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."

Flyers-Panthers observations: Goals continue to pile up in 5-1 win

Flyers-Panthers observations: Goals continue to pile up in 5-1 win

BOX SCORE

The second period has been the knockout round lately for the Flyers and that proved to be the case again on Tuesday night.

The Flyers won their second straight game at the Wells Fargo Center as they scored four goals in the second period to crush the Florida Panthers, 5-1. They proved once again that their four-line attack is simply too much for opponents. 

Going back to last Tuesday’s game in Nashville, Dave Hakstol’s team has now scored 10 second-period goals in its last three games.

Starting for the first time in 12 days, Michal Neuvirth was a well-oiled machine and showed no signs of rust as he stopped 40 shots for his first win of the season. The Panthers scored a power-play goal with 3:50 remaining to spoil Neuvirth’s chance at a shutout. 

• Neuvirth stymied the Panthers in spectacular fashion in the early stages. He denied Derek MacKenzie, Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov in the opening 20 minutes. It’s going to be hard for Hakstol not to reward Neuvirth with another start soon.

• The Flyers dominated mostly through their transitional game. One of the biggest differences in the opening month has been the Flyers’ ability to create quality scoring chances off the rush, and they dominated in that area Tuesday night.

• Shayne Gostisbehere scored his first goal of the season on a breakout after a nice give-and-go play with Wayne Simmonds. Jordan Weal deserved some sort of assist as he drove his defender Mark Pysyk into the shooting lane, blocking Roberto Luongo’s view. Instead, it was rookie Robert Hagg who picked up his first NHL point on the secondary assist that started the breakout. 

“We’re confident,” Gostisbehere said. “We’re riding high, but we have to keep an even keel and keep going.”

• Later in the second period, the Flyers’ power play went to work. After the Panthers’ shorthanded opportunity was thwarted, Valtteri Filppula fed a wide open Claude Giroux, who beat Luongo through an exposed five hole. Giroux pumped his fist in celebration, displaying some confidence that was lacking for most of last season.

• The prettiest scoring play of the night was reserved for the Flyers’ fourth goal. That play started when Travis Konecny outraced the defense for a breakaway that Luongo denied. A trailing Nolan Patrick fed a pass between his legs to Dale Weise, who slipped a wrist shot past Luongo. Patrick’s second career assist was proof of the hockey sense to know where his teammates are on the ice and a credit to his unselfish play. 

• Wayne Simmonds capped the entertainment value on this night when he roughed up the Panthers’ newest “enforcer” Michael Haley, dropping him to the ice following a series of rights. Haley joined the Panthers in the offseason after he was second in the NHL last season with 16 fights.

• Sean Couturier’s office appears to be anywhere there’s blue paint. The Flyers’ top-line center opened the scoring from the seat of his pants as he was left alone in front, made a nice move and whacked away at a loose puck that just crossed the line behind Luongo. Of Couturier’s four goals, the puck has yet to leave the ice.

First-period observations
• If you’re going to get burned on a breakaway, better make it against a fourth-line center. Florida’s Derek MacKenzie was denied a point-blank shot in the first period as Travis Konency did an excellent job of racing back to get his stick on the puck from behind MacKenzie without committing a penalty.

• Looking for his first goal since the season opener in San Jose, Jordan Weal had two prime opportunities in a span of 15 seconds to score on the Flyers’ first power play. Playing his off wing, Weal misfired on one chance and missed the net on the other.  

• Panthers center Owen Tippett made his NHL debut Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center. Tippett was the 10th overall selection in the 2017 NHL draft, and he’s the fifth player from the most recent draft class to play in the league this season. Unlike Patrick, selected second overall, Tippet was a non-factor.

Lines, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratched: Jori Lehtera and Travis Sanheim.

Travis Sanheim likely to sit again vs. Panthers

Travis Sanheim likely to sit again vs. Panthers

VOORHEES, N.J. — It looks as though Travis Sanheim will sit for the second straight game vs. the Panthers tonight (see Flyers-Panthers thoughts)

Now, before you get angry — and fire off a hot take about Andrew MacDonald or Brandon Manning — understand this isn’t a death sentence for Sanheim.

The Flyers have played all of five games this season. Sanheim has played in three, and after a bumpy NHL debut vs. the Kings, the talented rookie showed growth to round out the Flyers’ season-opening road trip (see Flyers Rookie Report)

“I think that the L.A. game was a bit of a wash, with it being my first game and it not going the way I wanted it to,” Sanheim said Tuesday after morning skate. “But I thought the other two games, you started to see some more of the way I want to play. I thought even into the Nashville game, I got better that night, as well. I think that’s what you want to see with a young guy, is getting better every night and I’ll continue to do that.”

And after watching from the press box during Saturday’s blowout win vs. the Capitals, the Flyers’ top defensive prospect will get his chances ... at some point. 

“I don’t have a number for you there,” Hakstol said of when we could see Sanheim crack the lineup. “But your players have to play. That doesn’t mean they have to play every game, but certainly they have to learn, both off the ice, on the ice, practice, game-wise and continue to grow.”

So Sanheim — who is a minus-two with zero points — has to learn the NHL game. It’s not uncommon for rookie defensemen to struggle with the speed and skill of the NHL in the early parts of their careers.

“The position is a hard position to make the adjustment to and to learn,” Hakstol said. “That being said, I think your players can be successful in making the jump and making the transition.”

If Sanheim needs any inspiration, he simply needs to look a few lockers down at Ivan Provorov. 

Provorov made the jump straight from the WHL (junior hockey) to the NHL last season, and early on, it wasn’t a particularly smooth transition. The then 19-year-old bottomed out at a minus-5 in an October loss to Chicago but blossomed into the team’s No. 1 defenseman in the second half of the season.

Sure, Sanheim has taken his lumps this season, but he hasn’t necessarily been bad. Hakstol even went as far as to say that he’s been happy with the 21-year-old’s play.

“I’ve been very happy with him," Hakstol said. “I’ve been happy with Travis’ play. We want him to keep growing. He’s going to continue to be a big part of our group. He’s got a great attitude and a great perspective in terms of being able to handle all the different situations that come his way.”

Sanheim said the coaching staff hasn’t ordered him to focus on any one aspect of his game, but after Tuesday’s optional morning skate, the rookie stayed on the ice for an extra 30 minutes with the staff and Jori Lehtera — who has been a healthy scratch for all five games this season — working on clearing the crease. 

It all comes down to the numbers. And right now, the Flyers have seven solid defensemen. 

“The other night (Saturday vs. Capitals), obviously I wanted to be in the lineup, but we've got seven good [defensemen] right now and obviously there’s going to be a guy sitting, and it just happened to be me the other night,” Sanheim said. “It was a learning experience. I think I can gain a lot from watching and seeing some of those guys, how they handle themselves in certain situations and I thought I gained a lot from it the other night."

Not convinced? Last season, rookie winger Travis Konecny and second-year D-man Shayne Gostisbehere both served multiple stints in Hakstol’s doghouse — the press box — and have seemingly turned things around to begin this season. This year, Gostisbehere is second on the team in points with eight, while, more importantly, he and Konecny are both a plus-2 on the year — good enough for a tie for third on the team. So, like it or not, maybe there is some good to sitting a young player for a few games. 

“Ultimately, as a young guy, I think there’s a lot of things you need to work on and for me, it's just working hard in practice and getting better every day,” Sanheim said. “I just want to try and establish myself as an everyday player. 

“I’ve been through this before. My first year of junior, I didn’t play right away and I was a healthy scratch for five games there, so I’ve been through the process before and I understand the situation that I’m in and ultimately, it’s up to me whether I want to play every night and I've got to show them that I’m deserving of that and obviously, it's going to maybe take some time but I’m willing to put in the work.”

Projected lines
With only 11 players skating, there was no line rushes or defensive pairings, but coming off an 8-2 win, it’s hard to imagine Hakstol making any changes to the lineup. However, it looks as though Michal Neuvirth will get the start in net. 

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches
Forward Jori Lehtera and defenseman Travis Sanheim