Flyers’ 10 Best First-Round Picks All-Time

The Philadelphia Flyers have had themselves their fair share of great first-round picks through the years, and since they are set to pick fifth overall this year, it’s a good time to take a look back at the best of the best that have helped the franchise.

10. Mel Bridgman (1975) – 1st Overall

Mel Bridgman was with the Flyers for seven seasons but went on to continue his successful career for four other teams before it was all said and done. He was drafted and arrived to play for the Flyers one year after the team won back-to-back Stanley Cups, unfortunately.

Of his six full seasons, Bridgman played on the Flyers, the team qualified for the playoffs in each while he scored 119 goals and 324 points in 462 games. He wasn’t a power-play contributor, but was effective at even strength.

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He was traded near the start of the 1981-82 season to the Calgary Flames where he spent two seasons. He followed that up by playing four seasons for the New Jersey Devils, and in his fourth season with the team, was traded again to the Detroit Red Wings where he spent two seasons before playing his last for the Vancouver Canucks.

Bridgman played a total of 977 career games while recording 252 goals, 701 points, and 1,625 penalty minutes. He never won any player or team awards but finished fifth in Calder Trophy voting in his rookie season. He played a total of 125 career playoff games across four of the five teams he played for, the Devils being the fifth. He had 28 goals, 67 points, and one playoff overtime goal that came in 1978 as a member of the Flyers and just one career hat trick, also for the Flyers in his last season with the team.

9. Simon Gagne (1998) – 22nd Overall

Next on the top 10 is Simon Gagne who spent most of his 14-year career with the Flyers after they drafted him. He spent his first 10 with the team, recording 259 goals and 524 points in 664 games. After moving onto the Tampa Bay Lighting in 2010-11 and then to the Los Angeles Kings to win a Stanley Cup in 2011-12, he returned to Philadelphia in a trade partway through the 2012-13 season where he recorded five goals and 11 points in 27 games.

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He was the most successful when playing for the Flyers throughout his career and the team qualified for the playoffs in nine of the 11 seasons he was with them. Before leaving for the Lightning, Gagne’s last season with the Flyers saw the team go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final after three conference finals since joining the team.

Gagne wrapped up his career with 291 goals and 601 points in 822 games while scoring 37 goals and 59 points in 109 playoff games. He was a member of the 1999-2000 NHL All-Rookie Team winner and received votes in a few seasons for the Selke and the Lady Byng Trophies.

8. Sean Couturier (2011) – 8th Overall

Sean Couturier is the most recent player drafted by the Flyers that appears on this list. He is also the last remaining Flyer playing for the team. He took a number of seasons to get going after entering the NHL at age 19, but had his breakout season in 2017-18 at age 25 when he scored 31 goals and recorded 76 points in 82 games.

Sean Couturier Philadelphia Flyers
Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Couturier has received Selke Trophy votes every season but his sophomore season, due to playing just 46 games, and has been a staple of how a forward should play defensively during his entire 11-year career. He is excellent in the faceoff circle and finally won a Selke Trophy in 2019-20 after placing second two seasons prior and finishing in the top-10 in voting on three other occasions.

He is the Flyers’ No. 1 centerman and hopes to make a full recovery before next season as the team tries to return to the playoffs (from ‘Couturier undergoes season-ending surgery,’ NBC Sports Philadelphia, Feb. 11, 2022). Couturier has recorded 180 goals and 460 points in 721 games as well as 10 goals and 22 points in 39 playoff games and has many years ahead of him.

7. Ken Linseman (1978) – 7th Overall

Ken Linseman was the second of three players taken in the first round of the 1978 Draft by the Flyers and one pick after Behn Wilson. Linseman went on to have the most successful career of the three, recording 256 goals and 807 points in 860 games. Unfortunately for the Flyers, he spent just four seasons with the team and recorded 68 goals and 243 points in 240 games.

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He moved on to the Edmonton Oilers where he won his only Stanley Cup in 1983-84 before heading to the Boston Bruins for the longest tenure with a team in his career. He returned to the Flyers in his third-last season in the NHL and put up five goals and 14 points in 29 games.

Linseman never won any personal awards and only received votes in 1987-88 for the Selke Trophy where he finished 15th in voting. He and the Flyers made the playoffs in his first four seasons with the team and appeared in the Stanley Cup Final once. He was a playoff performer who scored 11 goals and 53 points in 41 games for the Flyers while finishing his career with 43 goals and 120 playoff points in 113 games.

6. Jeff Carter (2003) – 11th Overall

Jeff Carter is one of three players on this list who is still active, but his tenure in Philadelphia didn’t last as long as many would’ve liked. However, the Flyers got a great return when they traded him to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Flyers received Jakub Voracek, the eighth-overall pick that they happened to use on Couturier, and a third-round pick where they drafted Nick Cousins. Carter was traded just 39 games into the season to the Kings.

Philadelphia Flyers, Jeff Carter

Carter spent his first six seasons with the Flyers where he scored 181 goals and recorded 343 points. His fourth season, 2008-09, he broke out in a big way, scoring 46 goals, notching 84 points, and scoring 12 game-winning goals. He wouldn’t win any awards in Philadelphia but did rank 10th in Hart Trophy voting in his breakout season.

He has won two Stanley Cups in his career, both for the Kings, despite having a couple of his best seasons in Philadelphia. Carter spent 10 seasons with the Kings before heading to the Pittsburgh Penguins where he remains. He has enjoyed a career rejuvenation with the Penguins and had his best season since 2016-17 at age 37. He currently sits at 418 goals and 807 points in 1,170 career games.

5. Justin Williams (2000) – 28th Overall

Justin Williams got his career started in Philadelphia but he only stuck around for three and a half seasons before he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes where he won his first of three Stanley Cups in his career. The Flyers traded him away before he had a chance to break out and show how good of a playoff performer he was as he only got two chances at the playoffs in Philadelphia.

He never had the most amazing stats during the regular season as he reached 70 points in a season just once in his career and 60 points twice. But the playoff was where he thrived and got the nickname “Mr. Game 7” for a reason (from ‘Kings in Game 7: Former hero Justin Williams shares his advice and thoughts,’ The Athletic, May 14, 2022). I mentioned he won three Stanley Cups in his 19-year career and took home the Conn Smythe trophy for the best playoff performer during his last run with the Kings in 2013-14.

Williams finished his career with 320 goals and 797 points in 1,264 games for four different teams while 41 goals and 201 points in 162 career playoff games. If only the Flyers kept him around longer, then they might have had some clutch performance in their playoff runs.

4. Bill Barber (1972) – 7th Overall

Bill Barber was the Flyers’ fourth-ever first-round draft pick and the first impactful one they took in the first round. He spent his entire 12-year career in Philadelphia and was great for the team each and every one of those seasons. He called it a career early at only age 31 and has since been inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was also a three-time All-Star and two-time Stanley Cup champion, helping the Flyers bring home their only two in franchise history.

Bill Barber Philadelphia Flyers
Bill Barber, Philadelphia Flyers (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

His career started at age 20 when he finished second in Calder Trophy voting and recorded his career year just three seasons later. In that season, he scored 50 goals for the first and only time as well as recording 112 points, the only time he even surpassed 90 in a campaign. Barber scored at least 20 goals in all 12 seasons and never finished a season with a negative plus/minus. He was also always a factor in the playoffs as he made the postseason 11 out of the 12 seasons and had 53 goals and 108 points in 129 games. Ranked third in franchise history in games played and points, Barber will remain one of the all-time Flyers’ greats.

3. Brian Propp (1979) – 14th Overall

Though Brian Propp didn’t win any awards unlike Barber, it wasn’t due to his effectiveness on the ice but rather the era he was playing in as he started his career the same season as Wayne Gretzky. Propp is one of those underrated players of his time as he is one of the few in NHL history that have hit 1,000 career points, doing so in 1,016 games. He would have easily been above a point per game in his career if he had called it quits a few years prior.

His time in Philadelphia was the best in his career as he was a Flyer for 11 seasons but was traded to the Boston Bruins in his final season with the team. As a member of the Flyers he scored 369 goals and 849 points in 790 games and was a four-time 40-goal scorer. He was also a very effective playoff performer scoring 52 goals and recording 112 points in 116 games. As Propp was also a 20-goal scorer in every full season he spent with the Flyers, the equal impact each of him and Barber had on the franchise made it almost too difficult to choose between them.

2. Claude Giroux (2006) – 22nd Overall

Now for the player you will be most familiar with, former long-time captain Claude Giroux. He played exactly 1,000 games and recorded 900 points for the Flyers in 15 seasons before being traded at the deadline this past season. He will go down as one of the all-time greats of the organization despite never winning an award and only being an NHL All-Star once.

Claude Giroux Philadelphia Flyers
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite all of the shortcomings and inconsistent play of the Flyers throughout Giroux’s time with the team, it was never on him. He wasn’t provided with the surrounding cast to be able to get the job done, only making it out of the second round twice. He has scored 25 goals and 73 points in 85 playoff games in his career. Giroux finished in the top four of Hart Trophy voting in three seasons and his career year was in 2017-18 when he finally cracked 100 points in a season for the first and only time.

1. Peter Forsberg (1991) – 6th Overall

As the best first-round pick the Flyers have drafted in their history, Peter Forsberg only played 100 games for the team and it wasn’t even to begin his career. He had a very successful but shorter career despite playing in 13 seasons due to injuries. He played a total of 591 games, scored 217 goals, and had 755 points. He also scored 58 goals and recorded 159 points in 140 playoff games.

Forsberg won all of his awards and trophies as a member of the Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques where he actually began his career. He won the Calder Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, two Stanley Cups, was a three-time All-Star, and was a winner of the NHL All-Rookie team. He is now a member of the Hall of Fame. He has two career years, one in 1995-96 when he recorded 116 points and the second in 2002-03 when he recorded 106, but it was much more impressive for the time considering he won most of his awards that season.

Honorable Mentions

  • Mike Ricci (1990) – 4th overall
  • Dainius Zubrus (1996) – 15th overall
  • Mike Richards (2003) – 24th overall
  • James van Riemsdyk (2007) – 2nd overall
  • Joel Farabee (2018) – 14th overall

Related: 3 Flyers’ Early Draft Steals of the Past 5 Years

The Flyers have drafted quite a few great players in the first round but have had their troubles keeping them around. Maybe their history would have a different story if some of these names played for the Flyers in their primes after the team took a chance on them.

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