Flyers

2017 NHL draft prep: Options for Flyers at No. 2

2017 NHL draft prep: Options for Flyers at No. 2

The Flyers' long-term landscape changed Saturday night with a stroke of luck.

Facing long odds, the Flyers nearly won the NHL draft lottery, but will have to settle for the No. 2 pick (see story). Considering where they were projected to pick, this is a major win for the Flyers.

"We had a lot of bad luck this year," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Saturday night. "And I'm hoping this is a turning point. This is a big point for our franchise."

The Flyers came into the lottery most likely to draft 13th at 84.3 percent. Lottery rules dictated that they could only draft in the top three, stay at 13 or fall to 14 or 15th. They had a 2.2 percent chance at the top pick, 2.4 percent at the second pick and 2.7 at the third pick.

And the hockey gods were on the Flyers' side Saturday. Because of their current prospect picture — heavy on defensemen and goaltenders — the Flyers will have an opportunity to add an impact forward to their prospect pool, an immediate hole they will be able to fill.

Here are five prospects the Flyers could target with the No. 2 pick come June 23-24 at the NHL draft in Chicago.

(Note: Because the Flyers are heavy on defensive prospects, we're not including Miro Heiskanen, the consensus top defenseman in this year's draft class.)

Nolan Patrick, C, 18, 6-2/198, Brandon (WHL)
Patrick finished as the top-rated skater by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau, a spot he has been in all year long despite dealing with a groin/abdominal injury throughout the 2016-17 season. He is touted as a two-way, right-handed center who does everything well but doesn't possess any one specific elite skill. Sportsnet's Jeff Marek wrote in March, "think Jonathan Toews-lite." Patrick has NHL blood in his veins, as his father, Steve Patrick (250 games), and uncle, James Patrick (1,280 games), both have played in the league. In 33 games with the Wheat Kings this season, Patrick scored 20 goals and 46 points. He missed 39 games. During the 2015-16 season, Patrick registered 41 goals and 102 points in 72 games. He played two seasons in Brandon with Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "He has more than proven over the last three years that he is the real deal and will be an impact NHL player. The poise, the presence, the attention to detail, the way he processes and executes plays — everything has been far more precise, far more accurate and a lot quicker this season."

Nico Hischier, C, 18, 6-1/176, Halifax (QMJHL)
With Patrick the projected top pick in June's draft, Hischier checks in as the early favorite to become a Flyer on June 23. Hischier had a breakout performance as an underage player — he was 17 at the time — for Team Switzerland during the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships, posting four goals and three assists in five games. He will likely become the highest-drafted Swiss-born player in league history. Nino Niederreiter (fifth overall, 2010) currently holds that title. In his first season in the QMJHL, Hischier led all rookies with 38 goals, 48 assists and 86 points in 57 games, earning himself the league's Rookie of the Year award and winning the Mike Bossy Trophy, awarded to the league's best pro prospect.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "Hischier is definitely worth the price of admission. He has a high skill level, but what's most impressive is the way he competes, his drive and work ethic. He is a player who is first on the forecheck forcing a turnover and when the play transitions, he's the first player back. He's in that category as a special player."

Gabriel Vilardi, C, 17, 6-3/202, Windsor (OHL)
Vilardi battled a knee injury and appendicitis in 2016-17 with Windsor but still finished more than a point-per-game player with the Spitfires. He recorded 61 points in 49 games this season. His 29 goals led Windsor and his 61 points were second on the club. Vilardi is an excellent puck-possession forward, which drives his and his linemates' scoring. Skating is an area he can improve upon. He is a right-handed shot with good size, something that could intrigue the Flyers. He compares his game to John Tavares, the New York Islanders' star captain. He finished as Central Scouting's fourth-best rated North American skater.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "Vilardi is a high-end possession center with excellent hockey sense and puck-handling ability. He plays a very composed game with the puck, using his vision and playmaking ability to influence the game in all three zones. Vilardi excels below the dots in the offensive zone, where he utilizes his size and reach to control the play and generate scoring opportunities."

Owen Tippett, RW, 18, 6-0/200, Mississauga (OHL)
What would intrigue Flyers fans about Tippett is his shoot-first mentality, a trait not many current Flyers own. A right wing with size, Tippett positions himself in scoring areas and has a desirable shot. He's described as a strong skater with great breakaway speed. He led the Steelheads with 44 goals and 75 points in 60 games this season. His 44 goals were fifth in the Ontario Hockey League. With Patrick and Hischier the cream of this year's average crop, Tippett at No. 2 might be a reach, but he fits the mold of what the Flyers need.

Michael Rasmussen, C, 18, 6-6/215, Tri-City (WHL)
Rasmussen is a centerman with above average skating for a player his size and a knack for knowing how to use his size to his advantage. He suffered a wrist injury this season and played in just 50 of Tri-City's 72 games. He netted 32 goals and 55 points and led the Americans with 15 power-play goals, an attractive trait for the Flyers. He compares his game to Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov and former Maple Leafs superstar Mats Sundin. He finished fifth among North American skaters in Central Scouting's final rankings.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "He's playing with much more confidence this season. He's adapted to playing a bigger role and playing heavy minutes against opponents' top lines and defense. The game has slowed down for him a little bit and he's just that much more poised. He can take that extra bit of time and understands he can take that time to make plays and score goals."

Stars score 7 goals in win over Sabres

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Stars score 7 goals in win over Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn caught one of his teammates reaching for an extra chicken wing in the locker room after Saturday's game.

"Easy," Benn said. "We're only on game 48."

The Stars continued their midseason push into playoff positioning by closing out a four-game road trip with a 7-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

Mattias Janmark had two goals and an assist, Esa Lindell added a goal and two assists, Jamie Benn and Radek Faksa each had a goal and an assist, and Remi Elle also scored for the Stars, who return home after going 3-0-1 on the road.

"It's a battle every game and every day in this league," said Benn, who extended his point streak to seven games. "It seems we've been playing pretty good hockey as of late and I think we are still only seventh in the conference."

The Stars regrouped from a 2-1 shootout loss in Columbus on Thursday night to match their season-high scoring total (see full recap).

Jets snap Flames' 7-game winning streak with shootout win
CALGARY, Alberta — Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler scored in the shootout and the Winnipeg Jets beat Calgary 2-1 Saturday, snapping the Flames' seven-game winning streak.

Little opened the shootout with a wrist shot inside the post and past Mike Smith. After Mark Jankowski and Sean Monahan were stopped by Connor Hellebuyck and Smith stopped Patrik Laine, Wheeler clinched it on a deke to his forehand.

Mathieu Perreault scored in regulation for Winnipeg, which improved to 7-2-1 in its last 10. TJ Brodie scored for Calgary.

Hellebuyck had 30 saves for the Jets and Smith stopped 33 shots in defeat (see full recap).

Pastrnak scores twices as Bruins continue dominance over Habs
MONTREAL  — David Pastrnak scored twice and set up another goal to help the Boston Bruins beat Montreal 4-1 on Saturday night, their third win in eight days against the Canadiens.

Torey Krug had a goal and two assists and Riley Nash added an empty-netter for Boston, which is 12-0-4 in its past 16 games.

Max Pacioretty scored for Montreal, which ended a stretch of five games in eight days since their midseason break at 1-2-2. The Canadiens were coming off a 3-1 win Friday night in Washington.

Pacioretty got his seventh goal in seven games 11:29 into the second period. Paul Byron lost the puck, stripped it back from Charlie McAvoy from behind and then slipped a backhand pass to Pacioretty on a 2-on-1 (see full recap).

Avalance beat Rangers for 9th straight win
DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche have gone from pushover to powerhouse in less than a season, and their recent streak is evoking memories of past glory.

Nathan MacKinnon, Erik Johnson and Mikko Rantanen had a goal and an assist each, Jonathan Bernier made 27 saves and the streaking Avalanche beat the New York Rangers 3-1 on Saturday for their ninth straight win.

The Avalanche have won eight straight at home and haven't lost since Arizona beat them on Dec. 27. Colorado has outscored opponents 37-15 in the last nine games and has not trailed during the winning streak, which has moved the team into playoff position in the Western Conference.

"We can't get comfortable," MacKinnon said. "That is why we are fighting every night because we need these points. It's so tight, the division is so tight." (see full recap).

Provorov, Gostisbehere, oh my for Flyers' opponents

Provorov, Gostisbehere, oh my for Flyers' opponents

BOX SCORE

Ivan Provorov's hockey intelligence is off the charts for a guy who just turned 21 years old a week ago.

When he talks the game, he resembles a player with mounds of NHL experience.

In actuality, he's only 128 games into his professional career.

But it doesn't take Provorov's precociousness to understand what makes him click with Shayne Gostisbehere and how both can be a grueling pain in the opposition's side.

"If we play on offense, they can't score," Provorov said simply.

Bingo.

In a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, Provorov and Gostisbehere were a two-headed monster, a blue-line duo that can terrorize the competition when it's performing the way it did Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

"We look toward the challenge," Gostisbehere said. "Obviously we're playing against the other teams' top lines and it's a challenge every game, it's the teams' best players. I think as a pair, we just need to keep it simple, pick our spots and it's working."

It more than worked against the Devils.

Provorov scored a goal, played 23:13, was a plus-2 and led the Flyers with six shots on goal and nine total shot attempts. Gostisbehere opened the scoring with a doozy of a primary assist, played 20:09, was a plus-2 and strong in his own zone.

Most ideally, though, when Provorov and Gostisbehere are wreaking havoc in the opposition's zone by keeping their team on the offensive, the Flyers can be awfully tough to beat. 

Saturday was case in point as the Flyers seized a commanding 3-0 lead in the first period to eventually win for the sixth time in the last seven games, creeping to within a point of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.

"Doing the little things and taking care of the puck," Provorov said of the fast start, which has often eluded the Flyers through 46 games thus far. "If we take care of the puck and move it forward, we don't have to play defense and that helps us to create offense and create energy."

It can also limit the counterpart's best unit. In this case, it was the Devils' first line of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, New Jersey's top three scorers. The trio was held in check with just a goal and an assist, while each player finished a minus-2.

"It's not just the D-pairing, I think it's a combination of the group of forwards that spent most of the time against that line," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "They did a good job. It's a big challenge, those are good players that have been generating a lot. I thought Provy and Ghost did a good job along with the majority of the time with [Sean Couturier's] line."

When asked about neutralizing the Devils' big boys, Provorov showed that hockey intelligence of his, which belies his age.

"Just take away time and space," he said. "When guys can skate that fast, just try to limit their time, angle them and don't give them time to pick up their head — just be on them hard.

"That whole line is pretty fast, but our main focus was to try and limit their chances and play on offense."

Provorov and Gostisbehere are tied for second among NHL defensemen with nine goals apiece, while Gostisbehere's 33 points are tied for fourth. He recorded his 33rd point off a sparkling play in which he took the puck from his own blue line, skated around Hischier, darted toward the middle and hit a wide-open Travis Konecny for a 1-0 lead 3:29 into the game.

"Honestly, I just knew if I was skating, he was going to find that lane," Konecny said. "Sure enough, I didn't have to move, it just came right to me."

Konecny registered two more points Saturday, giving him nine in his last 10 games, as the Flyers' youth answered the bell against a divisional opponent. And when Provorov and Gostisbehere are driving play, the Flyers are a different animal for a variety of reasons.

"It's good, it's fun to watch, they're both really good with the puck, make good plays and both can score," Valtteri Filppula, who netted the Flyers' other goal, said. "It's definitely fun to see them out there and they get a lot of minutes, too, which is nice."

Goalie Michal Neuvirth, who won his second straight start, quipped: "They don't feel young to me."

They're not looking it.

"I think we understand the game in a similar way," Provorov said. "We move the puck, we understand where we are on the ice all the time, which helps us get out of our zone quick, get through the neutral zone real fast and create something on offense."

Which creates trouble for whomever the Flyers see down the stretch.