Colin McDonald staying in Flyers' system, re-signs with Phantoms

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Colin McDonald staying in Flyers' system, re-signs with Phantoms

Every team wants an insurance policy with NHL experience at the AHL level.

The Flyers will have that again in Colin McDonald.

Lehigh Valley signed the right winger to an AHL contract Tuesday afternoon, bringing back the captain for a fourth season with the Phantoms. The team also signed defenseman David Drake, 23, who played seven games for Lehigh Valley last season.

McDonald, who turns 34 years old in September, never reached the Flyers in 2017-18, but played eight games for the big club over the prior two seasons, scoring a pair of goals. He actually appeared in three playoff games during 2015-16 because of injuries to Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton, and a suspension for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

In total, McDonald, known for making an impact with his size (6-2/219) and physicality, has 148 games of NHL experience to go with 11 postseason contests.

Last season with the Phantoms, McDonald posted 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 56 regular-season games, before helping Lehigh Valley advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, where it was swept by the Toronto Marlies.

In 2016-17, McDonald had 25 goals and 44 points in 72 regular-season games.

Not only is McDonald a solid safety net for the Flyers, but he also provides a good example for the organization's prospects developing with the Phantoms. He's a likeable, mature pro and has played 628 AHL games over his career, so the franchise's youngsters will be able to rely on him for another season in 2018-19.

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2018 NHL draft profile: Oliver Wahlstrom, a lethal goal-scorer Flyers should trade up for

2018 NHL draft profile: Oliver Wahlstrom, a lethal goal-scorer Flyers should trade up for

Over the weeks leading up to the 2018 NHL draft, we're providing prospect profiles and how they would fit with the Flyers, who have two first-round picks — Nos. 14 and 19.

The NHL draft takes place June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The Flyers have nine picks with two in the first, fifth and seventh rounds and one in the second, fourth and sixth. They do not own a third-rounder as it went to the Detroit Red Wings for Petr Mrazek. The 14th pick conveyed from the Brayden Schenn trade. The final details were Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first-round pick (Morgan Frost) and the 14th pick.

Our prospect profiles will touch mostly on prospects projected to go in the 10-20 range but some may require the Flyers having to trade up to select. We’ll identify those prospects.

Oliver Wahlstrom

Position: Right winger
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 208
Shoots: Right
Team: USA U-18 (NTDP)

Scouting report
You might recall Wahlstrom from this viral video eight years ago when he was 9 years old. Yes, Wahlstrom has been on the map for some time now and the right winger is expected to be a high first-round draft pick. Wahlstrom starred in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, registering 48 goals and 94 points in 62 games while adding 22 goals and 45 points in 26 games in the USHL in 2017-18. He averaged a goal per game for Team USA during the 2018 IIHF World U18 Championship, where the U.S. took silver. He was part of the 2017 gold-medal winning team during the U-18 world juniors when he had four goals and seven points in five games. Owns a lethal shot, as evidenced below against Russia in the Five Nations Tournament, video courtesy of USA Hockey.

Wahlstrom is a scoring threat every time he touches the puck and does some wizard-like stuff with it. He’s a big body and doesn’t shy away from the dirty areas, either. At the combine, he measured in bigger than what the NTDP listed him. He’s committed to play at the University of Harvard, though he told The Boston Globe his plan is to play just one year before turning pro.

Fit with Flyers
Wahlstrom qualifies as a trade-up option for the Flyers as it would be a minor miracle if he falls to No. 14. If he is available at 14, then there might be question marks that we can’t see on the surface. He won’t be there at 14, though, so if the Flyers want him, they’d have to move up.

With two first-round picks, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall certainly has the ammo to do so; it just depends on how far he’d have to jump to select Wahlstrom. Some believe he should go in the top five, ahead of Brady Tkachuk, and others see him going between Nos. 8-12.

Either way, Wahlstrom is a prospect that the Flyers could greatly benefit from drafting. He’s a pure sniper and we’ve heard that lately that the Flyers need one of them. He would certainly please the few fans who scream "SHOOT" all the time at the Wells Fargo Center. Fit wise, Wahlstrom would be as close to ideal as you can get. It’s just a matter of if the Flyers fall in love with him and can move up high enough in order to draft him.

More on the 2018 NHL draft

Profile: Jack McBain

Profile: Rasmus Sandin

• Profile: Ryan Merkley

• Profile: Dominik Bokk

• Profile: Noah Dobson

• Profile: Rasmus Kupari

• Profile: Martin Kaut

• Profile: Grigori Denisenko

• Profile: Jesperi Kotkaniemi

• Profile: Serron Noel

• Profile: Joel Farabee

• Profile: Barrett Hayton

• Profile: Isac Lundestrom

• Profile: Joseph Veleno

• Profile: Vitali Kravtso

Is skating hockey's most fixable flaw? Flyers aim to find out

Is skating hockey's most fixable flaw? Flyers aim to find out

If the Flyers had to redraft 2007 all over again, knowing what we all know now, then Stars captain Jamie Benn in all likelihood would have been the franchise’s second overall selection right after the Chicago Blackhawks snagged Patrick Kane.

Instead, the organization chose James van Riemsdyk, who at the time was considerably more polished and NHL-ready than Benn was at the age of 18. In fact, you have to scroll down another 127 picks after the selection of JVR into the fifth round to see that the Stars finally selected Benn.

How could a player that eventually won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer in 2015 become somewhat of an afterthought and nearly dismissed on draft day? 

Poor skating ability. 

Despite having the size of a power forward, Benn was a below-average skater and teams clearly shied away from drafting him. From that moment, Benn was determined that an inadequate skating technique wouldn’t deter him from playing in the NHL.

Want an even better example? 

With a smaller 5-foot-10 stature, but tremendously skilled with a high hockey IQ, Tampa Bay's Brayden Point slipped to the late third round. His skating was the one area that needed major improvement. Point worked strenuously over the summer with former Canadian world champion figure skater Barb Underhill. 

Now, the Lightning center is a 30-goal scorer, and perhaps most impressively, Point is lightning quick. He finished second to Oilers superstar Connor McDavid in the league’s fastest skater competition during All-Star weekend’s skills competition.     

The Flyers have a similar player in their system that checks a lot of Ron Hextall’s boxes except for the one next to skating ability. It’s the single biggest reason Matthew Strome fell to the Flyers in the fourth round (106th overall) in last year’s draft after watching his older brothers go top five (Ryan — fifth overall in 2011, Dylan — third overall in 2015).     

“Matthew Strome is a pretty good example,” Hextall said last week. “With Matthew, skating is his weakness. He’s got one flaw, everything else is pretty good. So, you look at Matthew and if he can just improve it — he’s never probably going to be a great skater, but if we can just ramp him up two levels, he’s got a real good chance at playing in the National Hockey League.”

Playmaking ability or possessing a high hockey IQ are traits that require years of development, whereas poor skating is a mechanical flaw that demands rewiring the brain and breaking old habits similar to how a golf coach makes adjustments to a player’s swing.

“I can spend an hour with some players and they can get the stride right off. In one hour, some guys get way better,” said Slava Kouznetsov, who has served as the Flyers' skating coach since 2006. “Some guys spend weeks of training to get the same stuff done. It’s learning a new language. Some guys pick it up right away with the way the brain is wired, and some guys will never be able to speak the language. Some guys will take years to pick it up.”

Kouznetsov was able to fine-tune Steve Downie’s skating technique that was considered choppy with a short stride, which left him unable to have the required stamina to stay out during an entire shift. Downie was a late 2005 first-round pick who had other issues that plagued his nine-year NHL career, but without improving his skating stride, Downie would have never made it on to an NHL roster. 

The deeper you go into the NHL draft’s middle to late rounds, the more unlikely it becomes that those players will make the jump to the NHL. The success rate is somewhere in the single digits. There are simply too many holes in a player’s game that organizations can’t plug. Yet, the key is finding a skill that’s considered NHL quality and then hoping those problem areas are correctable.

More and more teams around the league believe skating is the one fixable flaw contingent on one significant variable.     

“First you have to teach the brain new ways, then you have to reteach your body to adapt to the new way,” Kouznetsov said. “Most important thing is you have to be willing to do that. That’s the biggest. You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make the horse drink.”

Which may be Hextall’s biggest challenge on Day 2 of the draft. Knowing and sensing which prospects will work tirelessly to fix those flaws, and which players are inevitably too set in their ways to overcome them.

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