Flyers can’t afford to miss in NHL draft

New York Islanders v Philadelphia Flyers
Paul Holmgren is already on the hot seat and the Flyers GM needs to score big in a deep NHL draft.

Just how important is picking the right player in a draft?

Ask the Blackhawks, who chose Patrick Kane No. 1 in the 2007 draft. Two Stanley Cups later, Kane & Co. are atop the hockey world, while Philadelphia — a team that chose James van Riemsdyk at No. 2, then traded him — is now trying to recover from missing the playoffs entirely

First step in that recovery will be Sunday’s draft in Newark, N.J., where the Flyers hold the No. 11 pick. It would have been higher if Peter Laviolette’s club hadn’t gone 4-0 after being officially eliminated, costing them three spots in the draft.

But from all indications this is considered a deep draft. That means the Flyers, desperately in need of a young, mobile defenseman, may actually find one. But, as any GM in any sport will warn, that doesn’t always mean they’ll pass on the best player available even if he plays a different position.

“Where we are at, we’ll get a good player at 11,” said Holmgren, who wouldn’t rule out he possibility of trading up or down. “From the depth of our franchise, probably it [defense] is an area that we lack. But I am not going to waver. If we get to the 11th pick and the guy we like best is a forward, that’s who we are going to draft.”

At the same time, Holmgren said projecting how a 17- or 18-year-old kid will advance in a couple of years is an inexact science.

“You’ve got to envision how he’s going to grow as a player in 2-3 years,’’ said Holmgren, who revealed he wasn’t informed he’d been drafted by the Flyers in 1975 (at No. 108) until a few weeks after the draft. “Both physically and mentally, a lot of things can happen. We’ll have to see how it all shakes out.’’

If it shakes out with one of a trio of highly regarded blue-liners slipping on a orange-and-black jersey Sunday afternoon, Holmgren probably won’t be disappointed. Two to watch are Ryan Pulock, who he described as a “bomb” and Finn Rasmus Ristolainen, who may be the most ready to play at the NHL level. The third is rugged Darnell Nurse, whose claim to fame is that his uncle happens to be Donovan McNabb.

Whether any or all of them will still be on the board when it’s the Flyers turn, assuming they stay at 11, is another story.

“There’s going to be a lot of funny stuff happening in the 9-10 days leading up to July 5 [the start of free agency],’’ said Holmgren, who wouldn’t rule out being one engaged in that funny stuff. “Every day there’s more and more talk. You have a lot of scenarios in play. But I guarantee at least one player will be taken before we pick that we didn’t expect to go.’’

Where that leaves Paul Holmgren and the Flyers, who could use this weekend to find a goalie or some other missing piece is all part of the fun. But as they learned when Patrick Kane was gone before their turn six years ago, the draft does matter. In that same draft, they traded up for defenseman Kevin Marshall in the second round, two picks before Montreal took P.K. Subban, who just won the Norris Trophy.

On Sunday, the Flyers can only hope someone leaves behind a hidden gem for them.


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