Philadelphia Flyers 2011 draft preview

By Chris Shafer

Photo: With no picks in the first two rounds, the Flyers will have to continue finding late-round gems like Eric Wellwood (pictured). Wellwood made his NHL debut this season with the Flyers. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

Top 10 prospects

1. Eric Wellwood, LW
2. Erik Gustafsson, D
3. Brendan Ranford, LW
4. Joonas Lehtivuori, D
5. Kevin Marshall, D
6. Marc-Andre Bourdon, D
7. Mike Testwuide, RW
8. Ben Holmstrom, C
9. Jason Akeson, RW
10. Brandon Manning, D

Three years ago the Flyers selected 18-year-old Luca Sbisa in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. A year later at the 2009 draft, after being declared the future of the Philadelphia blueline, he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks along with winger Joffrey Lupul, a 2009 1st round selection, and a 2010 first round selection for future hall of fame defenseman Chris Pronger.

Sbisa recently signed a four-year extension in Anaheim, the Columbus Blue Jackets are very happy with defenseman John Moore who was selected with Philadelphia’s 2009 pick, and the Ducks’ prospect Emerson Etem is coming off a breakout year with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL after being selected with Philadelphia’s 2010 pick.

Steve Downie, the Flyers’ 2005 first round selection, just recently went to the Eastern Conference Finals as a major contributor for the Tampa Bay Lightning having played only 38 career games with the Flyers, and whomever Toronto decides to take 25th overall this year will never play a game for Philadelphia after the Flyers traded their 2011 first and third round selections for forward Kris Versteeg.

Countless second round picks have been lost along the way as well including the 2011 pick, which was traded to Phoenix along with Scottie Upshall when the Flyers acquired Dan Carcillo.

The only reason the Flyers have a third round pick as of right now is because of a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins in which the Flyers sent the rights to then soon to be free-agent Dan Hamhuis cross-state in a rare inter-division trade.

The first selection taken by the Flyers last year was also in the third round. Michael Chaput, who was selected with that pick, was traded mid-season to Columbus for prospect Tom Sestito.

A few prospect releases and a lack of new bluechip players has created a diverse but extremely lacking Flyers’ prospect pool that has only been kept relevant by support in the form of Paul Holmgren’s signing of free agent prospects en masse.

Team Needs

There are only so many ways to say cap space. The Flyers have made their move to attack the goaltending position by acquiring the rights to 2010 Vezina Nominee Ilya Bryzgalov. The organization has made the decision not to be patient for recent prospect graduate Sergei Bobrovsky, but with that decision comes the reality that the Flyers will have to do something they have not done in a long time; pay top dollar for a goaltending solution.

Because of this, some of the depth that has made the Flyers a dangerous opponent for years will be forfeited to the highest bidder, likely before or at the draft.

This also opens up a need for cheaper replacements in the lineup, and the Flyers could look internally at a number of their own prospects before seeking help on the market. Players like Erik Gustafsson, Matt Read, Tom Sestito, Eric Wellwood, Ben Holmstrom, Mike Testwuide, and Kevin Marshall are going to get long looks to see if they can jump in and help the NHL roster forget some impending losses.

Organizational Strengths

If the Flyers do achieve their ultimate prize of an elite goaltender this offseason, then they will have a strength in everything except their lackluster prospect pool.

The center depth on the team is incredible, and with reports from the Flyers that they are not likely to move any of their core pieces, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, and Danny Briere will likely remain the most dangerous part of the Flyers’ roster. On the outside, James vanRiemsdyk‘s flashes of dominance are becoming more noticeable and more consistent. The 22-year-old former second overall selection topped off his first 20-goal season with a remarkable seven goals in eleven playoff games.

Defensively, with veterans Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen leading the way, Braydon Coburn and recent acquisition Andrei Meszaros have come into their own to highlight a developing young defensive group for the Flyers. While there will be future pressure to replace the veterans leaders of the blueline, right now the Flyers appear to be set defensively outside of a couple of roster spots that could be taken by prospects.

Organizational Weaknesses

Letting prospects like Joacim Eriksson and Simon Bertilsson among others just walk away from the organization does not do a lot for a prospect pool. It also does not say much when problems within the AHL locker room cost you a top prospect like Patrick Maroon (ANH) and cause another prospect like Joonas Lehtivuori to venture back home to Finland citing a frustration with life in Glens Falls, NY. While those four are certainly the most prominent prospects to be effected by the organization’s recent handling of their pool, they were not the only ones effected and others will likely follow.

The news of this bizarre asset management comes after years of empty, partially meaningless drafts. On one hand, the Flyers set themselves up as one of the premier teams in the league and perennial Cup contender, but it came at a hefty price. Eventually their deep core of young talent will need some help surrounding it. A prospect core devoid of bluechips will eventually turn into a team devoid of talent. The Flyers have only been able to play the game to their advantage due to a long history of great drafting, quite a few cap friendly contracts, an ever-rising salary cap, and Holmgren’s ability to find cheap free-agents both veteran and prospect to fill the holes.

Draft Tendencies

The Flyers’ drafting history over the last decade is what has allowed them to deplete their prospect pool to almost unimaginable levels in recent years.

The team will normally go for the best skater available while waiting until later rounds to attempt goaltenders. It is also hard to ignore their recent success at the forward position, but they will take defensemen when the time calls for it.

This year, the Flyers have traded away their picks in the first three rounds leaving themselves with only Pittsburgh’s third round selection in the early parts of the draft. To go along with their fourth round pick, they have also picked up Tampa Bay’s fourth while trading their own fifth to Detroit. They continue to hold their own sixth and seventh round picks.

That leaves the Flyers’ organization with only five selections currently at their disposal.

As of right now, there is no specific need for the Flyers within their pool to make them lean a certain direction in this year’s draft. They need help across the board, but if they do intend to restructure their salary cap in order to fit in a goalie, high-value players will be coming off their books. This is one way that many expect the Flyers to start rebuilding their prospect pool.

If the Flyers should end up picking earlier in this draft than they are currently slated to, they could go for a forward or a defensemen depending on who is available. They could certainly use an eventual replacement for veterans Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen on the blueline, but they are also going to need cheap wingers as the team continues to evolve and develop around their young core of centers.