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.

Flyers-Panthers thoughts: Top line scary good; Manning-Sanheim big deal?

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USA Today Images/AP Images/CSN

Flyers-Panthers thoughts: Top line scary good; Manning-Sanheim big deal?

Flyers (3-2-0) vs. Panthers (2-2-0)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30
 
Did the Flyers save any goals for the rest of the five-game homestand?
 
That's probably what many are asking after watching the 8-2 demolition they put on the Washington Capitals in Saturday night's home opener.
 
The Flyers will try to keep things rolling Tuesday night when they welcome the Florida Panthers to the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Here are some thoughts before Game 6 of the season:
 
• You couldn't ask for much more from the Flyers' top line against the Capitals. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek downright manhandled Washington. When Giroux moved to the left wing and Sean Couturier bumped up to first-line center, Saturday's performance was likely the dream scenario in the minds of the Flyers' coaching staff and front office.
 
It seemed like Voracek was making a play every time he touched the puck, Couturier did yeoman's work in all phases, and Giroux looked like his old self, showing a little bit of everything in his arsenal. The trio combined for 10 points on four goals and six assists. No one is expecting such production on a game-by-game basis, but let's see if this group can sustain these positive vibes and turn itself into a staple up top. As evidenced by Saturday, the Flyers go to a different level when those three are on.
 
• No one wants to see Travis Sanheim sitting. He's a first-round pick the fan base has been eager to see. He has great size and offensive upside for a defenseman. It will be exciting to watch him become a pillar of the Flyers' blue line.
 
But is it really the end of the world if Brandon Manning plays a couple games here in the early going? Manning will suit up Tuesday for his second straight game in place of Sanheim. The 21-year-old rookie won't be in the press box for long, though, because that doesn't jive with general manager Ron Hextall's development plan. So Sanheim will sit for a few, watch and learn. That's not too terrible.
 
And, the two games Manning has played so far (season opener and home opener), the Flyers won both by a combined score of 13-5. Was he the most critical reason why? No, but he didn't hurt the Flyers, either. Keeping your projected seventh defenseman somewhat active is a good idea for when/if he is needed.
 
Sanheim will be fine and he will play.
 
We're about to be only six games in here … let's just give this some time.
 
• Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said he planned on using both of his goalies over this homestand. Michal Neuvirth will get the call against the Panthers after Brian Elliott started four of the first five games. Neuvirth looks like the clear backup, but it's important to get him starts, and that's what Hakstol plans on doing.
 
Neuvirth didn't see Florida last season. However, he did see the Panthers in 2015-16 and was terrific, delivering a shutout, 1.59 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in two games. He hasn't seen game action since Oct. 5.
 
• Wayne Simmonds, who has been a stud so far with five goals in five games, did work against Florida last season, posting three goals and an assist in three games.
 
• The Panthers are good. They've scored 16 goals through their first four games, all tough tests against the Lightning twice, the Blues and the Penguins. Florida boasts some nice, young talent in center Jonathan Huberdeau (three goals, two assists), center Aleksander Barkov (three assists) and defenseman Aaron Ekblad (two goals, two assists), just to name some.
 
To add to it, Florida's first-round pick at 10th overall this past summer, Owen Tippett, will make his NHL debut tonight. The 18-year-old scored 44 goals in 60 junior games last season for the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads.
 
• Here is the Flyers' projected lineup:
 
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. 

At this point, Brandon Manning appears to have advantage over Travis Sanheim

At this point, Brandon Manning appears to have advantage over Travis Sanheim

VOORHEES, N.J. — Brandon Manning won’t have to wait another 10 days for his shot in the lineup.

Manning was paired with Radko Gudas during Monday’s practice while Travis Sanheim put in extra work, suggesting that Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol will lean on the Manning-Gudas combination as his third pairing for Tuesday’s game against the visiting Florida Panthers.  

“To be honest, I think I have good chemistry with both guys, “Gudas said. “Playing with Manning, I’m a little more used to it. We played together for awhile the last two years. It’s a little more that we know each other already. And with Travis, he’s getting better every game he plays. It was fun playing with him and we’re getting used to each other.”

Manning started the season as the sixth defenseman in San Jose and was surprised his number wasn’t called again until the home opener this past Saturday.

“You start off the first game of the season and you pick up the win. To come out of the lineup is obviously tough,” Manning said. “I understand the situation. I understand the direction the team’s going, the value of the young kids and their development. You look at the Washington game and it’s a bit of a blowout. But after sitting around for 10 days, I felt pretty good out there. It’s a home opener, so it’s an easy game to get up for.”

Manning can see the writing on the wall. Sanheim, Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin are the future of the Flyers' defense. On a handful of other teams, including the Capitals team the Flyers demolished on Saturday, around the league, Manning would be a mainstay on the blue line.

The numbers back up Hakstol’s thought process. Through the first five games this season, the Flyers are 2-0 with a plus-8 goal differential with Manning in the lineup, compared to the games Sanheim has played in which the Flyers are 1-2 and a minus-2 differential. With Sanheim, the Flyers' even-strength save percentage is 73.3 percent (last on the team) compared to that of Manning’s 88.9 percent, which is currently ranked fifth out of the seven Flyers defensemen.

“I think Travis has played well,” Hakstol said. “I think his play in games and his practices have been good. We're trying to build our lineup each night to what we think gives us the best opportunity to win that night. Travis' play has been good and I’ve been very happy with his performance.”

It's not unexpected that Manning has served as the Flyers' steadier option in the opening month as Sanheim continues to acclimate himself to the NHL game, which has come at a different speed than the level of play during the preseason.

“That’s part of being professional,” Manning said. “That’s something I’ve learned in my couple of years here in the NHL. The situations I’ve been in, I think it’s all about how you react and how you handle them. You can sit there and be pissed off about it, but at the end of the day, there’s going to be decisions that [GM Ron Hextall] and Hak make that you can’t control. What you can control is how hard you work in practice and how well you play, and you prepare for those situations you’re going to be in.”

It’s a unique paradox right now. The Flyers need wins and Sanheim needs to play. At some point this season, everyone’s needs will be met.