Flyers

Unlike 2007, Flyers should get immediate impact player at No. 2

Unlike 2007, Flyers should get immediate impact player at No. 2

On April 29, the Flyers’ fortune changed 10 years after the same event dealt them a blow that may have altered the team’s narrative over the last decade. This time, they won.

The Flyers, by the fruit of blind luck, jumped 11 spots in the draft lottery to No. 2. It was the largest hurdle in lottery history. It could be a moment we look back on as a game-changer. It could be many things. What it’s not is what happened on April 10, 2007, when the Flyers, who finished with an NHL-worst 56 points in 2006-07, lost the lottery to the Blackhawks.

Ten years ago, the lottery operated under a different system. Until 2013, the lottery consisted of the five teams with the fewest points in the standings. No team could move up more than four spots, and the team with the fewest points (the Flyers) could only pick either No. 1 or 2 in the draft. The Flyers had a 25 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick.

We know the story. Chicago, which had an 8.1 percent chance at the top pick, won the lottery, and the Flyers, who had the worst season in franchise history, got sloppy seconds. The lottery system changed in 2013. Now, any team that does not qualify for the playoffs is eligible to win the lottery, which paved the avenue for the Flyers’ climb last month.

"I'm not sure it really matters," Paul Holmgren, then-Flyers' GM and now team president, told NHL.com on April 12, 2007, of losing the lottery. "The thing about having the first pick is you get the first pick. Now, we don't, but I'm confident we're still going to get a good player. As I've said all along, I'm not sure there's an immediate impact guy there anyway."

That is where the 2007 and 2017 similarities come into play. Ten years later, we know how the 2007 draft panned out, with Patrick Kane, the top pick, being head and shoulders atop the class, and James van Riemsdyk, whom the Flyers drafted No. 2, now playing in Toronto.

There was an immediate impact player in the 2007 draft, which is where Holmgren was wrong, and it was Kane, who scored at a 0.89 points per game clip in his rookie season, finishing with 72 points in 82 games.

van Riemsdyk never developed into an impact player with the Flyers. In 2013, the Flyers traded van Riemsdyk to the Maple Leafs, where he’s matured into a solid complementary scoring winger with a 30-goal season under his belt and two 60-plus-point campaigns.

“We were both put in different situations and we were both in different stages, I guess of our hockey development,” van Riemsdyk told The Daily Herald, a Chicago-area newspaper, May 27, 2010. “I did what I thought was best for me to be a better player, and he was obviously ready to make that jump right after the draft. He made it happen right away.”

If we go back to 2007, it was not considered to be a slam dunk atop the draft. It was a three-player race between Kane, van Riemsdyk and Kyle Turris, who went No. 3 to Arizona. There was thought that even if the Flyers had the top pick, “JVR” would have been the pick. 

“All three of these kids were very close. Very close,” Holmgren told Kevin Kurz, now with NBC Sports Bay Area, after the draft on June 23, 2007. “We’d have been happy with any of them, but you have to make a decision and James ended up on top.”

Fast forward to this year. The Flyers’ luck shifted. They finished with 88 points, seven points out of a playoff spot. Without the lottery, they would have picked 13th in what general manager Ron Hextall has described as “an average draft” — like it was in 2007, a draft that generated five All-Stars, including the Flyers’ Jakub Voracek, who was drafted seventh overall by Columbus, and van Riemsdyk is not one of them. There were several big misses in the draft.

This year, it's widely considered a two-player draft, with Brandon Wheat Kings center Nolan Patrick and Halifax Mooseheads center Nico Hischier as the cream of this year’s crop. Barring any unforeseen surprises, the Flyers will come away with either Patrick or Hischier come June 23. It really is as simple as whoever New Jersey does not take at No. 1.

But that is where we see the difference between 2007 and 2017 for the Flyers. Ten years ago, the Flyers played their way into a top-two pick and rotten luck cost them the top pick. Their choice was between the two players Chicago didn’t take — van Riemsdyk and Turris.

In van Riemsdyk, the Flyers were drafting a player who came up in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and still needed years to develop. He decided to play at the University of New Hampshire before turning pro after his sophomore season.

With either Patrick or Hischier — it seems to be a pick-your-poison situation — the Flyers will be getting a player closer to making an immediate impact than they did in 2007. Neither will have the impacts we have seen from the No. 2 picks from the last two drafts — Jack Eichel and Patrik Laine. 

When asked about Patrick and Hischier’s NHL readiness on May 8, Hextall refused to tip his hat about his views on the prospects, sticking to his mantra that any kid has to earn a spot.

“We would like to think we know that, but until the kid comes in and shows you what he can do … you make an educated judgment and then you go from there,” Hextall said. “A player has to come in and prove that he’s ready, and at this age, not many are.”

Patrick has three years of experience in the Western Hockey League, and there is some belief he will not benefit from a fourth season in the WHL. Despite battling groin and abdominal injuries last season, he still produced above a point-per-game pace (1.39). 

As a 17-year-old two years ago, Patrick put up 102 points in 72 regular-season games and led the Wheat Kings to a WHL championship with 30 points in 21 playoff games. He still will have to prove his worth to either the Flyers or Devils, but one has to believe the likelihood of him making an immediate impact is far greater than him going back to junior.

Hischier broke out during the world junior championships for Switzerland, scoring four goals and three assists in five games. With Halifax during his rookie season in the QMJHL, Hischier finished as a 1.5 points-per-game player, putting up 86 points in 57 games and earning the league’s Rookie of the Year award. Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, describes the Swiss center as “definitely worth the price of admission.”

There are a plethora of reasons why 2007 and 2017 are different for the Flyers. Luck is atop the list. But the player they’ll be getting this June is one they should be able to reap immediate benefits from, something they weren’t getting in 2007.

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

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AP Images

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves for his 21st career shutout and Zach Werenski and Artemi Panarin scored in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night.

New York ran into a hot goalie in Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who notched his second shutout of the season in powering Columbus to its third straight victory.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was nearly as good against the increasingly aggressive Blue Jackets, stopping 40 shots on the night. The Rangers (11-8-1) lost their second straight following a six-game win streak.

After a scoreless first period in which both goalies made some slick, sprawling saves, Werenski found the back of the net with his sixth goal of the season 13:34 into the second.

Brandon Dubinsky lost the handle of the puck in the slot, and Werenski picked it up just inside the right circle and beat Lundqvist with a one-timer.

Columbus (12-7-1) was the aggressor in the second frame, outshooting the Rangers 19-9, and kept up the pressure in the third.

Panarin scored his fourth goal of the season on a power play 7:14 into the third period, rocketing a slap shot from the high slot that ricocheted off the bar and in.

The Blue Jackets are 9-1-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer (see full recap).

Red Wings’ 3rd-period goals enough to top Sabres
DETROIT -- Tomas Tatar scored a go-ahead goal midway through third period and the Detroit Red Wings went on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Friday night.

Detroit's Luke Glendening broke a scoreless tie late in the second period. Ryan O'Reilly pulled Buffalo into a 1-all tie 5:50 into the third.

Dylan Larkin scored late in the game and Jimmy Howard had 19 saves for the Red Wings. They have won consecutive games at home for the first time this season.

Buffalo's Robin Lehner stopped the first 20 shots he faced and finished with 30 saves.

The Sabres have lost four straight, one away from their longest losing streak of the season, but were thankful they didn't lose more than a game in Detroit.

Jack Eichel went to the dressing room late in the second period after coming off the ice slowly, keeping weight off his right skate following a collision with Glendening, and making a brief stop on the bench. Buffalo's standout center was cleared to return at the start of the third period.

After a scoreless first period with a combined 14 shots, Detroit outshot Buffalo 13-4 in the second and took control without that translating to a big lead (see full recap).

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes.

Dougherty
If Thursday night's 3-2 shootout loss in Winnipeg confirmed anything, it's the Flyers cannot break up their top line. They might not be able to score much, but their only scoring is coming from Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

The Couturier line accounts for 48 percent of the Flyers' offense, or 25 goals. Factor the defense and top line together, and that's 59 percent, as the blue line has produced six tallies this season.

Of the 21 goals the Flyers have scored that do not come from the top line or blue line, 12 have come from two players, Wayne Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds hasn't scored in 11 games, and Filppula has one goal in his past nine games.

Two lines have stayed intact since Day 1 — the Couturier line and the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl. Head coach Dave Hakstol has been hesitant about breaking up his fourth line, and rightfully so. Laughton, Leier and Raffl have chemistry, and they're almost always cycling in the offensive zone.

Nolan Patrick just returned after missing three weeks because of a "suspected" concussion and played sparingly against the Jets. He should help the Flyers' scoring woes, but he won't solve them. I think it's time to break up the fourth line, and based on the Winnipeg game, it looks like a possibility Hakstol is considering.

Here's why. Raffl played on the second power-play unit against the Jets, which was a first this season. Perhaps Hakstol didn't want to throw Patrick back into the fire and watched the rookie's minutes.

Breaking up lines Nos. 2, 3 and 4 is the best course of action. Travis Konecny is struggling with confidence, Jordan Weal hasn't been great, and those are two players the Flyers need to get going. It's time to end the Dale Weise in the top-nine experiment.

With what the Flyers have, here is what I would do:

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

Hall
There's no need to panic if you're the Flyers.

First, you finally have a no-doubt-about-it top line. Voracek, Couturier and Giroux have blended beautifully and are doing damage, as the Flyers entered Friday one of only three teams in the NHL with a trio of players over 20 points each. Don't break that up just because there's an imbalance below it. 

And second, it's a long season. Ups and downs are common and things can change quickly. Just look at last season. The Flyers ripped off 10 straight wins and scored the NHL's second-most goals through the first two months of 2016-17. As we all know, they didn't make the postseason and finished as a bottom-third goal-scoring club.

The Flyers simply need to continue experimenting with their middle six and see what eventually works best. A little patience was going to be required when you're relying on a 19-year-old rookie in Patrick, a 20-year-old still finding himself at this level in Konecny and a 25-year-old facing his first full NHL season in Weal.

And let's not forget, the defense is exceptionally young with two rookies (Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim), a 20-year-old leader (Ivan Provorov) and a third-year player coming off a sophomore slump (Shayne Gostisbehere).

But back to the forwards. 

If you recall, a stretch from Oct. 10-17 featured Filppula centering Weal and Simmonds on the second line, with Patrick centering Konecny and Weise on the third unit. It resulted in a pretty productive three-game span in which the Flyers picked up two wins and outscored the opposition 18-9.

I really liked the dynamic of that middle six. And the Flyers can now return to it with Patrick suiting up. He will be eased back into heavier minutes, but he can make a difference when healthy and comfortable. Patrick and Konecny can still play plenty of minutes on the third line with less pressure and potentially more favorable matchups.

We've seen Weal and Simmonds work well together, and Filppula adds smarts and steadiness down the middle.

But the important thing to remember is the Flyers are only 19 games into an 82-game grind. Scoring can come and go at times, and there's no reason it can't come down the line.

So, here's what I like best for the Flyers right now:

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