Flyers

Which draft was Paul Holmgren's best?

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Which draft was Paul Holmgren's best?

Paul Holmgren has spent 12 years in the Flyers’ front office in many capacities. His first love always was -- and remains -- scouting amateur players who will make up tomorrow’s NHL.

Even when Bob Clarke was general manager, Holmgren was the voice at the Flyers' draft table. He was the one making the critical calls.

Clarke always had the final say, but traditionally deferred to Holmgren, who had a “hands-on” feel for players Clarke never saw play.

The Flyers will host this summer’s NHL draft Friday and Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.

Holmgren was named director of player personnel in August 1997 and later moved to assistant general manager in 1999. Beginning with the 1998 draft through the 2006 draft, Holmgren was the man responsible for the players the Flyers were drafting as the guy doing much of the legwork.

When Holmgren moved to full-time GM in November 2006 after taking over for Clarke, he remained a force at the draft table. But by then, he had an army of people helping him, including his right-hand man Chris Pryor, whom he appointed director of scouting the second he took the GM reigns from Clarke.

In judging Holmgren’s draft lineage, you need to really go back to the 1998 draft and move forward from there.

Keep in mind that because of the Flyers’ success in winning games, making the playoffs, plus finishing high in the standings, they were never picking in the top 10. That can’t be understated.

They had to make tough decisions from the bottom third of the first round in most years.

To that end, Holmgren had several outstanding late first-round picks, beginning in his first draft of ’98 with center Simon Gagne (first round, 22nd overall).

Others: Justin Williams (first round, 28th overall) in 2000; Jeff Carter (first round, 11th overall) and Mike Richards (first round, 24th) in 2003; Claude Giroux (first round, 22nd) in 2006; and finally, Scott Laughton (first round, 20th overall) in 2012. The assumption now is that defenseman Samuel Morin (first round, 11th overall in 2013) will also pan out as a top first-round pick.

Among all those forwards, with the exception of Williams -- a right wing -- every player was a center.

Those players represent the best first-round picks under Holmgren when he was not choosing among the top 10.

The biggest obstacle to the Flyers' draft success over the last several generations has been their inability to identify, retain and develop a franchise defenseman.

Finding and securing an impact franchise defenseman is the hardest task in hockey.

“You could argue that,” Holmgren said in May when Hextall succeeded him as GM. “That's one of things, it has been a franchise goalie, a franchise centerman ... there's a lot of different things that you need to be a good team, and I believe that we have a lot of good pieces in place.

“Are there areas where we need to get better? Sure, but I think most teams would say the same thing. Nobody around here is allergic to hard work and we're going to continue to get better and win.”

Holmgren’s hard luck pick came at the 2007 draft -- his first draft wearing the GM title -- when the Flyers finished with their worst record (22-48-12) in club history, yet were cursed again by losing the draft lottery to Chicago.

The Blackhawks chose Patrick Kane first overall, while the Flyers tabbed winger James van Riemsdyk with the second overall pick. JVR would eventually be traded to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn.

Defensively-speaking, the Flyers have had disastrous drafts in that department since the beginning of the current decade in terms of developing a home-grown blueliner.

They remain the only NHL club that doesn’t have a single drafted and developed defenseman playing regular minutes for them over that span, which is astonishing.

That Chris Therien (drafted in 1990) remains the last such player of any longevity and ilk is embarrassing.

The Flyers had two defensemen playing significant minutes elsewhere this season -- Dennis Seidenberg and Luca Sbisa -- but they were part of trades to other clubs.

Holmgren, however, may yet have an impact on the Flyers' future even though he no longer is controlling the draft.

The organization actually appears on the verge of turning things around, provided it doesn’t fork over any more D-men via trade.

From the last two drafts, Holmgren pinpointed quality defensemen in Shayne Gostisbehere (third round, 78th overall) and Fredric Larsson (fourth round, 111th overall) in 2012; and Morin (first round, 11th overall) and Robert Hagg (second round, 41st overall) at last summer’s draft in New Jersey.

Larsson, however, was not signed this summer and will be going back into the current draft.

If you had to pick the single best draft under Holmgren’s guidance in terms of future potential, it would be the NHL’s 50th draft in 2012.

That day in Pittsburgh, the Flyers tabbed center Scott Laughton (first round, 20th overall); goalie Anthony Stolarz (second round, 45th overall); Gostisbehere; and forward Taylor Leier (fourth round, 117th overall).

And while he’s had just a small taste of the NHL, defenseman Oliver Lauridsen, who was chosen in the seventh round (196th overall) in 2009, could still end up being an NHL defenseman as a dark-horse pick.

One of these prospects has to become the organization’s stud No. 1, like so many other clubs already have.

“Probably the only way to get that guy is to draft him,” Holmgren said. “Maybe we have. Maybe Sam Morin or Robert Hagg or Shayne Gostisbehere. Who knows?

"Games change. There’s young players every year in somebody’s lineup. Do we have a couple next year? We’ll see. You never know.”

Over the past seven drafts (2007-13), Holmgren’s best impact player has been two-way center Sean Couturier, taken in 2011 (first round, eighth overall), as part of the Carter deal with Columbus that also saw the Flyers acquire Jakub Voracek.

Holmgren had no first-round picks in the 2009 and 2010 drafts because of the Chris Pronger deal with Anaheim.

His worst draft was 2004 in Carolina, when Clarke was still GM. That summer, the Flyers didn’t draft until the third round.

Not a single player from among the 11 the Flyers took in what was then a nine-round event ever made their roster.

Travis Sanheim likely to sit again vs. Panthers

Travis Sanheim likely to sit again vs. Panthers

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. “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-five 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 says 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 D 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-two 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, its 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 gotta show them that I’m deserving of that and obviously, its going to maybe take some time but I’m willing to pout 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 Nuevirth 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

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.