Flyers general manager Ron Hextall called it a “big day for our franchise.”
He was right.
The Flyers on Saturday night somehow beat long odds and landed the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft. The good fortune changed the entire outlook going forward. The Flyers’ long-term trajectory was already on the upswing despite a disappointing season that saw the team miss the playoffs for the third time in five years.
With the pipeline loaded with defensive prospects and goaltenders, the Flyers will now have an opportunity to add an impact forward into the pool (see draft options). That was not necessarily the case had they drawn the 13th pick, which was the most likely outcome Saturday.
This year’s draft class isn’t considered, by many, to be as deep as those in recent years. Hextall said Saturday that it “isn’t as bad as a draft as people say it is” and “it’s probably an average draft.” He is probably right. Recent years have been special. There was the Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel draft in 2015. Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine last year. Beyond the top two picks, the last two drafts were deep too. The 2015 class was compared to the 2003 draft, one of the best drafts in league history. Last year was a solid crop as well.
By many accounts, this year’s class is all about Brandon center Nolan Patrick and Halifax center Nico Hischier, one of whom the Flyers are now guaranteed to snag at No. 2. Either prospect will give the Flyers a forward piece to build around, which will allow their supplementary pieces to fall into their rightful places without any increased pressure.
There is no guarantee that either Patrick or Hischier will provide an immediate impact, or that either of them will make the Flyers’ roster on opening night. But to be able to add a player of their caliber into the fold albeit this season or 2018-19 accomplishes a few things. More importantly, it bides the Flyers more time to win with captain Claude Giroux.
Much has been written about Giroux’s recent decline. Last season, he dealt with confidence issues after offseason hip/abdominal surgery. His numbers have been downturn over the past three seasons. There hasn’t been much help around him, either, but that’s about to change.
Either Patrick or Hischier should give the Flyers a player they can eventually slide into the role as their offensive catalyst, which would take pressure off Giroux to carry the workload as he ages. It also allows Sean Couturier to slide into his role with less outside pressure to live up to expectations as a No. 8 overall pick. There would be less of a burden on Brayden Schenn to score at 5-on-5 and allow him to be a 20-goal per season, power-play specialist.
The point is there should be secondary scoring to mesh with their primary scoring in the coming years. Giroux is 29. Wayne Simmonds is 28. Jakub Voracek is 27. Couturier is just 24. Schenn is 25. Jordan Weal just turned 25. Travis Konecny is only 20. It's still a young group.
Adding either Patrick or Hischier to a prospect group consisting of German Rubtsov and Oskar Lindblom suddenly changes the Flyers’ landscape up front. Konecny made the Flyers as a 19-year-old last year and Lindblom is expected to be here next season. Rubtsov is a year or two away from being NHL ready. Neither Patrick or Hischier will be guaranteed a spot but will have ample opportunity to earn one in training camp. But the Flyers’ future at forward looks at lot brighter today.
Hextall’s plan appears to be injecting more young blood into the lineup in 2017-18. Ivan Provorov and Konecny made the roster last year as 19-year-olds. All signs point to at least two more defensive prospects joining the team next season, with Robert Hagg and Sam Morin being the favorites. (Hagg and Morin both made their NHL debuts during the final week of this season.) Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers could also push for a spot. If Lindblom doesn't make it, it would be a disappointment.
Landing the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft does another thing: It expedites the Flyers’ timetable to be contenders assuming all goes as planned. Injuries can happen and players don’t pan out as projected, but Patrick and Hischier are what the Flyers desperately need.
A young, dynamic scorer to build around — exactly what the Flyers are looking for.
• The Phantoms were bounced from the AHL playoffs on Sunday night with a 3-2 loss to the Hershey Bears in Game 5 of their best-of-five series. Hershey took a 2-0 series lead before Lehigh Valley battled back to force a Game 5. Per Highland Park Hockey’s Tony Androckitis, it’s just the second time ever a road team won every game in an AHL playoff series.
• Sanheim had three assists in five postseason games. He finished his first professional season with 37 points in 76 regular-season games.
• Morin picked up two helpers in five playoffs games with Lehigh Valley. He had 16 points in 74 regular-season games this year. He’s expected to be a Flyer next season.
• Brynäs IF lost to HV71 in the SHL finals. Lindblom will be coming to North America full time next season, while goalie Felix Sandstrom could make the jump overseas too.
• Samuel Dove-McFalls had a goal and two assists in three games last week. Saint John’s beat Chicoutimi in the QMJHL playoffs and will now face Blainville-Boisbriand in the final.