concussions, and the Flyers' last pick, Joacim Eriksson, awaits his fate in Sweden, Rinaldo perseveres as the only bright spot of the Flyers' 2008 draft.
Joacim Eriksson, G, Brynas J20 (Swedish Jr.) – 7th round, 196th overall
NHL Games: 0
Long after DeSerres had flailed out of the Flyers' future plans, Joacim Eriksson was capturing the hearts and minds of a fanbase an ocean away. Eriksson continued to play well through two Swedish junior teams, into the Allsvenskan, and eventually into the Elitserien. He has now had five consistent years of success since being draft in 2008, and he is the only Flyers' goaltending prospect to do that since Niittymaki's development.
The Flyers remain tight-lipped about their decision to exclude Eriksson from the organization. The goaltending prospect Holmgren opted to sign instead, Niko Hovinen, was claimed by the Edmonton Oilers off of unconditional waivers as he attempted to return to Europe. Hovinen was unhappy with being demoted to the ECHL after poor play through the start of his North American career.
Meanwhile Eriksson continues to wait for an NHL future at which, if his production is any indication, he deserves a shot. Whether or not the Flyers look his direction in the upcoming years is another matter though.