Flyers Draft Preview

By Dan Silver (@dsilver88)

What are the Needs for an Already Deep Prospect Pool?

The Philadelphia Flyers head into the 2018 NHL Draft, set to be held Friday, June 22 (1st round) and Saturday, June 23 (2nd – 7th rounds) in Dallas, with two picks in the top 20 (14 & 19) and arguably the deepest prospect pool in the entire league. Back in January I unveiled my updated top 15 Flyers prospects, which you can read here.

The team is particularly strong in prospects down the middle, meaning centers, defensemen, and goalies.

Center Morgan Frost was recently named runner-up for Most Outstanding Player in the Ontario Hockey League, quite a feat for an 18-year-old. I wrote many words about him back in December.

Defenseman Philippe Myers got over his nagging injuries to become a force for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in their sustained playoff run, notably playing an incredible team-leading 66 minutes in their American Hockey League-record five overtime win in the quarterfinals.

Perhaps most impressively, goaltender Carter Hart had arguably the greatest season in the history of all three Canadian Junior Leagues, winning Western Hockey League MVP and Top Goaltender (for a record third time) honors after posting an absurd 1.60 goals-against-average and a preposterous .947 save percentage.

After that clear-cut top three, the Flyers still have a bevy of very good prospects who will be expected to make an NHL impact.

Assuming that the players the team drafts probably won’t impact the NHL roster until at least 2019 or 2020, when evaluating the team’s greatest areas of need, it’s important to get a sense of what the roster could look like a few years down the road.

This could be an article in and of itself (and might be later in the summer), but here’s a snapshot of what the Flyers roster could look like going into the 2019-20 season, not taking into account any potential trades or free agent signings.

Flyers 2019-20 Roster

A few notable things to keep in mind about this roster:

  • I assumed they would not re-sign Wayne Simmonds
  • I predicted a buy-out of Radko Gudas during the summer of 2019
  • The players in orange are free agents at the end of this season or next season that I am predicting they re-sign, and the players in yellow are free agents at the end of the 2019-20 season

The thing that really jumps out at you when looking at this roster are the lack of right wings and the questionable quality of the left wings. The team’s depth down the middle is extremely strong, but it is extremely evident that the franchise’s biggest need moving forward are wingers.

The good news for the Flyers is that all things being equal, teams value centers, defensemen, and goaltenders more than wingers, so there is a good chance there will be some very good wingers available when the team picks in the first round.

Taking the Best Available Player?

All that being said, under general manager Ron Hextall the Flyers have pretty much stuck to the philosophy of drafting the best available player with their first-round selections.

However, in my opinion it is a fairly fruitless exercise to try and predict how any NHL team specifically values players once you get past the first 10 picks or so.

Last year is a great example – when the Flyers traded Brayden Schenn for a package including the 27th pick, many assumed the team was trading up to take Eeli Tolvanen, a high-volume shooter who fit the fan perception of what the team needed.

Nope.

It turned out they were taking a player on few, if any, Flyers fans radars – Morgan Frost, And he went on to surprise scouts everywhere with his incredible season.

So for that reason, while the Flyers may once again take the best available players with their picks, for this article I am going to concentrate mainly on the wingers that might fit their needs best.

Trade-Up Targets

In this section I am going to concentrate on four wingers who will almost assuredly be selected before the Flyers first pick occurs at 14.

While the team could very well stay at picks 14 and 19, both past practice and recent quotes from Hextall suggest that there is at least a reasonable chance that they trade up.

In 2015, Hextall packaged picks 29 and 61 to move up to 24 and snag Travis Konecny.

In 2017, Hextall packaged picks 44, 75, and 108 to move up to 35, where the team selected Isaac Ratcliffe.

And in his end-of-season press conference, Hextall said they might look to move up in the 1st round.

Hextall has a history of trading up, he’s hinted it might happen, and the team has plenty of draft picks and prospects to dangle in a potential trade.

With all that being said, let’s take a look at the wingers who might be worth trading up for.

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Andrei Svechnikov, LW, Barrie (OHL)

6’2″, 188, Born 3/26/00, Shoots: L

This is probably a pipe dream, as Svechnikov is most likely to go 2nd overall to the Hurricanes, who moved up from 11th in the Lottery a la the Flyers last year.

A big winger cut in the Evgeny Malkin mold, Svechnikov dominated in the Ontario Hockey League this season with 40 goals and 72 points in 44 games.

While the two goals in the above video show how he can score goals by driving wide and finishing with a flourish or driving the middle and unleashing a devastating shot, the below clip illustrates how he is equally adept at setting up teammates.

In order to trade up for the second overall pick, the Flyers would likely have to part with their picks at 14 and 19 in addition to either Travis Konecny or Travis Sanheim and probably another NHL roster player, so I’d say it’s highly unlikely.

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Filip Zadina, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)

6’0″, 195, Born 11/27/99, Shoots: L

Like Svechnikov, it’s probably unlikely that the Flyers will trade up high enough to have a chance to select Zadina. His likeliest landing spot is third overall to the Canadiens, although there’s a chance he falls a few spots.

Zadina’s trademark skills are lightning quickness, terrific stickhandling skills, and arguably the most effective shot in the draft.

The above goal was even more impressive considering it came in the World Junior Championships against Team Canada and Flyers sensational goaltending prospect Carter Hart. What’s amazing about Zadina is how quickly he can get himself into shooting position, as illustrated in the below clip.

And one more for good measure, what a dangle and backhand roofer!

Zadina torched Quebec Major Junior Hockey League goalies to the tune of 44 goals in 57 games.

He’s a very exciting prospect and it would be incredible to see him alongside a Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, or Morgan Frost eventually, but like with Svechnikov, it would probably take trading both the Flyers first-round picks, along with a Sanheim or Konecny to get it done. But it’s slightly more feasible than trading up to second.

Wahl

Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, USA Under-18 Team (USHL)

6’1″ 205, Born 6/13/00, Shoots: R

Oliver Wahlstrom is one of the most prolific goal scorers to ever come out of the United States National Team Development Program. This season he put up a staggering 77 goals in 95 games across three different US teams, including the Under-18 tournament.

Simply stated, he will shoot from anywhere and can beat the goalie in a myriad of ways.

We are now getting into the territory where the Flyers might be able to package picks 14 and 19, and perhaps another prospect, to move up and snag the player in question, as Wahlstrom could go anywhere between picks 4-9.

However, the more I have read up on Wahlstrom and watched tape, the more uncertain I become about whether or not he would be worth trading up to acquire.

His hockey IQ looks very questionable to me – it’s hard to find tape of really good passes that he makes or plays that demonstrate a superior awareness of what’s going on in the game around him. Because of that, it puts his ultimate upside in question, and I think that some of the players the Flyers could get at 14 and 19 actually have higher NHL ceilings than Wahlstrom.

I’d rather pay the extra price to move up and acquire a guy like Svechnikov or Zadina, or just stay put at 14 and 19 as opposed to trading a lot to acquire Wahlstrom.

Brady

Brady Tkachuk, LW, Boston University (NCAA)

6’3″, 195, Born 9/16/99, Shoots: L

As opposed to Wahlstrom, Brady Tkachuk is a player that I would have no problem trading up for if I were the Flyers.

He is built in the same mold as his father, Keith, another left winger who scored more than 500 goals and 1,000 points in his long NHL career.

As a freshman for Boston University this season, Tkachuk put up very impressive numbers, scoring eight goals and adding 23 assists for 31 points in 40 games.

He was also an absolute force in the World Junior Championships.

Here’s a goal that his dad would be proud of, as Brady starts the cycle in the corner, heads to the front of the net, and buries a nice feed past Flyers goaltending prospect Carter Hart.

Some people question Tkachuk’s ultimate upside due to a perceived lack of speed, but look at how quickly he gets up the ice here before taking a pass and showing nice hands to slide one five-hole.

And in stark contrast to Wahlstrom, Tkachuk shows excellent hockey sense; just take a look at this terrific play he makes from behind the net to set up a teammate.

All in all, I love Brady Tkachuk’s skill set and think he would be the perfect winger to complement guys like Patrick and Frost.

Like Wahlstrom, he could probably go anywhere from picks 4-9, but unlike Wahlstrom, I’d be fine with packaging 14, 19, and a prospect to move up and snag him.

Potential Flyers Picks at 14 and 19

The more film I watch of the wingers that might be available when the Flyers pick at 14 and 19, the more happy I become.

In my mind, the Flyers biggest need right now are dynamic wingers, and there really are a number that could be available and boast very high NHL upside.

I already mentioned that the Flyers have typically opted for the best player available in the first round of the draft, so it’s possible they go defensemen or center, but I’m very confident in the quality of wingers.

Let’s take a look at some of the top options that could be available for their current picks.

Kravt

Vitali Kravtsov, RW, Chelyabinsk (KHL)

6’2″, 170, Born 12/23/99, Shoots: L

The stock of Vitali Kravtsov has exploded in the last few months, mainly on the strength of his sensational playoff performance in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), arguably the second-best league in the world.

After scoring a respectable seven points in 35 regular season games for Chelyabinsk, Kravtsov exploded for six goals and 11 points in 16 playoff games – one of the best ever postseason performances from an 18-year-old in the KHL. Keep in mind that he’s one of only a handful of draft-eligible European prospects who played in the KHL as most play in lesser leagues.

Here’s one of those playoff goals, an incredible display of one-on-one skill with a beautiful finish.

Here’s another playoff goal, this one showing off his quick release and pinpoint shooting accuracy.

And lastly, look at the combination of passing, hockey smarts, and finishing ability that goes into this goal.

Kravtsov has everything you could wish for in a dynamic playmaking winger, and I’d be thrilled if the Flyers wound up with him as one of their two picks.

It’s possible that his KHL playoff performance is garnering so much credit that he won’t be available at 14, but as we’ll see, there are a lot of good options.

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Dominik Bokk, RW, Vaxjo (SHL)

6’1″, 180, Born 2/3/00, Shoots: R

From a pure puck skills perspective, you could argue that no NHL draft prospect is more impressive than Dominik Bokk.

Playing in the Swedish equivalent of the Canadian Juniors, the SuperElit, Bokk put up 41 points in 35 games. The German-born winger also got a taste of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), their professional platform, scoring two points in 15 games for Vaxjo.

Here are three very nice plays from Bokk that give you a taste of his stickhandling and playmaking ability.

Since I don’t get to see a lot of these players live, and have to rely on what I read and the video available, it’s noteworthy when one of the major prospect reporters falls in love with a player, and that appears to be the case with The Athletic’s Corey Pronman and Bokk.

“I watched him about as much as any prospect, going though about half his games this season. Every game I saw of him, there were 1 or 2 instances that left you marveled.  He shows you glimpses of elite talent and someone who can be an impact winger. Bokk’s pure puck skill is up there with the very best in the draft class.”

Corey Pronman’s Draft Preview at The Athletic

Pronman ranked Bokk eighth on his list, notably ahead of Tkachuk, who he had ninth.

I think it’s more likely than not that Bokk makes it to the Flyers pick at 14, and he clearly is a very talented player who would be a nice addition to the team’s stable of prospects.

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Grigori Denisenko, LW, Yaroslavl (MHL)

5’11”, 175, Born 6/24/00, Shoots: R

Of all the wingers that I think might be available at 14, Grigori Denisenko might be my personal favorite. I was blown away by the amount of incredible plays he makes – he reminds me of a cross between Artemi Panarin and Alexei Kovalev.

Playing in the Russian Junior League (MHL), he scored nine goals and totaled 22 points in 31 games for Yaroslavl, adding seven points in 12 playoff games.

He’s a silky smooth playmaker, as illustrated in this goal where he records the primary assist.

On this one, he looks like a magician, taking the puck from behind the net and through a defender in the blink of an eye to create a dynamite scoring chance.

And in this one, he squirts up the right wing and buries a wrister top shelf.

His stats weren’t gaudy this season, and he wasn’t playing in the top Russian league like Kravtsov, but one of the things that stood out to me in the highlights were the incredible number of plays that Denisenko made that didn’t result in goals, simply due to teammates failing to finish.

He’s a late birthday for the draft, and I think he has about as much upside as any player that could be available at 14. Count me a huge fan.

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Joel Farabee, LW, USA National Team Development Program (USHL)

6’0″, 165, Born 2/25/00, Shoots: L

Playing much of the season with Wahlstrom, Joel Farabee torched the USA Development Program for a combined 124 points in 95 games, including the Under-18 Tourney.

He’s a player that I’ve heard a lot of buzz about from Flyers fans on social media, and for good reason, as he’s a dynamic player who plays with a very high intensity level.

He can rifle the puck, as evidenced by this absolutely perfect shot.

Here’s another great shot from Farabee, this one coming after he makes a very smart hockey play to create more room for himself.

And finally, on this goal we see how shifty Farabee is, along with a display of his very good awareness and passing ability.

I think Farabee would be an absolutely fine pick for the Flyers at 14, and he comes with about as high a floor as any of the players that would be available.

That being said, I don’t think his ceiling is quite as high as a Kravtsov, Bokk, or Denisenko so lean slightly towards those three.

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Jonatan Berggren, RW, Skelleftea (SHL)

5’10”, 180, Born 7/16/00, Shoots: L

Jonatan Berggren absolutely torched the Swedish SuperElit league this season, leading all scorers with 57 points in 38 games. Demonstrating the difference between that league and Sweden’s premier league, he wasn’t able to muster a point in 10 SHL games.

However, he clearly has a ton of skill, and as a later birthday among draft-eligibles there’s lots of room for growth.

If you’re looking for a dynamic winger who can bring fans out of their seats, check out this end-to-end goal.

Here’s a breakaway goal that Berggren finished with a Claude Giroux type of move.

And here’s another end-to-end rush that doesn’t result in a goal but is very impressive nevertheless!

As is quickly becoming clear, there are myriad wingers that might be available for the Flyers picks at 14 and 19 who have incredible offensive upside, which is why the more I research the more I think staying put at those picks might be the right move.

Jesse-Ylonen

Jesse Ylonen, RW, Espoo (Mestis)

6’0″, 170, Born 10/3/99, Shoots: R

Playing in Mestis, the second-highest league in Finland, Jesse Ylonen put together a pretty solid season with 27 points in 48 games. He was also the team’s top scorer at both the Under-19 Five Nations tournament in February and the Under-19 Four Nations in April.

Ylonen is a very good skater who is one of the more elusive players in the draft. Here’s an example of how shifty he is, faking the goalie completely out of his pants.

Here’s his quickness on display, using it to escape a defender and find a teammate with a perfect setup.

And finally a “now you see it, now you don’t” finish in front of the net.

One of the criticisms I’ve read about Ylonen is that he needs to get a lot stronger as he doesn’t win a lot of battles for the puck.

That doesn’t really concern me as I’m assuming that he’ll be adding a lot of muscle to his frame.

Ylonen is another extremely talented, dynamic winger who I would have no problem with the Flyers selecting in the upcoming draft.

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Martin Kaut, RW, Pardubice (Czech Extraliga)

6’2″, 175, Born 10/2/99, Shoots: R

A late addition to my list of wingers, I am adding Kaut mainly because of his quote below.

That being said, I am not as big a fan of Kaut as the other wingers on my list as I simply don’t think he has the same upside. He is a solid forward who is above average in a number of phases of his game but he doesn’t excel at any one component. Surrounded by very good talent at the World Juniors (Zadina, Martin Necas, and Filip Chytil to name a few), Kaut had a productice tournament with two goals and five assists in seven games. Here’s a very nice assist that he created with work and vision behind the net.

Playing in the top Czech professional league, the Extraliga, Kaut put up 16 points in 38 games.

Here’s a nice goal where he used a burst of acceleration to separate from the defender and unleash a perfect wrister!

All in all, Kaut is a nice player but I don’t feel his somewhat limited upside merits being selected in the top 20 picks of the draft. If he’s available when the Flyers pick 50, then he’s an option for sure.

A Bonus Center! (Who could become a winger)

Alright, so I know I said for this article I would only be looking at guys who currently slot in as wingers for their current teams.

However, I want to take a look at one center who I really like and who I feel could ultimately move to the wing and be very successful.

Kupari

Rasmus Kupari, C, Karpat (Liiga)

6’2″, 180, Born 3/15/00, Shoots: R

When I think about the type of player that I’d love the Flyers to start developing more and more of, Rasmus Kupari fits the bill to a tee.

He’s arguably the best skater in the draft, has size, is tenacious on the puck, and boasts excellent playmaking and finishing skills.

Playing in Finland’s top professional league (Liiga), Kupari put up 14 points in 39 games, and he was sensational in Under-18 international play with 13 points in 12 games.

You can see how tenacious he is on the forecheck here.

He’s also got a terrific release – watch how quickly this puck gets to the back of the net.

Here he dangles off the right wall, gets to the front of the net, and has a very dangerous scoring opportunity.

Kupari is quite simply one of my favorite prospects for the upcoming draft, and he could easily slide to the Flyers pick at 14, where I think they’d need to seriously consider taking him.

Mock Draft to 19

I traditionally don’t love doing mock drafts just because it’s virtually impossible to project how NHL teams have ranked the prospects, so it can be an exercise in futility.

I mainly wanted to give Flyers fans an idea of some of the top wingers available in the top 20 picks, and hopefully I have demonstrated that there is quite a bit of exciting talent that Ron Hextall and Co. will have to choose from.

That being said, I thought we could have a little fun and so I did put together a mock draft that goes to 19 trying to predict who each team will select.

Mock Draft Smaller 6-4-18

I believe that the first two picks are pretty set in stone, with Dahlin going to the Sabres and Svechnikov to the Hurricanes.

However, things start to get interesting at #3, and I think the early complexion of the draft will change depending on whether the Canadiens select Jesperi Kotkaniemi, a big, talented Finnish center, or Zadina.

It could go either way but I think center is a bigger need for Montreal and they may lean towards the big Finn.

If that happens, Zadina should go fourth, and then fifth through 10th is really anyone’s guess. I see the Islanders taking a defenseman and a center at 11 and 12, and ultimately I believe the Flyers will get their pick of pretty much all the non trade-up options I profiled.

And here is how I would rank those guys…

  1. Rasmus Kupari
  2. Vitali Kravtsov
  3. Grigori Denisenko
  4. Dominik Bokk
  5. Jesse Ylonen
  6. Joel Farabee
  7. Jonatan Berggren
  8. Martin Kaut

I’d use that list and select the best players available at 14 and 19, respectively.

I have no doubt there will be a number of twists and turns on draft day, and I for one can’t wait!

I hope this article has been helpful in profiling some of the potential picks and gives you something to base your own opinions on!

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