We are now officially less than one month away from the NHL Draft.
As of right now, the Flyers currently hold two first round picks, sitting at #7 and #29/30 depending on whether the Lightning win the Stanley Cup or not. While the front office may be looking to shop one of the two, this installment focuses on seven option the Flyers could take with their first choice.
This will be Ron Hextall’s second draft at the helm of the organization and last year’s first round draw of Travis Sanheim looks rather genius after he led all WHL defensemen in scoring this past season. Not bad for a kid who was projected to be a second/third round pick and wound up going #17.
So who could Hextall be eyeing up this year? Here are seven realistic routes the Flyers could go with when they are introduced at #7…
Lawson Crouse – LW – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
How He Fits: Remember the success that the Hartnell-Giroux-Voracek line had in 2013-2014? Recall how much they struggled to find a chemistry with a left winger in 2014-2015, which even led to them being split up at times? Well Crouse is capable of being that replacement.
He’s only 17 and he’s already 6’4” and 212 lbs. He’s could go to the front of the net, go into corners and set up #28 and #93 in ways that players like Michael Raffl and Brayden Schenn simply cannot. Big frame also means a heavy shot, so if he’s not parked in front, he can put something on for Giroux and Voracek to work with.
Also, he’s regarded as a really good skater.
Dave Hakstol’s tenure in Philly is a week old and we already know he LOVES guys with a fast tempo.
Downside: Crouse’s stat-line doesn’t make anyone go “wow”. He only put up 51 points in 56 games, which is regarded as way below average in terms of juniors production in a draft year. He has in fact, never really been known for putting up points which makes him a high-risk pick to some. In the recent wave of analytics and advanced statistics, Crouse’s projected performance doesn’t bid well at the NHL level.
Moreover, we know Hextall likes to take his time grooming his picks and considering Crouse is eligible for two more years at the junior level, who knows what could happen to the Giroux-Voracek tandem before the front office even feels the winger is NHL-ready. Just because many experts say he’s ready now, doesn’t mean that’s how the GM will feel.
NHL Comparison: Milan Lucic.
Ivan Provorov – D – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
How He Fits: The Flyers have made it clear they have a commitment to bolstering their defensive core. Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, Robert Haag and Shayne Gostisbehere headline the present-day prospect group that gives Philly fans a lot of hope. Defense on the current Flyer roster can be labeled as disappointing to say the least, therefore adding more promise seems inevitable.
Provorov is slated as the second best available defensemen in the draft behind Noah Hanifin who is likely to be taken in the top five. Deemed as an offensive defenseman, the Russian’s passing ability denotes him as top tier. He’s quick and agile but has a knack for playing a physical game on the defending side of the puck.
61 points in 60 games placed him fourth in scoring by WHL defensemen, a category headed by 2014 first round pick, Travis Sanheim.
Downside: The Brandon Wheat Kings were far and away the best team in the Western Hockey League this past season. They were absolutely stacked and had several returners on defense helping out Provorov which some say is the reason why his numbers were so high this year.
Slightly undersized. Six-foot, 200 lbs. comes in at smaller than Morin, Haag and Sanheim. Needs to be tougher and not as stick-reliant in front of the net and stay at home a time or two more as opposed to throttling up into the play.
NHL Comparison: Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Mikko Rantanen – RW – TPS Turka (Finland)
How He Fits: Rantanen is a playmaker who’s already played with the big boys in his home country. Ranked the best European skater in the draft by Central Scouting he is always a threat on the ice due to his ability to go anywhere. He’ll jump into scoring areas, he’s good on the walls and is exceptional in front of the net. His hockey sense is perceived as “elite-level” and he can undress defenders with his hands.
He would well with the Flyers organization because the recent efforts to produce defensemen, they now may feel obliged to snatch a forward with a top pick for the first time since 2012, when they drafted Scott Laughton. The group of Akeson, Cousins and Laughton is seemingly NHL ready and when that gang gets their shot to stay up with the big club, there’s going to be a hole under the “prospective forwards” list.
Serving as an assistant captain for his club this past year, an underlying vibe is that he could be a character leader one day for an NHL franchise.
Downside: The Fin is going to be one of, if not the biggest player taken in the first round. How is that bad? Listed as big as 6’4”-210 lbs., his seemingly biggest knock is that he doesn’t use his size enough. Seen as “not very physical” and “too soft”, those aren’t exactly keen words to Ed Snider.
A la, Hakstol’s new system, Rantanen’s skating is subject at times as well. We’ve already seen how much this means to the new coach, so it’s almost hard to link a player categorized as that to his regime.
Furthermore, the Flyers currently have Voracek, Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Matt Read with right wing as their best position. Pending contracts, Jason Akeson and Ryan White could be added to that list as well. It’s crowded over there and the Flyers could feel comfortable electing not to continue to fill it.
NHL Comparison: James van Riemsdyk.
Mathew Barzal – C – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
How He Fits: The organization only has two true prospects at center at the moment in Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton. Both of them are right on the cusp of remaining in the Flyers every-night lineup, so it’s time to start replenishing the system. To further the point, Claude Giroux is the only right-handed true center of the group.
Barzal is right-handed and is known as a natural playmaker. There’s nothing special about his frame at 6’ – 180 lbs., but his vision on the ice makes him a threat to distribute the puck or fire away with a quick release. Some say his skating ability is “elite level” and the fact that he finished second on his team in scoring despite missing a large number of games is a nice attribute.
Downside: As mentioned, his size is just, eh. Some scouts say he needs to bulk up a lot or else he’s going to get thrown around in the big leagues and be rather easy to maintain. Being a “Grade A” skater at the junior level may allow you to dodge some bullets but in a more physical pro league, Barzal may just be a victim of many crunches.
For being known as an offensive center, his stat line with Seattle over the last two years isn’t anything phenomenal. Last year he only had 54 points in 59 games and this year he finished with 57 points in 44 games. There are projected to be roughly a dozen center’s taken in the first round, and while four will likely be gone by the time #7 comes around, there seem to be better options if an offensive center is what Hextall is seeking.
NHL Comparison: Bryan Little.
Timo Meier – RW – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
How He Fits: The Swiss important is labeled as “physically dominant” and able to play on a skill line or a shutdown line. This bids well for Meier who could be seen beside guys such as Giroux and Hartnell or locking things up with Sean Couturier. A really strong year, which saw a 60 point increase, led his climb to the top portion of the first round.
Scouts say he is very consistent in almost every effort of his game, which makes life a lot easier for coaches who know what they are going to get night in and night out. The big 18-year-old additionally possesses a hard and accurate shot which some say is his best ability overall. Potential NHL sniper caliber.
Downside: He’s not a good skater and that hurts the heart of Dave Hakstol immensely. Maybe even so much so that it reasons him to pass over Meier. Speed is something that haunted the Flyers last season and it’s clear they’re doing everything possible to try and break away from the former facet of a slow game.
Also, he has a lot to learn yet. The reasonable belief is that he’s at least two years away from being pro ready and then potentially a couple years in the AHL may best serve Meier as well.
NHL Comparison: Jarome Iginla.
Pavel Zacha – C – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
How He Fits: Very few centers have the dynamic ability that Pavel Zacha carries with him at 6’3” – 215 lbs. The size allows him to play a gritty game but scouts say he’s even better when he plays a skill role. He has quick jump, great stick-handling skills and a shot that comes along with it. He undoubtedly has the best one-time in this year’s draft.
Not only does he have the best one-timer but no one else is a better hitter either. On defense he has the ability to line opposing forwards up and absolutely polish them. He loves to play the aggressive style, thus making him a viable fit for the Broad Street Bullies.
Experts also say Zacha has the best chance at becoming a top-tier NHL player by just becoming a full-time left wing. It allows him to use his speed along the boards more.
Downside: His physical game comes at a price and discipline is his biggest issue. He’s been subject to several suspensions and will have to learn what he can and cannot get away with in the pros. The Flyers have seen time and time again how costly irresponsible penalties to players such as Zac Rinaldo can be.
On the offensive end his biggest faults are that he needs to learn to cycle the puck better and learn when to do less. Perhaps not the best idea when you have a star player such as Claude Giroux who tries to do too much at times.
His North American game needs time to mature. 2014-2015 was his first year in North America after playing at the A-level in his native Czech Republic.
NHL Comparison: Evander Kane.
Zach Werenski – D – Michigan University (NCAA)
How He Fits: With the Flyers off-the-map hiring of Dave Hakstol, you can’t rule out the option of selecting member of the college hockey community. To add to that, Werenski’s best quality is his silky smooth skating, Hakstol approval, check.
Passing ability is top-tier and can quarterback the power play, something the Flyers will have to seek when Streit is eventually no longer a member of the team.
There’s so much upside to Werenski and he can take his time at Michigan to fully develop. Age wise, he could still technically be a high-school junior. The Wolverine could be another bright spot to the even brighter future on the Philadelphia back end. What sets him apart is that he’s right-handed. Radko Gudas and Luke Schenn are the only righties on the active roster and none of the Sanheim, Morin, Haag and Ghost group are right-handed either.
Downside: He needs time. He’s probably three years away from being pro-ready because he has several crucial flaws in his defending game such as gap control and using his size better. At 6’2” – 215 lbs. scouts say he needs to get even bigger to not become a pushover defensemen. It’s hard to call 17-year-olds “soft” but in order to compete in the NHL, Werenski needs to learn to hit better as well.
Current power forwards would have a field day taking him one-on-one and that’s exactly what will need to be addressed before he’s seen in the league.
NHL Comparison: Jacob Trouba.
As always, thanks for reading!
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