Flyers 2007 draft preview

By Al Alven

Flyers Top 10 Prospects

1. Steve Downie, C
2. Braydon Coburn, D
3. Claude Giroux, RW
4. Ryan Parent, D
5. Alexandre Picard, D
6. Ryan Potulny, C
7. Stefan Ruzicka, RW
8. Oskars Bartulis, D
9. Freddy Cabana, LW
10. Andreas Nodl, RW

Prior to the era of the salary cap, a team entering into a phase rebuilding could usually count upon a long, tedious road back to contention; it could take four or five years to go from the bottom of the NHL ladder to playoff qualification and championship contention, if the organization in question pushed all the right buttons and made the proper moves.

These days, the transformation from also-ran to legitimate Stanley Cup hopeful can be achieved at a much-accelerated rate. Or, so the Philadelphia Flyers are trying to prove.

If there was a silver lining to the Flyers’ on-ice implosion and descent into the league’s basement last season, it was the opportunity to start fresh that the situation provided. Longtime organizational fixture Bob Clarke’s resignation of the general manager position shined the spotlight on Paul Holmgren, and many fans and observers were skeptical.

But Holmgren proved up for the task of running the show, an opportunity he waited many years to claim. The former Flyer forward and one-time head coach pulled off a number of shrewd and creative moves, most notably adding several promising prospects to an already-impressive stable of organizational talent by dealing aging veterans Peter Forsberg and Alexei Zhitnik, along with underachieving forward Kyle Calder.

As the Flyers look ahead to what will surely be the most important offseason for the franchise in many years, the team does so with a newfound sense of optimism. Adding to the excitement is the team’s possession of the second overall selection in the upcoming entry draft, a pick that could very well be used to add another top prospect to the mix or dealt as part of a package to bring a big-name talent to Philadelphia.

Team Needs

As to be expected of a team coming off of a season in which it finished dead last in the NHL standings, the Flyers appear to need a little bit of just about everything. At the same time, they may not need a great deal of any one element, and could be poised to jump back into contention sooner rather than later.

This isn’t to say that the Orange and Black doesn’t have a long way to go before they can be considered Stanley Cup favorites again. But, there is reason to believe that a relatively quick turnaround could be in the cards.

The addition of veteran backstop Martin Biron at this past season’s trade deadline solidified the goaltending situation, a perennial problem spot under the Clarke regime. Similarly, Holmgren addressed the need for a top-pairing defenseman and a second line winger by acquiring Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell from Nashville earlier this week.

All three players, along with returning forwards Simon Gagne, Mike Knuble and Sami Kapenen, and defensemen Derian Hatcher will be heavily relied upon for their talent and leadership abilities as the predominantly-young Flyers team moves forward.

On that note, in fact, it can be argued that the Flyers’ most pivotal need is, quite simply, the continued development of the young players already on the NHL roster, along with the rookies that are projected to see time with the team next season. However, the risk of placing such reliance on a hoard of upstarts is implicit.

Forwards Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Scottie Upshall, R.J. Umberger, Ryan Potulny, Ben Eager and the aforementioned Hartnell, along with defensive counterparts Joni Pitkanen, Braydon Coburn and Alexandre Picard are all 25 or younger. Assuming none is dealt during the offseason, they will all be expected to play pivotal roles in the Flyers’ rebirth, and thus will be expected to continue to grow and mature into their roles with the team.

Organizational Strengths

Philadelphia has done a solid job of restocking its system, adding quality depth at the forward and defensive positions over the past few seasons.

The organization is in very good shape up front, with a solid stable of young players who have already cracked the NHL team’s lineup and a number of promising hopefuls waiting in the wings. Of the players yet to turn pro, Steve Downie and Claude Giroux, the team’s first round picks in each of the last two drafts, respectively, are the most highly regarded.

Downie, who is coming off of a very successful, albeit controversial, stint in the OHL is heading to Philly in 2007-08, but it remains to be seen whether he will crack the Flyers lineup or begin his pro career with the Philadelphia Phantoms in the AHL. Giroux, a pure offensive threat who has posted big numbers in the QMJHL over the past two seasons, is likely to return for one more junior campaign.

Other notables include Austrian native Andreas Nodl, who is coming off of a big year at St. Cloud State in which he led all freshmen in scoring and Potulny, a former collegiate scoring champion himself, who split time with the Flyers and Phantoms last year.

Two-way specialist Freddy Cabana and talented-yet-enigmatic Stefan Ruzicka are wildcards in the system. Both will likely start next season with the Phantoms, but could be top call-up candidates if they perform up to expectations.

On the blueline, the Flyers have three former first round picks in Pitkanen, Coburn and Ryan Parent. The enigmatic Pitkanen struggled mightily to find his game last season, and, should he remain with the team, will enter into a pivotal fifth pro season. Still, he boasts tremendous upside and could be a huge asset to the organization if he can manage to work through his growing pains.

Coburn was a rock for the Flyers after he was acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers near the trade deadline last season, and projects to be one of the team’s future cornerstones. Parent, who the Flyers landed a week before Coburn, as part of the big Peter Forsberg trade with Nashville, will turn pro this season after a four-year stint in the OHL during which he earned a reputation as one of the top amateur stay-at-home defenders.

Beyond this impressive trio, the team organization remains very high on fellow blueliners Oskars Bartulis and Michael Ratchuk. Bartulis emerged as a top two-way defenseman in the ‘Q’ over the past few seasons and is set to turn pro. Ratchuk is a smooth-skating puck-handler who, as a freshman, played an important role in helping Michigan State capture the national championship this past season.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Flyers may not possess any blue chip talents at the skating positions, but several players, such as Carter, Coburn and Parent, for instance, have the talent and makeup to be star players. Just how far they will go remains to be seen, but these and at least a handful of others combine to give the team

The same can’t be said, however, for the organization’s prospects between the pipes. As it is now, the Flyers have a few intriguing netminding hopefuls to speak of, but no standouts or sure-things. The duo of Martin Houle and Scott Munroe played adequately for the Phantoms last season, but neither inspires much confidence from a longterm perspective.

Meanwhile, Rejean Beauchemin, once considered a very promising goalie prospect in the system, has all but fallen off the radar. He continued to struggle at the AHL level last year, and wound up in the ECHL after failing to keep up with Houle and Monroe.

Recently-signed Jeremy Duchesne might represent the organization’s best hope for the future in net, but still has to be considered a darkhorse prospect. He will likely join the Phantoms next year after leading the Halifax Mooseheads to the QMJHL finals with a stellar postseason run this spring.

Across the pond, Czech standout Jakub Kovar continues to impress, and will reportedly look to continue his junior career in North America next season. It is still a bit early to accurately project his potential on this side of the pond. Ditto for Finnish prospect Ville Hostikka, who is just beginning to get is feet wet at the pro level in his homeland.

Draft Tendencies

Technically, this will be Holmgren’s first draft at the helm of the Flyers organization. However, even Clarke has admitted that his former understudy has been calling most of the shots and making final decisions on player selections at the event over the past few years. So, don’t expect any significant departure in strategy from recent draft outings.

Holmgren relies on the team’s regional scouts for their input, but is also an active and aggressive scout himself. Even after succeeding Clarke early last season, he made a number of personal trips to observe players in North America and Europe. He is a true student of the developmental aspects of the game.

Generally, the drafting committee adheres to a themed game plan. For instance, in both 2003 and 2004, the Flyers used seven of their 11 picks on forwards. In 2001 and 2002 combined, nine of the 16 players taken were defensemen.

In 2005, with only six picks, the Flyers selected a balanced compliment of players — three forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender. Last season, the team took five forwards, three rearguards and two netminders.

In terms of preference for leagues to draft out of, the Flyers have been all over the map in recent years, with no discernable patterns emerging. It is worth noting, however, that the team has selected at least two players from the QMJHL in each of the past five drafts.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: Kyle Turris, C

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.