It is April 2014, and the Philadelphia Flyers are coming off a Game 7 first-round exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Rangers. Fast forward two months, as first-year general manager Ron Hextall was set to tackle his first and biggest task yet with a Flyers team at a crossroads heading into the offseason. The team had six picks in the upcoming NHL Draft, which was ironically held at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Here is the Flyers’ 2014 draft class.
1st Round: Travis Sanheim
With the 17th-overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers selected defenseman Travis Sanheim from Elkhorn, Manitoba. The highly sought-after draft pick had both amateur and pro scouts claiming Sanheim to be one of, if not the best defenseman taken in the entire draft. He was first recognized playing in Under-17 and 18 clubs such as the Yellowhead Chiefs from the Metro Minor Hockey League (MMHL) as well as Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2013. From there, the 6-foot-3 defenseman joined the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League (WHL) until 2016. He finished second on the team in points that year (68), notching 15 goals and 53 assists.
Sanheim’s performance translated very smoothly once he arrived as a member of the Flyers organization. His pro career started for the orange and black’s AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the very end of the 2016 season. The lefty’s time in the minors was short-lived after exceeding expectations in just one season with the Phantoms — 2016-17 — and was promoted to the big club for the start of the Flyers’ 2017-18 season.
Now, the 24-year-old anchors the top-6 defenseman role for the Flyers, who is considered one of the team’s unsung heroes during their recent success. His size and awareness are just a couple of the traits that make Sanheim a problem for opposing teams’ top offensive threats.
2nd Round: Nicolas Aube-Kubel
With the 48th-overall pick in the second round of the 2014 NHL draft, the Flyers selected right winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel from Slave Lake, Alberta. Another high-ranking prospect, Aube-Kubel logged four years playing for the Val-d’Or Foreurs out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The productivity was always there for the 204-pound winger, racking up 244 points from 2012-2016. In his last two season with the Foreurs, he finished third on the team with the most points. He made the jump from junior to minor league hockey with the Phantoms in 2016 without ever skipping a beat, as his stats totals increased year after year.
Finally, Aube-Kubel got his shot in the NHL during the Flyers’ 2018-19 season as a chance to prove to Hextall that he was worth the investment. Even though his nine-game call-up was a small sample size, it wasn’t until 2019-20 that the 23-year-old started making waves.
With Hextall out as GM and a revamped front office staff, current general manager Chuck Fletcher and veteran head coach Alain Vigneault both wanted to get their feet wet in terms of seeing what the Flyers had in their prospect pool. After much perseverance, paying his dues in the system, and bringing an edginess to the roster, Aube-Kubel has suddenly found himself as a key cog to this fast-developing cup contender.
3rd Round: Mark Friedman
With the 86th-overall pick in the third round of the 2014 NHL draft, the Flyers selected defenseman Mark Friedman from Toronto, Ontario. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound defender was first spotted playing in the United States Hockey League (USHL) for the Waterloo Black Hawks at the ripe age of 17. After two years with the club, Friedman enrolled at Bowling Green State University in Ohio to play college hockey from 2014-2017.
Scouting reports determined Friedman to be a shifty, offensive defenseman who can be dependable when games are on the line. This notion has boded well so far in his time spent within the Flyers organization as a solid member of the Phantoms. That being said, he has proven to be a well-groomed defenseman on the brink of wearing a Flyers uniform in the coming year or two.
5th Round: Oskar Lindblom
With the 138th-overall pick in the fifth round of the NHL draft, the Flyers selected left winger Oskar Lindblom from Gavle, Sweden. Lindblom has proved to be a pleasant surprise for the Flyers as the years have transpired, starting out playing in his native Sweden for the junior club Brynas. Ever since his junior career began in 2011, the critically acclaimed prospect is considered a steal in the draft for the Flyers. Up until he came to North America, Lindblom was selected to play for Team Sweden three times in the World Junior Championships in ’17, ’18, and ’20. Members of the teams featured superstars such as William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Adrian Kempe of the Los Angeles Kings.
The 6-foot-1 Swede never looked back after arriving to Lehigh Valley and tore up the stat chart in his first season with the Phantoms (2017-18). The Flyers front office took notice, and decided to bring the lefty up to the big leagues the following season to showcase his subtle playmaking abilities. The Flyers’ 2018-19 campaign is where Lindblom made his debut in his first full season, recording 17 goals and 16 assists for 33 points his rookie year.
The versatile forward was on pace to shatter career highs this year until tragedy struck when Lindblom was diagnosed with a debilitating form of bone cancer known as Ewing’s sarcoma. He continues to undergo treatment at the University of Pennsylvania as the entire hockey world rallies around Oskar and his family.
6th Round: Radel Fazleev
With the 168th-overall pick in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, the Flyers selected center Radel Fazleev from Kazan, Russia. Despite numerous invites to training camp over the years, he struggled to make final cuts and could never find his footing in the pros. Flyers scouts started evaluating the 6-foot-1 Fazleev during his time playing for the Calgary Hitman of the WHL back in 2013. He went on to play another two seasons with the Hitmen alongside Sanheim until the Flyers drafted him the following year.
However, his junior league numbers were a far contrast from his numbers playing for the Phantoms dating from 2016-2019. Because of this, the Flyers elected not to sign him to an entry-level contract and he has since returned home where he actively plays for Bars Kazan of the Supreme Hockey League (VHL).
7th Round: Jesper Pettersson
With the 198th-overall pick in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Draft, the Flyers selected defenseman Jesper Pettersson from Stockholm, Sweden. Another disappointing, yet long-shot pick did not work out to the team’s liking. At 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, the odds were already stacked against him. Seen playing for the Linkopings Hockey Club out of the Swedish Elite League (SEL) from 2012-2014, Pettersson landed in Lehigh to play for the Phantoms for another two years.
The right-handed D-man was then demoted to the Flyers’ ECHL affiliate Reading Royals where he finished out his North American playing days in 2017. Pettersson and the Flyers parted ways as the 25-year-old returned home to play for Djurgardens IF out of the Swedish Hockey League (SweHL).
Having only six picks in the 2014 NHL draft, the Flyers hit on 60 percent of them, which is a win in any team’s book. It is fair to say that Hextall is responsible for such great drafting and conducting due diligence on all of these players. Even today, there is debate amongst the Flyers faithful that Hextall set the team up for the future based on the success rate of the majority of his picks.
In the same breath, it could also be argued that he was guilty of holding these players back a bit too long instead of giving them the proper exposure and experience needed in order to develop. One thing is for sure: 2014 will be looked back on as one of the turning points for the Flyers’ success.