BOSTON: The Flyers brass came to Boston, armed with great intentions and a solid plan. But a step out of character by the hometown Bruins threw a monkeywrench into Bobby Clarke’s plans when they selected Nick Boynton of the Ottawa 67′s with the 22nd pick in Saturday’s draft. Unfortunately for Flyers fans, their fall back plan certainly left something to be desired. The Flyers selected Maxime Ouellet, a big, talented goalie from Quebec, who now gives the Flyers three “goalies of the future” in their system.
Clarke had his heart set on taking Boynton, who had re-entered the draft, after failing to come to terms with both the Capitals and the Hawks over the past two years since being drafted ninth by Washington in 1997. Boynton is coming off of a great season with the Memorial Cup champs and was named MVP of the final tournament. Being twenty years old, Boynton could have pushed for an NHL job or could have been sent across the parking lot to the Phantoms for some pro seasoning. The guy has the size and speed to go along with a nice offensive game. And Clarke was hoping that the potential contract battles with Boynton and his agent Anton Thun would have kept the poorer NHL teams from selecting Boynton.
He almost made it.
When you look at the list of prospects in the Philadelphia Flyers system, it is hard to miss the long list of potential future NHL defensemen. That old axiom “there is strength in numbers” may very well describe the situation as far as youngsters climbing the depth charts in Philadelphia is concerned. As detailed in an earlier edition of Hockey’s Future, the Flyers have a big stable of defensemen that would turn any NHL general manager green with envy. So with all of these young blueliners about to make the jump up to the bigs, why is the only name that anybody in the hockey world talks about when they speak of the Flyers’ prospects is that of a forward?
Not only is that the name of the hottest prospect to be drafted by the Flyers since Russ Farwell made a reach and tabbed a quiet kid named Peter Forsberg as his top choice in 1991, but it is also basically the complete list of NHL-caliber forward prospects in the Flyers’ coffers. There are a few names like Wesenberg and Fedoruk that may have what it takes to crack the NHL roster but this update on the Flyers forward prospects was so close to being entitled “The Simon Gagne Report” because Gagne is buffered from the other forwards on the prospect chart by a herd of defensemen.
As the big club took the gas pipe yet again this spring in the first round of the NHL playoffs, fans of the Philadelphia Flyers are yearning for at least a little good news about their favorite NHL team. One of the few bright spots that actually does take a little of the sting out of another disappointing May, is the nice depth that has accumulated on the bullion throughout the Flyers system. And NHL quality defensemen are at a premium in today’s watered down NHL.
At the top of this promising list is Wilmington, Delaware native Mark Eaton. Eaton is a slick skating offensive defenseman who played one year of college hockey under former Flyer Dave Poulin at Notre Dame. The Flyers signed Eaton last summer and he has been turning heads ever since. Eaton compiled 36 points in his first pro season with the AHL Phantoms, including 6 power play goals. He is the heir apparent to Eric Desjardins job as the top offensive defenseman in the system.
Some of the brass in the system wanted GM Bobby Clarke to bring up Eaton towards the end of the season. But since the Danuis Zubrus debacle, Clarke seems to be leaning towards the taking the slow road with his blue-chip prospects from here on out. Time spent learning the pro game in the minors is never a bad idea especially when you are talking about a defenseman with the natural offensive skills that Eaton possesses.
In the recent update of the Philadelphia Flyers page, I reshuffled the deck when it came to the new Hockey’s Futures’ Flyers Prospect Top 10 List and boy- o-boy did many of you out there notice. The feedback was both swift and strong. Players like Jesse Boulerice and Brian Wesenberg would sleep much better at night if they knew the rabid backings they already have attained in the Delaware Valley. A fan inquiring about the omission of Paul Healey from the latest list even used the Hockey’s Futures’ Message Boards, a spot in the HF Newsletter that all hockeyheads should check out.
Momma didn’t raise no dummy and I quickly got the feeling that there was a need for more information on the players just sitting on the outside of the Top 10 List looking in. The Flyers are finding that having your top farm team play 300 yards from your home rink does wonders for fan interest in your younger players. It also speaks very favorably on the depth in the organization. Three years ago I would have had trouble coming up with a Top 7 List. The club’s future as far as drafted prospects go, while not great compared to the best drafting NHL clubs, is certainly showing signs of regeneration after cleaning out the cupboards to acquire Eric Lindros in 1992.
Now a little more info on the boys on the bubble….
SIMON GAGNE- If there is one position that the Philadelphia Flyers are a little short on as far as organizational depth is concerned, it would be the center position. And that is almost humorous because at the NHL level, it is difficult not to trip over a center as one walks to the First Union Center since the Flyers have about eight players that could play the pivot on most any NHL team.
The one sure fire future gem at the center spot for the Flyers would be the Quebec Ramparts Simon Gagne. Gagne is a very good skater but it is his hockey sense that has the faithful of the Delaware Valley excited about his pending debut as a pro. He should be invited to go to camp with the Canadian National Junior Team later in the fall which should only help Gagne hone his skills as the Flyers keep an eye on their top offensive prospect.
Tickets could go on sale for Gagne’s first pro game as soon as September of next year, but a cup of coffee with the big club after the 99-00 QMJHL season is finished is a more realistic timetable.
Mike Maneluk- I know. I know. Maneluk is skating the preseason as Eric Lindros’ right wing on the Philadelphia Flyers top line. But the Flyers are reportedly looking for an established NHL top flight RWer and that should drop Maneluk back a couple of lines and into his normal left side position. And that is not too bad for a player that cost Philadelphia one dollar to pry him out of the Ottawa organization