A disappointing 2012-13 season for the Flyers has left an awkward situation in Philadelphia heading into the offseason. The struggles of the team seem to go hand-in-hand with the struggles of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Meanwhile, former Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky recently won a Vezina Trophy with the Columbus Blue Jackets, less than a year removed from being traded out of Philadelphia.
Heading into the 2013 draft, there is talk surrounding the Flyers about a number of players being removed from the team via amnesty buyout and trade. One of those players is forward Danny Briere, who was informed recently that he would be bought out of the remaining two years of his contract. The future also remains in doubt for Bryzgalov. It remains to be seen how the team decides to handle its draft weekend, but the roster will be likely shaken up in some way.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Scott Laughton, C
2. Erik Gustafsson, D
3. Nick Cousins, C
4. Shayne Gostisbehere, D
5. Anthony Stolarz, G
6. Tye McGinn, LW
7. Eric Wellwood, RW
8. Brandon Manning, D
9. Marcel Noebels, RW
10. Kyle Flanagan, C/W
Erik Gustafsson is finally on the cusp of realizing the potential he has shown over the past three years with the organization. He finished out the season spectacularly and logged big minutes in key situations. This was followed by an outstanding performance as the lead defenseman for Team Sweden as they took home gold at the 2013 World Championships. Because of this and Shayne Gostisbehere's steady development, there may not be as severe a need for defensemen as originally believed. If Brandon Manning rebounds, Marc-Andre Bourdon recovers from concussion issues, and Oliver Lauridsen continues to progress, the Flyers have some options on the back-end. Gustafsson and Gostisbehere in particular have potential to be solid NHL players. That does not however mean that they are going to be number one defensemen in the NHL. Though the organization traded for veteran Mark Streit in hopes he will sign as a stop-gap measure and failsafe for the aging Kimmo Timonen, there are no guarantees in this league. The Flyers will need a young two-way defenseman who can anchor the blue line for years to come.
With a number of incredibly talented skaters to choose from, this could be the first time since they drafted Luca Sbisa (ANA) that the Flyers decide to take a defenseman in the first round. The front office, however, exclusively goes for whatever player is highest on their board. Still, a rush of forwards is expected out of the top 10 picks this year, leaving the Flyers on just the fringe, and there they have the ability to pick up a big name blueliner in this year's class.
Though they lack elite prospects, the Flyers do have solid skater depth and several promising role players, many who already have NHL experience. Centers Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton are both coming off strong seasons in the OHL and appear capable of filling top-nine roles in the NHL in the near future. The system is also flush with utility players such as Eric Wellwood, Ben Holmstrom, and Kyle Flanagan. The Flyers have also done a good job at identifying and developing free agent talent.
Steve Mason is in Philadelphia, and the Flyers are going to give him a shot. Whatever this means for Bryzgalov, the Flyers still do not have great organizational goaltending depth. Anthony Stolarz has been great for the London Knights since leaving the NCAA, but he is hardly a proven commodity in the ever-chaotic world of goaltender development. It does not help that the Niko Hovinen gamble flailed away as quickly as it began, and the man they chose to leave behind in Europe, Joacim Eriksson, is headed to Vancouver. The team likely will not use a high selection on a goaltender, but Stolarz and AHL starter Cal Heeter do not make it a very competitive prospect line for the Orange and Black.
On the blue line, a number of prospects stand in limbo with only Gustafsson and Gostisbehere making positive waves. A chunk of defenseman showed up on the Flyers' draft card at the end of last year's draft, but it is very likely they could come early this year. It also would not hurt the Flyers to find some depth on the wing, despite having numerous and varied options floating around the pool.
The only thing the Flyers do not need, and this cannot be overstated, is another center.
The Flyers will always go with the best available player on their board in the first round. This has been proven time and time again. They have weaknesses, but the front office has never felt that they were in a spot of desperation enough to select a specific player because of position.
To make up for this, they often pick up organizational needs later in the draft. Their run on defensemen at the end of the 2012 draft is evidence of this fact. That said, putting all their hopes of acquiring an elite blueliner in the tail end of the draft is a big gamble. Though signing Gustafsson as a free-agent has paid off and Gostisbehere, drafted in the third, seems to be progressing perfectly, the Flyers cannot hope to rely on these kinds of results if they want that real number one defenseman.
The Flyers will enter the 2013 NHL Draft with the 11th, 41st, 72nd, 132nd, 162nd, and 192nd picks.
Rasmus Ristolainen, D, TPS (SM-Liiga)
Even though his slap-shot leaves something to be desired, Ristolainen is the perfect smooth-skating, two-way defenseman to bring up in the organization. If the Flyers can get him the opportunity to learn briefly from Timonen, the young Finnish defenseman could learn from a veteran blueliner who moves the puck and controls the flow of the game in a similar style at the highest level of competition.
Ristolainen also brings size to the table, something that Timonen has had to overcome throughout his career. The Flyers need a calming presence on the blue line to eventually replace their veteran number one. At this point in the draft, Ristolainen best fits that need.