With the draft only 8 days away (!) I'm sure we are all wondering what our Fly Guys will be doing with their first-round pick. Will they draft by need (defenseman, big-bodied forward?) or will they opt to go with their traditional "best player available" approach? We won't really know the answer to this for a little over a week, but it's still fun to speculate!
I put together by own personal draft board at the 11th slot based on where I think the Flyers should be turning their wheels in the first round. This list is in order of whom I believe should be selected with their pick. It omits the obvious prospects who - barring a trade - will/should NOT be there at 11 (Jones, Drouin, Mackinnon, Barkov, a few others) and it also includes my gauge of the probablity that the player will be available at that slot in the draft.
Here we go (in order):
Ryan Pulock (6' 1 210) - Defenseman: Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Pulock has been widely recognized for his offensive prowess and his ability to unleash a heavy, accurate slapshot that has been clocked at 101 MPH. The right-handed shooting backliner plays a savvy two-way game, and although he's not as big as some other top defensemen in this draft, he is built well, doesn't shy away from the physical game, and even benched over 400 lbs. at the combine.
He had a few injuries over the past season that forced him to miss some time, but he may have the highest offensive upside of any defenseman in the draft apart from Seth Jones. If selected at 11, Pulock with provide the Flyers organization with a much needed injection of youth with top-pairing potential that skates well, has a right-handed howitzer, and can play with a physical game. His defensive game is still developing, but he will fill out even more and develop with his heady two-way play.
He would give the Flyers an element on the blue line that they haven't had in the system in quite a few years.
Likelihood of availabiliy - Moderate to High
Rasmus Ristolainen (6' 4 205) - Defenseman: TPS (SM-liiga, Finland)
This Finnish backliner skates extremely well for having a big frame and is a smart, two-way player who oozes hockey sense. Scouts seem to disagree on his alleged mean streak, but he does not shy away from the physical part of the game - it is a clear strength. While he displays some offensive ability in his current league, he isn't projected to be a big-time point producer at the next level.
If drafted, Ristolainen would bring a very well-rounded, smooth-skating right handed shot that projects as a top four defenseman. Since he already plays with men, he may be closer to NHL ready than any blueliner on this list - and he is likely the best skater. He may not have the offensive upside of a Ryan Pulock, but he certainly displays the tools that can develop into at least a solid two-way defenseman at the next level. His size, skating, ability to make an impact in the physical part of the game, and hockey sense make him a smart pick at 11 for a time that could use a young defenseman that brings multiple elements to the ice.
Likelihood of availability - Moderate
Hunter Shinkaruk (5' 11 178) - Center/Left Wing: Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Shinkaruk is an offensively gifted skater who is tenacious on the forecheck and plays with a high motor. While he is a bit undersized for the next level, he makes up for it with well above-average speed, excellent hands, and a quick and lethal shot. Though he may be more effective on the wing due to his lack of size and average defensive abilities, he is one of only a handful of prospects in this draft who has top-line offensive talent.
He would provide Philly with a fast-skating, sniper that fits in with the high tempo offensive system that (ideally) creates a lot of chances off the counter rush. This style would suit Shinkaruk's game well and he may have a shot to make the squad right out of camp due to his budding offensive talents - especially as a shooter. Though I'd rather see the Flyers go for a defenseman at 11 - especially with the depth in this year's draft - I would be OK with them taking Shinkaruk here as he may be the only forward available at this slot with top line offensive talent.
Likelihood of availability - Moderate
Darnell Nurse (6' 5 190) - Defenseman: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
The nephew of former Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Donovan McNabb already has bloodline ties to the city and certainly plays the style of game that fans would welcome. Nurse is tall, physically punishing, and is a surprisingly strong skater for someone his size. He has some filling out to do before playing at the NHL level, but he brings an all-around game from the backline and an element of meanness that makes his stand out form other defenders.
More scouts than not question his ability to provide offense at the next level due to questionable offensive instincts and an average shot, but these can hopefully be developed in time as he adds strengh to his 6' 5 frame. He projects as more of a shutdown defender, but has the skill - and certainly the skating ability - to contribute effectively in all three zones. He is still somewhat raw, hence not being as "safe" a pick as Pulock or Ristolainen. I would still take those two despite Nurse being ranked higher in most drafts; this is simply because I don't believe Nurse is as safe a bet to provide the offense that Philly needs from the backline moving forward. With all that being said, I'd still be very happy if he fell due to the overall package of physical talent.
Likelihood of availability - Low
Adam Erne (6' 0 205) - Right Wing/Left Wing: Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
This one may be a bit of a reach since he is projected closer to 15-20 in most mock drafts, but he possesses a unique skill set that could transition well to the NHL level. Erne has good, but not elite, size at 6' 0 205 lbs but plays a very high-octane, physical game and can be a force on the forecheck with tenacity and powerful skating ability. He has fine offensive tools, including a deadly wrist shot, and put up 72 points in 66 games this past season.
He likely brings 2nd line upside if the Flyers decide to use their 11th pick on him. He brings the speed, physical game, and forechecking abilities that Philly craves out of their power forwards. I haven't seen a mock that has him being selected at or before 11, but everything I read on this winger makes me can't help but wonder why he wouldn't be someone that Flyers covet. He can play either wing and could potentially bring an energetic, physical presence on the 2nd line some day soon.
Likelihood of availability - Very High
Nikita Zadorov (6' 5 228) - Defense: London Knights (OHL)
Simply put, Zadorov is a monster on the blue line. Scouts drool over his combination of size, strength, and surprisingly strong skating ability for a player his size. He's the fourth defenseman on this list because of two things: his potential for only topping out at moderate offensive production at higher levels and his streaky physical play. He doesn't always play mean, and he may not quarterback a power play at the NHL level.
If he lands in Philly it is because they hope that his offensive game continues to produce at a level that sees him posting 30+ points at the NHL level while also playing a significant shutdown role with his size and mobility. The more I read about him, the more I liken him to a slightly better skating, less physical Luke Schenn - at least the consistency of such a physical game. I wouldn't be too upset with his selection, mainly due to Philly's glaring future needs at this position, but I'd be disappointed if he was selected over a Pulock or Ristolainen.
Likelihood of availability - High