Flyers

Flyers

Finding that so-called "diamond in the rough" may be the hardest thing for an NHL club in the draft.
 
It’s pretty easy to hit on a first-round pick. Maybe even a second-rounder.
 
Past that, it gets more difficult because unlike the NFL in which draft picks are fully matured college athletes in their 20s, the NHL is projecting players at age 17 and 18 four or more years down the road.
  
The Flyers have 11 picks in this week's NHL draft in Chicago. Five of them come in the third and fourth rounds. Four are in rounds five through seven.
 
When you scan the Flyers' organizational depth chart, it's apparent they're rather thin on the wing.
 
General manager Ron Hextall realizes with so many picks this year — especially past the second round — the Flyers need to unearth a diamond.
 
With the second overall pick, the Flyers are assured of getting an NHL player of substance in either Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick, depending on who New Jersey selects at No. 1.
 
It's the later rounds that they need to hit on.
 
They may have already made a find at left wing in Oskar Lindblom, a fifth-round pick (138th overall) in 2014.
 
The soon-to-be 21-year-old Swede will be in training camp this fall. He's projected to make the Flyers' roster.
 
The club hopes that a player like Lindblom becomes the norm, not an exception.
 
"It's huge," Hextall said. "Our guys, our amateur staff, if you look the last three or four years, they've done a really good job. But there's no time to get complacent.
 
"We've got 11 picks, and they have to be good. We expect to hit on late and mid-round picks. Not everyone, obviously. That would be unrealistic. You mentioned Lindblom and if it turns out, it's a terrific pick.
 
"But if you look at it a couple years later [after the draft] and you can still say, 'It was a good pick.' That's more of what you want … that's kind of what you're looking for, that two years down the road you can say, 'OK, we had 11 picks and seven of them have a pretty good chance of playing.' That's pretty good."
 
Lindblom is a perfect example of what the Flyers need more of from this draft and others — past, present and future.
 
"You can't take one player out of a draft to be a successful franchise," Hextall said. "We have to continue to push and keep pulling players in late rounds."
 
The truly sad part here is the fact that the Flyers simply haven't hit on any later-round wingers since, believe it or not, Rick Tocchet in 1983. Most of their best wingers have come via free agency and trades, not through the draft.
 
A sixth-round pick, Tocchet is the last Flyers winger who you could point to as an impact player in three areas: scoring, overall toughness and character on and off the ice.
 
Neither Patrick Maroon (6th/2007) nor Todd Fedoruk (7th/1997) fit the mold here. Tye McGinn (4th/2010) looked like he had the potential, but never panned out.
 
Simon Gagne? Doesn't qualify on two fronts. First, he was a first-round pick — not later round — and a natural center, who shifted back and forth initially as a Flyer, until settling into a left wing role.
 
Without question, Tocchet remains the all-time, late-round impact winger the Flyers have drafted.
 
"I was very fortunate to be drafted by the Flyers," Tocchet said last week. "The organization and the city fit my personality and style of play."
 
Tocchet is fifth all-time among Flyers right wingers in points (508), sixth in hat tricks (8) and first in penalty minutes with 1,817 — far ahead of Paul Holmgren (1,600), who is second.
 
Following the Penguins' latest Cup, Tocchet now has one ring as a player and two as an assistant coach — all via Pittsburgh.
 
Lindblom is not going to rack up the kind of penalty minutes that Tocchet had as a late-round pick. He doesn't fight. He's a very different player.
 
What the Flyers need, however, is for Lindblom to become an impact winger, who remains in the organization for more than a couple seasons.
 
From the 2012 draft forward, the Flyers have three wingers — not centermen — selected in the later rounds (fourth or later), whom they are hoping will ultimately make the NHL. Obviously, Lindblom is their top prospect there.
 
After him, they have David Kase (5th/2015), a right winger, and left winger Taylor Leier (4th/2012). Samuel Dove-McFalls, a fourth-round left winger from the 2015 draft, was cut loose earlier this month and not signed.
 
Neither Kase nor Leier — who has been an NHL call-up for 16 games with just one goal — appear to be players who project as impact wingers at the NHL level. But that could change.
 
Which is all the more reason why Lindblom has to pan out. And why the Flyers need to come up with a future diamond at this week's NHL draft.
 
Now, all of this aside, the Flyers still have a chance to hit on some prospects as wingers from earlier draft rounds — Rounds 2 and 3.
 
Specifically, there is right winger Wade Allison (2nd) and left winger Tanner Laczynski (3rd) from last year's draft. Right winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel (2nd/2014) is another. Also, Cooper Marody (6th/2015), was drafted as a center, but is playing right wing in college.
 
Regardless, Hextall's mission remains clear. It's not enough for the Flyers to be content on hitting the mark early in the draft.
 
You need to hit somewhere late as well.
 
"We've had a lot of picks in the last three or four years, so, yes, we need a lot of young players out of those picks," Hextall said. "There's going to be years where we don't have 11 picks. We're going to have five picks or seven picks. We have to make hay right now."