By Dan Charlton (@Dan_Charlton48)
Picture via the Philadelphia Flyers
Most big names found in the NHL draft are taken in the first round, but occasionally amazing players slip down the boards, leaving teams with a sense of regret. For the Flyers, look no further than Oskar Lindblom, who seems to be a viable top-six option down the road, Radel Fazleev, who is looking to be a bottom-six forward with some scoring touch, and who could forget the player who went from undrafted to top defense prospect in Phillipe Myers?
Connor Bunnaman is another name to add to that list. The big winger stands at over 6 feet tall, and can score. He had a breakout year in the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers this season. In 2015-16, Bunnaman scored 16 goals, 22 assists for 38 points in 68 games for the Rangers. This year, he eclipsed that number easily, most notable in goals. He posted 37 goals and 15 assists (52 points) in 64 games, just barely falling short of the 40 goal mark. He also put up four goals in three playoff games, but was suspended for two games. Kitchener,unfortunately, was the victim of a first-round exit to the Owen Sound Attack.
However, when one door closed for Bunnaman, another opened wide. He was quickly inked to his entry-level contract following his elimination from the playoffs, and was placed on loan to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who were just beginning their playoff run. While Bunnaman and a few other prospects joined the Phantoms, they were not given playing time as the team focused on a playoff run. It was a valuable experience nonetheless for a young player, as they are given a taste of the pro lifestyle so that the transition in the coming years can be smoother than it normally would be.
So what makes Bunnaman such a special player? Why were the Flyers so eager to ink him to a contract?
The answer is that Bunnaman showed an ability that the Flyers needed, he could score, and score a lot. Now, I’m not saying that Bunnaman is going to be “The Sniper We’ve Been Waiting For”, but I do think that he could turn into a legitimate depth scoring threat in the top-nin. It’s often been thrown around that the Flyers have desperately needed a goal scorer, and Bunnaman seems to be just that.
Here’s an example of what Bunnaman brings via his junior team, the Kitchener Rangers (@OHLRangers)
Bunnaman shows a relentless drive to reach the net, as well as some physicality in his game. He’s not a pushover with 214 pounds on his already tall frame, and Kitchener’s leading goal scorer also shows some finesse as well. Now it is also important to keep in mind that this is in juniors. It’s not a sure thing he’ll be able to pull off a lot of his moves in the NHL, but players who can get to the net usually preform well in the NHL as well (see Wayne Simmonds).
Adding another scoring threat is always good, adding one through the draft, even better. But when these players who originally were just names being called late on draft day, those players who had no hype, no debate over them, that’s the best. Franchises are rarely built on only first round picks, not every pick is going to hit, not even top-three picks, look at Nail Yakupov. However, when you do hit on picks, be it Jamie Benn in the fifth round, a Shayne Gostisbehere in the third, or even a Pekka Rinne in the now non-existent eighth round that build franchises. These players get placed in important roles that fuel championship-caliber teams to be just that much better. Their paths may or may not be pretty. They could be riddled with bumps and obstacles, but those prospects who persevere for the sake of a dream, are the ones that make teams great.
Bunnaman, whether he becomes a top-6 forward, scores 30 goals a year, or a bottom-six guy who can chip in 10-15 goals, is going to be a piece for the Flyers moving forward if he can keep this up.