Flyers

2018 NHL draft position preview — Centers

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Terry Wilson/OHL Images

2018 NHL draft position preview — Centers

Last week, we began our 2018 NHL draft coverage by examining the history of the Flyers’ two first-round picks, 14th overall and No. 19. Today, we begin looking at this year’s draft class.

We begin with position previews. First up, the top draft-eligible centers. While the Flyers’ two first-rounders are in the teens, general manager Ron Hextall may opt to trade up into the top 10, which is why we are including the top prospects first and then later will provide better fits for the Flyers.

Joe Veleno, 6-1/193, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Veleno finished as the eighth-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, a five-spot jump from its midterm rankings. He began the 2017-18 season with Saint John, which drafted him with the first overall pick in the 2015 QMJHL entry draft, before being traded to Drummondville. With Saint John this season, Veleno posted 31 points in 31 games. After the trade, his numbers shot up. He tallied 16 goals and 48 points in 33 games with Drummondville.

Let’s go back to the 2015 QMJHL draft. Hockey Canada granted Veleno “exceptional status,” allowing him to play in major junior hockey at 15 years old. He became the first Quebec player and just the fifth CHL player to receive this status. The others were Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Sean Day. Because of the “exceptional status,” some may feel inclined to lump him into the conversation with McDavid and Tavares, but Veleno is not at that level of prospect. He’s a strong skater with a high hockey IQ and plays a solid 200-foot game.

Draft projection: Between Nos. 8-12.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 6-2/188, Assat (Liiga)
Kotkaniemi is a 17-year-old prospect who already has a professional season under his belt. He finished with 29 points in 57 games this season, seventh most by a U-18 player in Liiga history. Finished as the sixth-ranked European skater by Central Scouting, a three-spot climb from the midterm rankings. He can play all three forward positions but projects as a center in the NHL.

Draft projection: Between Nos. 9-15

Barrett Hayton, 6-1/190, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Hayton is a teammate of Flyers prospect Morgan Frost (27th overall, 2017) and finished ranked ninth among North American skaters by Central Scouting, a three-spot drop from the midterm rankings. He doesn’t have high-end potential but has been pegged as a safe pick that he’ll be an NHLer.

Draft projection: Between Nos. 10-16

Isac Lundestrom, 6-0/185, Luleå HF (SHL)
Lundestrom checks in as the eighth-ranked European skater, a five-spot drop from midterm. He just finished his second professional season in the SHL. Had six goals and 15 points in 42 games for Luleå HF in 2017-18. His best attribute is his shot, a quick release with precision. He’s a decent skater and plays a solid two-way game. Should be taken around the end of the lottery.

Draft projection: Between Nos. 10-17

Rasmus Kupari, 6-1/183, Karpat (Liiga)
More European flavor to wrap up the top draft-eligible centers, a position that’s usually stronger than this year’s class. Kupari saw a five-spot drop from Central Scouting’s midterm rankings, finishing 11th among Europeans. He didn’t play a ton for Karpat this year, averaging 12 minutes but had 14 points in 39 games. Has a lot of raw talent but not fully developed.

Draft projection: Between Nos. 15-22

Carter Hart makes more history with 2nd CHL Goaltender of the Year award

Carter Hart makes more history with 2nd CHL Goaltender of the Year award

As Flyers fans eagerly await the Carter Hart era, the 19-year-old made more major junior hockey history Saturday afternoon.

Hart was named the 2017-18 CHL Goaltender of the Year for the second time. He is the first goaltender to win the award twice as the honor wraps up one of the best junior careers ever.

He took home the award in 2015-16, his draft year, and was one of three finalists last season. Owen Sound’s Michael McNiven (Canadiens) won it in 2016-17 over Hart.

In 2017-18, Hart led all WHL goaltenders in goals-against average (1.60), save percentage (.947) and shutouts (seven), and that is counting missed time because of mono and the world juniors. Everett lost to Swift Current in the WHL Final, but to little blame of Hart. The goalie posted a 2.40 GAA and .921 save percentage in 22 playoff games for the Silvertips.

The CHL Goaltender of the Year is the second time Hart has captured history this spring. Earlier this month, Hart became the first goalie to win the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy (WHL top goaltender) three times when he won it for the third consecutive year. He also won the 2017-18 Four Broncos Trophy (WHL MVP). He obtained gold with Canada during the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships, where he recorded a .930 save percentage in seven games.

With his Everett career over, Hart will be remembered as one of the best goalies in major junior history. He finished his career with 116 wins, a 2.01 GAA, .927 save percentage and 26 shutouts, tied with Tyson Sexsmith (Vancouver, WHL) for the most ever in CHL history (see story).

The Flyers drafted Hart with the 48th overall pick in 2016, making him the first goalie selected. As Hart’s junior career ends, the highly touted prospect will turn pro next season. This week, he joined the Phantoms for the remainder of their AHL playoff run.

As the Flyers’ goaltending continues to be a circus filled with mismanaging, underwhelming performances and injuries, the calls for Hartmania to begin in 2018-19 will only grow louder. But studying how Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has previously handled prospects, it remains highly unlikely that Hart will be a Flyer come October. It should be noted, though, Hextall refused to say whether Hart needed a full season in Lehigh Valley next season, which left the door open, however slightest, for the goalie to earn a spot in The Show in training camp.

A lot would have to fall Hart’s way for that to happen. Hextall is notoriously ultra conservative with his prospects and Hart would have to prove that not only is he NHL ready but that he's also better than one of Brian Elliott or the oft-injured Michal Neuvirth. There is plenty of summer left and how Hextall handles the Neuvirth conundrum may tip his hat on how he views Hart’s readiness.

For now, though, Hart has closed the door on the Everett chapter of his hockey career as the best goalie in the CHL for the second time in the past three years. A fitting end to an otherwise fantastic pilgrimage through the WHL.

“It is hard to say goodbye to Everett, whose fans love their team and have taken us in like family,” Hart told Philly Voice. “I’m taking a little piece of Everett to another place whose fans love their team, Philadelphia. I can’t wait. All I want is a chance to prove myself.”

Are Flyers next? How Carter Hart won over his junior GM

Are Flyers next? How Carter Hart won over his junior GM

Carter Hart approached Garry Davidson with a message.

For that brief moment, Davidson didn't have to answer his phone, hang up and then wonder.

The general manager's decision was made — and by the teenager who sought him out like a 30-year-old pro.

"Had he not come in and pushed those buttons," Davidson said, "who knows what I would have done."

The Everett Silvertips' 2016-17 season had just ended in the second round of the WHL playoffs. Davidson, the team's GM, was fielding trade call after trade call regarding his goalie.

It felt like everyone wanted a piece of Hart's final go-around in junior hockey.

"In the offseason this time last year, I was already being approached by several teams," Davidson said last week in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "'Would you move Hart?' There were probably six, seven teams that came after us. As a GM, I had to weigh everything out to see how it might work out."

Until Hart, the Flyers' exciting goalie prospect, had a word with him.

Hart was an eighth-round Bantam draft pick of Everett at 14 years old before he signed his WHL educational contract at 15. He eventually turned himself into a record-setting junior goalie and wanted Davidson to know he had goals of finishing what they started.

"Carter came to me and said, 'Hey, I'd love to do something here with my team and my teammates,'" Davidson said. "He came in at 15 and didn't play obviously a lot but was around at 15 and then a regular member at 16 when he was allowed to stay here. When he came in and we had that discussion, then I dug in and tried to see what I could do to make us better."

Hart's plea and the circumstances offered revealing aspects of exactly why the 19-year-old has Flyers fans giddily awaiting his arrival. The competition after Hart's services speaks volumes about his ability in net; yet maybe even more impressive was the loyalty to his team and the maturity behind it.

"That's one of the big things that Carter has always been, old for his years," Davidson said. "He's all about doing things, day in and day out, the right way."

Davidson never imagined what Hart ultimately became.

But he saw the makeup.

"I always liked Carter because I thought he was athletic but I always liked his composure," Davidson said. "He played with a confidence and not on emotion.

"We had a pretty good goalie here, so we just signed [Hart] and said he'll be our No. 2 guy. He came in here at 16 and a month in he sat in my office and said, 'You know what, I think I can be the best goalie here and I'm going to prove it to you.' Not in a cocky way, but just in a confident way. And subsequently he went on to do that."

In more ways than one.

The Flyers' 2016 second-round draft pick became the first goaltender to win the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy (WHL's top goalie) three times, while his 26 career shutouts are tied for the most in Canadian Hockey League history. His WHL-leading 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save percentage this season make him a favorite to win CHL Goalie of the Year for the second time, something no netminder has ever done. He also rewarded Davidson by leading the Silvertips to the 2018 WHL Final, where they lost in six games to the Swift Current Broncos.

While all the accolades surprised Davidson, the success didn't. Not with a kid as detail-oriented as Hart, who with time, grew into his body at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds.

"He made a comment in our exit meeting the other day, 'Oh, we went out last night and I really actually enjoyed a double-patty burger,' and a whole bunch of foods that he wouldn't normally eat," Davidson said with a laugh. "Because he takes care of every aspect — his rest, his eats, his diet, his off-ice workouts. But that's Carter."

Hart's game will test the pro ranks in 2018-19 as he turns 20 years old in August. Given the big club's situation, a season in the AHL seems more than likely.

"That's a decision the Flyers are going to make," Davidson said, advising patience. "It's also a decision Carter will make because it'll depend on his performance and what he does between now and the start of the NHL season in October."

Long odds or not, Hart already has one thing going for him.

He knows how to make a GM believe.