Flyers 2003 NHL entry draft review

By Bill Meltzer

In the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers concentrated mostly upon stocking up at center and repairing the depleted system depth in goal. The Flyers draft crop features four centers (including the team’s top three selections), three goaltenders, one player with both center and wing experience, two wingers and just one blueliner. In a draft top-heavy with North American prospects, the Flyers took seven CHL players, one US college-bound player, one Finn, one Slovak and their first-ever Swiss draftee.

1st Round/ #11 overall
Jeff Carter (C)
6-2, 182 lbs
Shoots: R
Born: January 1, 1985
Birthplace: London, Ontario
Rankings: #27 North American Skater (Central Scouting), #16 (THN)
2002-2003 Team: Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Regular Season Stats: 61 GP, 35 G, 36 A, 71 PTS, -5, 55 PIM, 18 PPG, 1 SHG
Playoff Stats: 4 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS, -5, 2 PIM, 0 PPG, 0 SHG

Big, smooth-skating center Jeff Carter led the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in both goals and points in 2002-2003 and was a member of the gold medallist Canadian team at the under-18 WJC. The Flyers picked the player slightly higher than his projected draft rankings, passing up more hyped Guelph right wing Dustin Brown. Flyers assistant coach Craig Hartsburg, who coached Carter as a 16 year old, praised his “great character” as well as his skill level.

Flyers general manager Bob Clarke says, “We were looking at three different centers who we had rated about the same. He [Carter] can really skate for a guy his size and we think he can be a very solid National Hockey League center for us.”

Carter, with his intriguing combination of size, speed and hands, has the potential to be a solid offensive contributor at the NHL level. One of the most encouraging aspects of the scouting reports on Carter is the fact that he has an arsenal of different shots and good hand-eye coordination. A mature young man with strong work habits, as he fills out, the lanky pivot should be able to add strength to his assets, although he is not an especially physical player. For his present level of play, he already is a responsible defensive player, a good faceoff man and a strong forechecker. Neverthless, Carter should further refine these areas and add to his offensive game as he gains additional experience.

Although Carter does not presently track as a franchise player in the NHL, there is plenty for Flyers fans to like about this pick. The consensus among OHL observers is that within a year, Carter will be one of the top players in the circuit and, if he stays healthy, could be a very good NHL player. The muscle will come with age and his all-around stats should follow suit.

Upon being drafted, Carter told the Philadelphia media that he patterns his game after Flyers captain Keith Primeau. Reportedly, however, his style is closer to that of a bigger, less in-your-face Jeremy Roenick.

1st Round/ #24 overall
Mike Richards (C)
5-11, 185 lbs
Shoots: L
Born: February 11, 1985
Birthplace: Kenora, Ontario
Rankings: #30 North American Skater (Central Scouting), #31 (THN)
2002-2003 Team: Kitchener (OHL)
Regular Season Stats: 67 GP, 37 G, 50 A, 87 PTS, +35, 99 PIM, 10 PPG, 5 SHG
Playoff Stats: 21 GP, 9 G, 18 A, 27 PTS, +2, 24 PIM, 2 PPG, 1 SHG
Memorial Cup: 4 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 5 PTS, +5, 8 PIM, 1 PPG, 0 SH

In selecting Mike Richards, the Flyers made a rather conservative pick with their second first round pick. There is little doubt that if the player stays healthy, he’ll be an NHL player. The question is how good of an NHL player? Will he be a checking line center or a scoring liner?

In picking Richards, the Flyers went for for a mature young two-way center and bypassed two more highly hyped, hit-or-miss prospects in the more offensively dynamic Patrick O’Sullivan, who has been plagued by well-documented family-related problems and lacks Richards’ all-around game, but has arguably a higher offensive upside, as well as powerfully-built Kingston winger Anthony Stewart.

A teammate of Carter on the Canada under-18 team, Richards actually outpointed him this past season but does not have the same compliment of natural skills. Nevertheless, Richards is a very smart, crafty player with above-average skills in every area except skating.

Richards was a mainstay for the Ontario League and Memorial Cup champion Kitchener Rangers, belying the fact that the player is barely past his 18th birthday. To watch him excel in all manpower situations in the Memorial Cup, you’d have thought Richards was an experienced veteran, rather than a second year player. Questions about his size and straight-ahead knocked him down to the late first round but it is telling that Richards is highly respected around junior hockey and is regarded as a winner, who doesn’t back down under pressure. His Memorial Cup performance, of course, certainly helped him gain that reputation.

No one questions Richards’ hockey sense, work ethic or his ice vision. Although he doesn’t have the naturally soft hands of Carter, Richards has a special knack for coming up with loose pucks around the net and he never gives up on the play.

As a forechecker, Richards is the kind of player who goes into the corner with a bigger player and emerges with the puck. He’s absolutely fearless when it comes to taking a hit and he’ll give it back, too. Defensively, as he showed in the Memorial Cup, he seems to bear down especially hard on draws in his own end and more than holds his own against bigger players. Offensively, he has a deft passing touch to go along with his nose for the net.

Assistant general manager Paul Holmgren praised his maturity and knowledge of the game. Following the age-old hockey tradition, Clarke expressed surprise that Richards was still around when the Flyers pick came at no. 24. In other draft years with weaker crops, Richards almost certainly would have been a top 10 pick, but it was not surprising that in this year’s draft, teams rolled the dice on some higher-ceiling players. In fact, Darryl Sutter, GM of the Calgary Flames, admitted afterwards that if Red Deer defenseman Dion Phaneuf was not available at the ninth pick, Richards would have been their selection. Richards may make those teams live to regret their decision.

3rd Round/ #69 overall
Colin Fraser (C)
6-0, 175 lbs
Shoots: L
Born: January 28, 1985
Birthplace: Sicamous, British Columbia
Rankings: #43 North American Skater (Central Scouting), #93 (THN)
2002-2003 Team: Red Deer (WHL)
Regular Season Stats: 69 GP, 15 G, 37 A, 52 PTS, +24, 192 PIM, 1 PPG, 1 SHG
Playoff Stats: 22 GP, 7 G, 6 A, 13 PTS, +8, 40 PIM, 0 PPG, 0 SHG

A checking line center on a very good Red Deer Rebels team, third round pick Colin Fraser has been extensively scouted by the Flyers and his selection is not a surprise. Fraser has never shown particularly good hands, despite the scouting reports that he has a good shot. He was not a prolific scorer even at the Junior B level with Port Coquitlam and is never likely to become one if he has a professional future. His future is strictly as a role player; a fact Fraser himself basically acknowledged when he described himself as a “heart and soul” player. That said, for the amount of ice time he gets, Fraser has shown a knack for timely offense. Fraser is one of the Rebels players who draws the most ire on the road from opposing fans and player, brings an agitating style to the table and plays with a snarl. He could stand to play with his stick down a little more but he never gives an inch willingly. He’s reportedly smaller than his listed 6 feet tall but he’s strong on his skates. Fraser played well in the Western League playoffs, which helped cement his position on Philadelphia’s list of potential draftees.

3rd Round/ #81 overall
Stefan Ruzicka (RW)
5-11, 189 lbs
Shoots: R
Born: February 17, 1985
Birthplace: Nitra, Slovakia
Rankings: #15 European Skater (Central Scouting)
2002-2003 Team: Nitra (Slovakia Div. 1)
Regular Season Stats: 17 GP, 5 G, 7 A, 12 PTS, 4 PIM

Stefan Ruzicka starred for silver medallist Slovakia at the under-18 WJC (5 G, 3 A) and is considered one of the fastest rising young offensive talents in his native country. Described by one Bratislava-based writer who saw him with the national team as being a winger “in the Andrei Kovalenko mold but with a better work ethic,” Ruzicka may not be tall but he has tree trunk legs and deceptively fast speed. He’s adequate defensively but should get better. His totals for Division One club Nitra (the top squad at that level) were good for a player of his age, although the talent level in Slovak hockey drops off considerably below their Extraliga. There are a lot of areas where Ruzicka needs to improve but he has the hands to go places and reportedly has the desire to improve.

3rd Round/ #85 overall
Alexandre Picard (D)
6-2, 214 lbs
Shoots: L
Born: July 5, 1985
Birthplace: Gatineau, Quebec
Rankings: #44 North American Skater (Central Scouting)
2002-2003 Team: Halifax (QMJHL)
Regular Season Stats: 71 GP, 4 G, 30 A, 34 PTS, 64 PIM, +31, 2 PPG, O SHG
Playoff Stats: 25 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 6 PTS, 14 PIM, +4, 1 PPG, 0 SHG

For all of his size, Alexandre Picard has the mindset of a smaller defenseman. The offensive-minded backliner does not hit much and likes to move up on the play.
The knock on him among some Quebec League observers is that he’s extremely soft and top-skating offensive forwards can beat him to the outside and can be forechecked into turnovers, despite his stellar plus-minus rating for a very good Halifax club. Official scouting reports, however, praise his positional savvy, work habits and ability to log significant minutes as well as his offensive upside. He has been called a potential powerplay defenseman. There are all-around good reports on his shot from the point although there are some who say that his release could be a little quicker. He played in the Eight Nations Under 18 Cup for Canada last summer.

3rd Round/ #87 overall
Ryan Potulny (C)
6-0, 190 lbs
Shoots: L
Born: September 5, 1984
Birthplace: Grand Forks, North Dakota
Rankings: #55 North American Skater (Central Scouting)
2002-2003 Team: Lincoln (USHL)
Regular Season Stats: 54 GP, 35 G, 43 A, 78 PTS, 18 PIM, +32

The USHL is a good proving ground for NCAA-track players and center Ryan Potulny is at the top the class in the circuit, winning USHL Player of the Year, Top Forward and First Team All-Star honors for the champion Stars. Potulny is bound for University of Minnesota in the fall to join the Frozen Four champion Golden Gophers. The Flyers will have four years to be able to assess Potulny’s growth, which is one of the benefits of drafting a US college, rather an a CHL player.

Central Scouting praised Potulny’s hands, acceleration and lateral mobility, and play without the puck. One word of caution, however. Flyers prospect John Eichelberger had a similar scouting report coming out USHL hockey and he’s been a total non-factor offensively in three seasons for University of Wisconsin. Every time a player advances a level, it remains to be seen whether his skills will also reach the next plateau. Potulny will be entering an outstanding college hockey program and top players such as would-be sophomore winger Thomas Vanek could depart and create vacancies for underclassmen to fill, Potulny may have to work exceptionally hard to earn significant ice time as a freshman.

3rd Round/ #95 overall
Rick Kozak (C)
6-2, 187 lbs
Shoots: R
Born: August 19, 1985
Birthplace: Norway Horse, Manitoba
Rankings: #123 North American Skater (Central Scouting)
2002-2003 Team: Brandon (WHL)
Regular Season Stats: 38 GP, 9 G, 6 A, 15 PTS, 87 PIM, -2, 4 PPG, 1 SHG
Playoff Stats: 16 GP, 6 G, 5 A, 11 PTS, 51 PIM, +4, 2 PPG, 0 SHG

Rick Kozak, one of the younger members of the 2003 draft class, got better and better as the season went along. Pointless and bad penalty prone in his first four games for Brandon after coming over from Prince George, he improved steadily thereafter and his solid playoff performance raised hopes that the aggressive rookie has only begun to tap his abilities. A relatively obscure player coming out Swan Valley in Manitoba Junior Hockey League, Kozak earned his keep in his first WHL season by throwing his weight around and going to the net; which earned him powerplay time for the Wheat Kings.

4th Round/ #108 overall
Kevin Romy (C/W)
5-11, 183 lbs
Shoots: L
Born: January 31, 1985
Birthplace: La Chaux-De-Fonds, Switzerland
Rankings: #24 European Skater (Central Scouting)
2002-2003 Team: Geneva (Swiss National League)
Regular Season Stats: 35 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 PTS, 18 PIM
Playoff Stats: 6 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS, 2 PIM

If nothing else, swingman Kevin Romy has earned the distinction of being the Flyers first pick from Switzerland. The Swiss League has the unfortunate reputation of being hockey played at a respectable overall skill level but with all the hitting and intensity of an All-Star game. As a result, while the Swiss youth development program has produced a growing crop of highly skilled players, the players do not seem to adjust well once they come to North America from the National League at home. Romy has hands (he led the Swiss under-18 WJC team with 12 points, including 4 goals), speed and above-average two-way awareness. He has played both center and wing but will probably be a winger if and when he comes over to North America.

5th Round/ #140 overall
David Tremblay (G)
6-2, 180 lbs
Catches: L
Born: August 16, 1985
Birthplace: Hull, Quebec
Rankings: #7 North American Goaltender (Central Scouting)
2002-2003 Team: Hull (QMJHL)
Regular Season Stats: 30 GP, 1512 MIN, 2.82 GAA, 14-9-2, 0 SO, .897 SV%
Playoff Stats: 1 GP, 8 MIN, 0.00 GAA
Memorial Cup: DNP

David Tremblay, a second round midget league draftee in 2001, backed up QMJHL veteran Eric Lafrance for surprise Quebec League champion Hull. Central Scouting said of Tremblay that he is a big and athletic paddle-down butterfly stylist with a good glove and good stickhandling ability. He should see more playing time next season.

6th Round/ #191 overall
Rejean Beauchemin (G)
6-1, 193 lbs
Catches: L
Born: May 3, 1985
Birthplace: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Rankings: #19 North American Goaltender (Central Scouting)
2002-2003 Team: Prince Albert (QMJHL)
Regular Season Stats: 34 GP, 1618 MIN, 3.19 GAA, 12-15-1, 1 SO, .897 SV%

The second of three goalies selected by the Flyers, Rej Beachemin was well regarded coming out of the midget ranks in Winnipeg. Playing behind a poor Prince Albert team, Beachemin did not fare especially well in relatively limited action. He also served as the backup to fellow 2003 draftee Ryan Munce at the 2003 under-18 WJC. Reportedly, he is not as polished as Tremblay.

6th Round/ #193 overall
Ville Hostikka (G)
6-3, 209 lbs
Catches: L
Born: March 21, 1985
Birthplace: Lappeeranta, Finland
Rankings: Unranked
2002-2003 Team: SaiPa Jnrs (SM-Liiga track)
Regular Season Stats: 19 GP, 0 SO, 2.94 GAA

Two things are clear about Ville Hostikka. He’s big, so he likely swallows up a lot of net in close. He’s also resilient, having bounced back from a frightful 9-1 beating he took at the hands of Canada at under-18 World Cup last August. SaiPa’s starting goaltender is aging veteran Jarmo Myllys, so there is an opportunity for advancement in the next few years.

Notes: The Flyers made the following transactions at the draft:

* Traded center Marty Murray to the Carolina Hurricanes for
a sixth round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
* Traded Atlanta’s seventh round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry
Draft (205th overall) to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a sixth round
pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
* Traded their own seventh round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft
(223rd overall) to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a sixth round pick
in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
* Traded their own eighth round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft (255th overall) to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for a seventh round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
* Traded their own ninth round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft (286th overall) to Tampa Bay in exchange for a ninth round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

Finally, we would be remiss if we did not mention the passing of former Flyers’ coach Roger Neilson; one of the true innovators, teachers and more importantly, one of the true gentlemen of the game and a man of supreme character and courage.