Flyers acquire defenseman Justin Braun in trade with Sharks

Flyers acquire defenseman Justin Braun in trade with Sharks

After doing heavy work to the Flyers' defense last weekend, general manager Chuck Fletcher said the team was going to continue to look at "every available option" to improve its blue line.

He wasn't kidding.

Fletcher on Tuesday traded for Sharks defenseman Justin Braun, sending San Jose a 2019 second-round draft pick and a 2020 third-round selection.

The Flyers now have eight selections in this weekend's draft. The move comes after the Flyers traded Radko Gudas on Friday in exchange for defenseman Matt Niskanen and parted ways with Andrew MacDonald on Saturday via unconditional waivers/contract buyout.

Braun is 32 years old and on the final year of a five-year, $19 million deal with a cap hit of $3.8 million. He has appeared in 84 career playoff games and has played 20-plus minutes a night over San Jose's last five postseason runs. He is a stay-at-home righty shot with a 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame. Braun shares the same agent as Niskanen and knows James van Riemsdyk, who texted him after the trade.

"We are excited to add Justin to our group of defensemen," Fletcher said in a release by the team. "He is a high character, quality defender who will bring a steadying presence to our team."

Fletcher is clearly putting an emphasis on players with experience in winning environments, guys who can influence the Flyers' young group of defensemen. Similar to Niskanen, Braun logs minutes and understands goal prevention. Over the past six seasons, Niskanen and Braun are a combined plus-123. Niskanen has 125 games of playoff experience. Before the additions of these two defensemen, Claude Giroux had played the most postseason games on the Flyers' roster with 69.

"I always try to play defense first and then out," Braun said Tuesday in a conference call. "Good gap, break pucks out quick. Not afraid to go back for pucks and get there first. Take a hit every now and again. I think the boys in San Jose like to laugh at me about that, going back and taking too many hits. You've just got to do what you've got to do to get the puck out."

Despite playing out on the West Coast, Braun was well aware of 20-year-old goalie Carter Hart.

"He looks like the real deal," Braun said. "It'll be exciting to play in front of him. That's good stuff going forward."

So what does this mean for the Flyers' defense? More experience, more depth. For now, it looks like Robert Hagg is the odd-man out. A big 24-year-old coming off an 82-game season is not a bad option for a seventh defenseman.

Does it mean the Flyers are suddenly looking to trade a young defenseman? No. Anything is possible, but Braun has the look of a one-year rental who can help immediately, be that positive influence to help change the way the Flyers play and take some pressure off of a young defense.

"[Fletcher] said I don't want you to be a mentor, I want you to be a player," Braun said. "That's important. I'm there to play, not just take care of guys. Whatever I can teach them."

The potential pairs for now:

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen

Travis Sanheim-Justin Braun

Shayne Gostisbehere-Philippe Myers

"Between Ghost and Provorov, those are the two I probably know the most," Braun said when asked about the Flyers' youthfulness on the blue line. "Played against them the last two years. They're dynamic, they create a lot. They're jumping in the play a lot. You've got to have those guys out there pushing the pace. You're not going to get much offense if you're just taking 3-on-3 rushes. You've got to get that fourth guy on the rush. Hopefully I can help with that. Those guys seem to be elite at it."

When Fletcher took the job, he talked about the Flyers' cap space and slew of draft picks. He's starting to use both and it's only June 18.

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One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

Zack Hill/ Philadelphia Flyers

One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

Bobby Brink will remember waiting.

With the NHL draft, most players will say it doesn't matter where you go or when you're taken, it's just special to hear your name called — a dream realized.

Brink, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound winger from Minnetonka, Minnesota, masterfully delivered in his draft year. He carved up the USHL for 68 points (35 goals, 33 assists) in 43 regular-season games with the Sioux City Musketeers, turning himself into what many viewed as a first-round prospect.

He didn't learn his draft destiny until Saturday, Day 2 of the event, at pick No. 34 overall.

"I landed in a great spot with the Flyers," Brink said last month at development camp, "and I couldn't be happier to be here."

Thrilled, absolutely. But …

"It's motivation that teams passed up on you," Brink said. "It was a long day Friday."

He won't forget.

The Flyers traded up to snag Brink. They were excited he was still available on Day 2, three selections into the second round (see story). Brink said he had met with the Flyers throughout the year and at the NHL Scouting Combine.

"I knew the history of the Flyers," Brink said. "It's such an historic organization.

"They didn't tell me they were going to draft me or anything, but I thought I was on their radar."

For good reason.

Brink isn't regarded as the biggest, fastest or strongest, but there's a deceptive quickness to his skating, he thrives on outsmarting the opposition and he's exceptionally skilled. 

I rely on the scouts to put the list together and Bobby was a player that our entire staff highly endorsed, scouted and very much liked as a hockey player. I've known Bobby and his family for many years. His dad Andy coached my son and also taught him in school. So there's a long relationship there. 

In terms of the background, I felt comfortable giving my opinion to the staff about what a quality kid from a quality family. Watched him play at every level, and it's remarkable — he was a star player in squirt and peewee, and he's a star player in the USHL. It's been amazing to watch his rise. He's a high-quality prospect.

- Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher

During the 5-on-5 scrimmage to finish off development camp, Brink stood out playing alongside top prospects Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe.

"He's a small guy, but he works hard," the 6-foot-6 Ratcliffe said. "He seemed to control the puck and it was on a string for him out there.

"He's a really good player."

Brink, who is headed to the University of Denver, said growing up he has admired smaller players in the NHL like Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane.

"Seeing them do that, I realize that I can do it, too," Brink said. "They're providing me opportunity, for the smaller guys, by having so much success."

Gaudreau, the 25-year-old five-time All-Star, is a 5-foot-9, 165-pound winger who was drafted out of the USHL in 2011. He heard his name called in the fourth round.

Sometimes waiting can be a good thing.

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Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

The Flyers selected Noah Cates during the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, plucking him out of Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota with the 137th overall pick.

At the time, Brent Flahr, Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were sitting at No. 147.

"A kid like Cates was right in our backyard," Flahr said. "One thing in Minnesota when you are there, you hate when Minnesota players, especially the good ones, go ahead of you."

Flahr can now thank Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor. As the assistant general manager of the Flyers, Flahr no longer has to kick himself for missing out on Cates.

"Nick Pryor did a good job," Flahr said last month at development camp. "He was right near his house. They got him. He looks like a real good prospect for us."

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

As a fifth-round pick out of high school, Cates was once well below the surface in the Flyers' prospect pool. With time and hard work, he's beginning to blossom — and the Flyers see it. 

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said. "He's quietly gotten better and better every year, and everything we ask him to do, he's doing it."

In 2017-18, Cates scored nearly a point per game (21 goals, 34 assists) over 60 contests with the USHL's Omaha Lancers. He then followed it up by playing an important role for 2019 national champion University of Minnesota Duluth, recording 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and a plus-12 mark through 40 games as a freshman.

What made the national title even sweeter was winning it alongside his brother Jackson Cates, for a school just shy of a 2½-hour drive from his parents Jeff and Jenny Cates.

"Awesome," Cates said. "I think they were at every game this year. It was so much easier for them that we were in the same spot, a couple hours from home. They're obviously so proud of us."

Couple his freshman year with a goal and two assists for the U.S. in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and it was a productive 2018-19 for Cates.

"Just grew so much, developed so much with the college game — living on my own, going to school and everything like that," Cates said. "Just an awesome year all around and capping it off with that national championship was so special with my family."

Cates is far from the skinny, offense-first player he was in high school. He's gone from 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. He's a smart, all-situation thinker — in large part because of his development with the Bulldogs and trust from head coach Scott Sandelin.

"My role kind of grew as the year went on, got more comfortable," Cates said. "A little bit of power play, some penalty kill, last-minute stuff — that's important to play in all those key situations, so important moving on to have that experience. To do it for a team like that, it was really special. I can't say enough good things about that program and the whole year in general. Coach Sandelin gave me a lot of opportunity and I'm so grateful for that opportunity and took advantage of it."

The Flyers noticed.

"He scored goals, he's on the ice when you're protecting leads, he's killing penalties," Samuelsson said. "He's a very rounded hockey player."

Cates said it's too early to tell how long he'll stay in school.

"When you're on a team like that and with a program like that, you don't want to leave too early and maybe hurt your career," Cates said, "especially with the opportunity that's in Duluth."

After all, there's no real rush. Flahr, Fletcher and the Flyers know him well.

"So happy to be in Philadelphia," Cates said.

"I just need to play the way I can play, especially these next couple years with my development. They're on board with that, they're happy with where I'm at, but I've got to keep making strides."

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