Flyers 2000 Entry Draft Review

By Bill Meltzer
The Philadelphia Flyers swung for the fences at the 2000 NHL entry draft, taking a series of hit-or-miss forward prospects and abandoning the conservative post-first round approach they’ve usually taken since Bob Clarke returned as the Flyers general manager.

With their first two picks, the Flyers attempted to address their area of greatest organizational weakness-lack of speedy, offense-oriented forwards. They went for a pair of late-1981 born players: Ontario Hockey League right winger Justin Williams and a Russian winger, Alexander Drozdetsky, who is already a member of the SKA senior roster. The Flyers did not have a choice in the second round; the pick went to Carolina to complete the Keith Primeau trade.

On the second day of the draft, the Flyers traded their fourth round pick to Tampa and received three draft picks in return: giving them extra 6th, 7th, and 9th round choices. The Flyers first selected veteran international goaltending star Roman Cechmanek and then dealt John Vanbiesbrouck to the New York Islanders, opening a spot for Cechmanek. With their remaining selections, the Flyers took four more forwards and one defenseman.

As always, it is impossible to immediately assess how much or how little the Flyers got out of this draft. Even if several of the forwards they picked end up becoming useful pros, the Flyers still have work to do in catching up to the forward depth pool of other team’s systems.

First Round Selection (#28 overall)
Justin Williams (RW, Plymouth Whalers, OHL)
HT: 6-0
WT: 176
Shoots: R
Rankings: #21 by The Hockey News, #19 North American by CSB

1999-2000 Stats:
68 GP, 37 G, 46 A, 83 PTS, +47, 46 PIM, 6 PPG, 2 SHG, 3 GWG, 1 GTG

The Flyers need a right-handed shooting right winger with speed and skill. Plymouth’s Justin Williams, coming off a breakthrough season, hopefully can someday fit the bill. Before this season, Williams was an obscure prospect. He was a 6th round selection by Plymouth in the 1998 OHL midget draft. He split the 1998-99 season between the Whalers and their Tier II affiliate, the Compuware Ambassadors. He did, however, take a regular shift for Plymouth in the ’99 OHL playoffs, including games 6 and 7 of their series against London. This past season, he led the Whalers in scoring and helped the team reach the OHL finals before losing the Barrie (after leading the series 3 games to 2). Two of Williams’ teammates, sniping winger Tomas Kurka and hulking defensive D Libor Ustrnul also went early in the 2000 draft. Goalie Rob Zepp was selected 99th overall by Atlanta last season.

Williams, who was selected the OHL’s most gentlemanly player, is a finesse-oriented winger with a quick shot release a smooth skating stride. He takes pride in his two-way abilities and the Flyers scouts commented on how hard he works to be a complete player. Nevertheless, Williams has critics who say that he has work to do defensively. Others question him for his slight build, wondering if he’ll be able to compete physically in the pros. He is listed as 6 feet and one-half inch but few believe that he is that tall except on skates.

Williams has been invited to Team Canada’s summer evaluation camps. In August, he will attend the Canadian National Junior Team Camp in August in Toronto. If he makes the squad, Williams will represent Canada at the 2000-2001 World Junior Championships in Russia.

Williams is far from a shoo-in to be an NHL star but for the 28th overall selection seems to be a well-reasoned choice. While there were still a couple of good defensemen on the board, as well as the potentially more explosive Kurka, the choice of Williams is hard to argue. There was nobody else who was indisputably more appealing.

Third Round Selection (#94 overall)
Alexander Drozdetsky (W, St. Petersburg KA, Russian Championship League)
HT: 6-0
WT: 174
Shoots: L
Rankings: #54 by The Hockey News, #51 European by CSB

1999-2000 Stats: 32 GP, 2 G, 0 A, 2 PTS, 10 PIM

Alex Drozdetsky is the son of longtime Red Army player Nikolai Drozdetsky His stats from this past season may not look like much but the Flyers were more excited about this pick than any other they made in the draft. Flyers chief European scout, Inge Hammarström is rarely given to hyperbole when assessing a player. He pushed hard for Drozdetsky’s selection. Clarke listened and was prepared to take the Russian winger with the Flyers first round pick. Hammarström told him that he thought Drozdetsky had not been scouted properly by the CSB (not the first time that ex-CSB scout Hammarström has taken issue with their rankings) and may still be available when the Flyers turn came up in the third round. He was right.

After the selection of Drozdetsky became official, Hammarström was unusually excited, telling Clarke that the Flyers had just “hit a home run,” comparing Drozdetsky to a young Igor Larionov and predicting that Drozdetsky would be a Flyers regular within two years. While no one is infallible, Hammarström has a track record of being proven right when he feels strongly enough about a prospect to lobby hard for their selection- the most famous examples being Peter Forsberg, Mikael Renberg, Dmitri Yushkevich, and Janne Niinimaa. Even a couple of his “misses” (Patrik Juhlin, Viacheslav Butsayev) at least played in the NHL and were regulars for a time.

Drozdetsky’s stats for SKA do not look like much. The key stat for right now, though, is not the points but the number of games played. It is impressive is that SKA dressed him for 32 games; a definite sign that they think he can play at that level. Young players in the European senior leagues typically get very little ice time. Chances are strong that Drozdetsky did not play even 6 minutes a game in the 32 games that he dressed. Moreover, what time he did play was spent concentrating on defense-oriented positional play, which is the first thing the Russian program tries to instill in their young players. So the lack of points are little concern right now. Drozdetsky’s long-term offensive development, however, might be better served by playing now against players his own age and gaining offensive confidence before competing against men.

Incidentally, Drozdetsky’s late father played several seasons in Sweden at the end of his career. Alexander lived in Sweden for five years. He speaks Swedish as well as Russian but cannot yet communicate well in English.

Sixth Round Selection (#171 overall)
Roman Cechmanek (G, Vsetin, Czech Extraleague)
HT: 6-3
WT: 190
Catches: L

Cechmanek may be unfamiliar to many Flyers fans but he is well-known the followers of the international game. The 29 year old goalie is considered one of the elite goalies in Europe. Cechmanek almost annually
ranks at or near the top of the Czech Extraleague goalie stats and is a fixture on the Czech national team.
Many in the Czech Republic consider him to be at least as good as Roman Turek, who has certainly not suffered from his late transition to the North American rinks. Cechmanek has won the Czech championship with Vsetin and has backstopped the Czechs to the World Championship gold medal in consecutive years. Talk has often come up of Cechmanek playing in the NHL but, to date, he’s never played for a club based outside of his homeland.

Signability may be a question, as Cechmanek is comfortably entrenched in his status as a premier Euro goalie. Like his Vsetin teammate Jiri Dopita, Cechmanek may not be interested in playing in North America, despite widespread interest from NHL teams. With the trade of Vanbiesbrouck, however, I assume that the Flyers feel reasonably certain that they can get Cechmanek signed and bring him over to back up Brian Boucher.

Cechmanek’s playing style is much closer to Turek’s than it is to Dominik Hasek. Like Turek, Cechmanek is a very big goalie who takes away a lot of net.

Sixth Round Selection (#195 overall)
Colin Shields (RW, Cleveland Barons, NAHL)
HT: 6-0
WT: 175
Shoots: R

1999-2000 Stats:
55 GP, 46 G, 49 A, 95 PTS, 40 PIM, 12 PPG, 4 SHG, 5 GWG

The 20 year old Shields is bound for U of Maine next season. He led the NAHL in goals and points this season. He’ll have to show similar dominance against considerably stronger competition before he can be considered a legitimate prospect.

Seventh Round Selection (#210 overall)
John Eichelberger (C, Green Bay Gamblers, USHL)
HT: 6-1
WT: 185
Shoots: L
Ranking: #46 North American by CSB

1999-2000 Stats: 49 GP, 19 G, 50 A, 69 PTS, 58 PIM

Having found success this past season with USHL standout Ruslan Fedotenko, the Flyers organization once again made a foray into the USHL, selecting Illinois native Eichelberger. He played for the USA National Under 18 team in 98-99, tallying 8 goals and 22 points in 39 games of action. His greatest asset is supposedly good ice vision and an ability to thread the needle in the slot. His assist totals would seem to bear that out as would his relatively high CSB ranking. As with Shields, Eichelberger needs to prove himself against a higher level of competition than the junior B foes he went up against with the Gamblers.

Seventh Round Selection (#210 overall)
Guillaume Lefebvre (C, Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL)
HT: 6-1
WT: 195
Shoots: L
Ranking: #190 North American by CSB

1999-2000 stats: 71 GP, 33 G, 40 A, 73 PTS, -8, 121 PIM

Lefebvre, who has bounced around the Quebec League, is a nineteen year old prospect who plays a power forward style. There does not seem to be great enthusiasm for his potential among those in Quebec who are familiar with him but you never know. On the bright side, he likes to play physically and he goes to the net. Otherwise, there are questions raised about every aspect of his game, ranging from his hands to his puckhandling to his defensive coverage.

Eighth Round Selection (#259 overall)
Regan Kelly (D, Nipawin Hawks, SJHL)
HT: 6-2
WT: 195
Ranking: #154 North American by CSB

1999-2000 stats: 46 GP, 8 G, 20 A, 29 PTS, 20 PIM

The Imperial, Sask native was the Flyers lone defense selection in this draft. It is fairly safe to presume that he was drafted for mobility and his decent size, given his ordinary offensive output and his low PIM totals.

Ninth Round Selection (#287 overall)
Milan Kopecky (LW, Slavia Prague, Czech Extraleague)

Not to be confused with the highly ranked Tomas Kopecky, who went at the top of the draft. Milan Kopecky graduated from the junior club to the senior club of Slavia, getting into 2 Extraleague games before the season ended.