By Dan Silver (@dsilver88)
Intro – Flyers Prospect Pool & Draft Needs
Heading into the 2017 NHL Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers boasted one of deepest prospect pools in the league, which I covered in this article back in March.
However, despite my list-topper Oskar Lindblom being a forward, four of the remaining 11 prospects were defensemen (Philippe Myers, Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, and Robert Hagg) while another four were goalies (Felix Sandstrom, Carter Hart, Anthony Stolarz, and Alex Lyon). The only weakness in the Flyers prospect arsenal was the relative lack of forwards – both top-end and depth.
Welp, after this weekend’s draft, that is no longer the case, as General Manager Ron Hextall selected seven forwards – leaving only one pick apiece for a goalie and a defenseman.
Let’s take a deeper dive into who the Flyers selected!
1st Round – #2 Overall Pick – Nolan Patrick (C)
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) May 24, 2017
It’s been well-documented how the Flyers made the biggest leap in the history of the NHL Draft Lottery, going from #13 to #2. After the lottery, Flyers fans spent nearly two months agonizing over who the New Jersey Devils would take first, and who would be left for the Flyers.
The consensus top two players were Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier – if you’re looking for an in-depth comparison of these two, check out my NHL ’94 video game style article covering their strengths and weaknesses.
In the end, the Devils chose Hischier, leaving the Flyers to make their selection. Here’s my video from the @BroadStHockey draft party in downtown Philly.
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) June 23, 2017
Patrick was the consensus #1 player heading into the 2016-17 season following a 132-point season (regular season and playoffs combined) for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL). Playing on the same team as Flyers top defenseman Ivan Provorov, Patrick led Brandon to the 2016 WHL championship and was named playoff MVP.
At 6’2″, 200 lbs, he’s the prototypical two-way NHL franchise center, with above-average speed, excellent passing and playmaking ability, an elite shot, and a very high hockey IQ. The only thing that could derail him were injuries, as he spent the majority of his draft season on the shelf with groin and leg injuries.
My feeling is that he could have played in more games, but purposely didn’t push it with the ultimate goal of making an NHL roster at the beginning of the 2017-18 season.
That’s good news for the Flyers, and I would predict that barring any further injuries, Nolan Patrick will be the team’s #2 or #3 center for opening day of this coming season.
I compare him to a Ryan Getzlaf or Joe Thornton type of player, with the upside at his peak to score 30 goals and add another 50 assists on a yearly basis.
1st Round – #27 – Morgan Frost (C/W)
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) June 24, 2017
The Flyers pulled off arguably the most surprising trade on Day 1 of the draft, sending oft-maligned forward Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for forward Jori Lehtera and two 1st round picks.
While I won’t get deep into the trade here, let me just say that I think it was a good move, as Schenn is a very poor even strength player who I don’t think was ever going to take the next step in his development. I’d rather have forwards like Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, and Patrick getting the ice time that Schenn has seen the past few seasons.
With the first of the two 1st round picks that the Flyers acquired, they took forward Morgan Frost, who garnered tremendous praise from Hextall and co.
“Our whole staff really liked the guy. He’s an extremely intelligent player, his No. 1 asset. Really smart. Reads the ice well. He has a very deft touch moving the puck.” – Ron Hextall
In watching highlights of Frost, what also jumps out at you is his tremendous speed and acceleration. At 5’11”, 170 lbs, he needs to bulk up, but it’s clear that he has a a very high upside.
In the highlight I posted above, I hate to say it, but the way he skates, stickhandles, and shoots the puck reminds me a lot of Sidney Crosby. I’m obviously not comparing the two from a talent perspective, but Frost’s posture on the ice is similar to Sid.
This pick reminds me of 2014 when Hextall took what some considered a 1st round reach, selecting defenseman Travis Sanheim. Both him and Frost are terrific skaters with excellent upside.
Playing for a loaded Sault Ste. Marie team in the Ontario Hockey League, (OHL) I wouldn’t be surprised if Frost puts up some bigtime numbers next season, and should easily eclipse the 20 goals and 42 assists he registered this past season.
2nd Round – #35 – Isaac Ratcliffe (LW)
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) June 24, 2017
Isaac Ratcliffe is a big boy, measuring in at 6’6″, 200 lbs, and Ron Hextall clearly thinks very highly of him, as he traded picks #44, #75, and #108 to trade up to #35 to take the lanky winger.
When I watched highlights of Ratcliffe, it was impossible not to be reminded of a current Flyer – fan favorite Wayne Simmonds.
Most of Ratcliffe’s goals (he scored 28 of them this past season with the OHL’s Guelph Storm) come from parking himself in front of the goalie and firing in rebounds or slamming home passes from teammates. That being said, as the video I posted shows, he also has some agility and stickhandling skills.
Scouts say that foot speed is Ratcliffe’s biggest area of improvement. By putting on some added weight and working on his speed, there’s no doubt that he could become an absolute behemoth for the Flyers a few years down the road.
3rd Round – #80 – Kirill Ustimenko (G)
Big goalies are definitely a thing in the NHL these days – look no further than the Stanley Cup Finals with 6’4″ Matt Murray for the Pens and 6’5″ Pekka Rinne for the Preds.
With their one goalie selection this draft, the Flyers selected the 6’3″ Ustimenko from Belarus.
He spent his past season with St. Petersburg in the MHL (Russia’s equivalent of the Canadian Junior Leagues – player’s can’t be older than 20), posting a stellar 1.74 goals-against-average to go with a .938 save percentage in 27 games, second-best among regular goalies in the league.
He also stood on his head for the Russian team in the Under-18 World Junior Championships, posting a 0.50 goals-against-average and a preposterous .984 save percentage.
According to scouts, he is extremely athletic, tracks pucks well and controls rebounds effectively.
The Flyers have a ton of goalie prospects, but I always compare it to throwing spaghetti against the wall, you just never know which strands are going to stick!
4th Round – #106 – Matthew Strome (RW)
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) June 25, 2017
The less heralded brother of Top 5 picks Ryan (#5, 2011) and Dylan (#3, 2015), Matthew Strome is a much less flashy player than his siblings – more of a steady goal-scorer than a playmaker.
That being said, he actually scored more goals during his draft year than his brother Ryan – as Matthew put up 34 goals for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. Of course, Ryan had almost thrice the assists.
Matthew is the biggest of the three, checking in at 6’4″ and weighing almost 210 lbs. When you watch the highlights, you can see that he’s a natural goal scorer – usually in the right spot to accept a pass and blast a one-timer past the goalie. He’s also terrific at picking up loose pucks around the crease and depositing them in the net.
TSN analyst Craig Button had him as the 44th-ranked prospect, so it’s very possible that the Flyers landed a mid-round steal.
Strome really needs to work on his speed and agility, but if that comes around, he projects as a 2nd- or 3rd-line NHL winger and possibly a guy to park in front of the net on the power play.
4th Round – #107 – Maksim Sushko (RW)
The second Belarus-native taken by the Flyers, Sushko is a 6’0″, 180-lb winger with deft hands in front of the net, as illustrated by the two goals in the above clip.
Taken at #29 in the 2016 Canadian Hockey League import by the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack, Sushko came over this past season and put up respectable numbers, scoring 18 goals, adding 14 assists, and registering an impressive plus-10 rating in 54 games. He also added 11 points in 17 playoff games.
According to this player profile from the OHL Writers website, “Sushko has a deceptively quick release on his shot and he gets a lot on it with an ability to beat goaltenders cleanly. As good a goal scorer as he is, he’s just as good a playmaker. He sees the ice extremely well, makes the right decisions, thinks the game at a high level and quickly and can deliver a crisp, clean pass.”
Like many of these young prospects, scouts say that Sushko needs to work on his defensive game, as he is much more tenacious on the forecheck than in the defensive zone.
Playing on the same team as Vegas 1st-round pick Nick Suzuki, there should be plenty of opportunities for Sushko to strut his stuff next season in the OHL.
5th Round – #137 – Noah Cates (LW)
Noah Cates has some skill. pic.twitter.com/6xKgXSE8iE
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) June 24, 2017
Umm, well that was a pretty nice goal!
Listed at 6’0″, 165 lbs, Cates obviously has some physical development to do, and he’s a bit of an unknown as he spent most of this past season playing for Stillwater High School in Minnesota, where he racked up 65 points in 25 games.
However, he did play 11 games (scoring seven points) with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL), one of the top development leagues in the country.
We’ll find out more about Cates next year, as he will be taking his talents to the University of Minnesota-Duluth this coming fall.
It’s always exciting to see how a player whose exposure has been limited adapts when he begins playing at the next level, and hopefully Cates’ skill will transition over and continue to develop.
Round 6 – #168 – Olle Lycksell (RW)
We’re now getting into the players who it is relatively hard to get information on.
If you search for images of Olle Lycksell, you get photos of Ron Hextall, a vampire-looking person, a boy band (?), shirtless Swedish (?) swimmers, a blond woman, and a man on a bike. Oh, you also get the above photo of (presumably) Lycksell, although this photo has to be from like five years ago, right?
If you search for videos of Olle Lycksell, you get a few music videos, one with an older lady playing a strange instrument that looks like a cross between a keyboard and an accordion.
So what do we know? Well, he is listed at 5’10” and 160 lbs, and he put up pretty respectable numbers playing across three levels in Sweden this past season. The highest level was with Linkoping in the SuperElite league, where he put up nine points in 29 games.
The Flyers have had pretty good success drafting in the mid-to-late rounds from Sweden, most notably of them all taking Oskar Lindblom in the 5th round in 2014.
If Lycksell develops half as well as Lindblom, it will have been a good pick.
Round 7 – #196 – Wyatt Kalynuk (D)
— USHL (@USHL) March 12, 2017
Well, it took until their last pick of the draft, but the Flyers finally took a defenseman, adding the 6’1″, 175-lb Kalynuk.
Make no mistake, that’s a credit to the insanely deep pool of defense prospects that the Flyers have amassed, and not a criticism of their drafting this year.
The 20-year-old Manitoba-native spent the entire season playing with the USHL’s Bloomington Thunder, compiling six goals, 25 assists, and 82 penalty minutes in 60 games.
Next season he’ll man the blueline for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, which should give the Flyers a better idea of exactly what they have in him.
According to this article from the Wisconsin State Journal, Kalynuk is an “an offensive defenseman touted for his skating, vision and poise.”
You can certainly see some of that offensive ability on display in the video above – nice end-to-ender!
He’s also apparently from the same area as one of the Flyers top defense prospects, Travis Sanheim.
— Travis Sanheim (@sanheim17) June 24, 2017
It will be fun to watch him develop at Wisconsin!
Conclusion – Deepest Prospect Pool in NHL?
As I mentioned in my intro, the Flyers had arguably the deepest pool of young defensemen + goalies in the entire NHL heading into this year’s draft.
Well, after adding seven forwards over the past few days, including potential franchise center Nolan Patrick, it is not a stretch to say that the Philadelphia Flyers now have the deepest overall prospect pool in the NHL.
And keep in mind that via the Schenn trade, the team now also has two 1st round picks in 2018.
Another takeaway is that with the team only taking one defenseman, I’d say that’s a pretty strong indication that Ron Hextall will be in no rush to trade any of the young defensemen in the system.
Overall, it was an extremely strong weekend for Hextall and Co., and it’s very plausible to think that the Flyers should be one of the best teams in the NHL for half of the next decade, if not longer.