The Philadelphia Flyers have an impressive history of first-round draft picks. The list includes Flyer legends like Bill Barber, Brian Propp and Claude Giroux. Though much less discussed, the Flyers have also found some gems in the second round. Let’s take a look back at the top five in franchise history.
Honorable Mention: Carter Hart (2016)
Carter Hart has only two NHL seasons to his credit, so it would not be fair to put the netminder on this list. Nonetheless, he has impressed so far with a career .915 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.59 goals against average (GAA). Assuming Hart keeps up his strong play, the 2016 48th-overall draft pick will be on this list in no time.
5. Janne Niinimaa (1993)
The Flyers selected Janne Niinimaa with the 36th-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. It took three years for him to leave the SM-liiga in Finland and join the Flyers for the 1996-97 season. It was definitely worth the wait, as the defenseman tallied 40 assists and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team that season.
Unfortunately, he played just 66 more games in Philly the next season (and added another 31 assists) before he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for Dan McGillis and a 1998 second-round draft pick. In Edmonton, he recorded five consecutive seasons with at least 20 assists. His best season came in 2000-01 when he notched 12 goals and 34 assists and earned an appearance in the NHL All-Star Game.
Niinimaa would be traded three more times, leading to stops with the New York Islanders, Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens. Though his final NHL season was in 2006-07, he played several more seasons in Europe and retired in 2014. Among his list of accolades is a bronze medal which he received while representing Finland in the 1998 Winter Olympics.
4. Peter Zezel (1983)
Peter Zezel was a talented hockey and soccer player, and could have gone pro in either sport. Fortunately for the Flyers, he chose the former and they selected him with the 41st-overall pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. Zezel joined a very young Flyers team (only one player was over the age of 27) for the 1984-85 season and helped lead a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final. That season, he set the Flyers’ franchise record for assists by a rookie with 45.
Zezel’s best season came two years later with a career-high 33 goals and 72 points. He helped lead the Flyers to another Stanley Cup Final before again getting bested by the Oilers. In total, he spent five seasons in Philly, recording 260 points in 310 games. He was then sent to the St. Louis Blues midway through the 1988-89 season. One season later, he matched his career-high 72 points.
As his career progressed, Zezel became noted for his defensive prowess and his dominance at the face-off dot. After St. Louis, he spent time in Washington, Toronto, Dallas, New Jersey and Vancouver across an impressive 15-season career. He amassed a total of 607 points, with the most coming during his time in Philadelphia. Tragically, Zezel passed away at the age of 44 in 2009 due to a rare blood disorder.
3. Mikael Renberg (1990)
A key member of the “Legion of Doom,” Mikael Renberg played parts of six seasons in Philadelphia across two separate stints. The Flyers drafted Renberg 40th overall in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. In his 1993-94 rookie season, he set the Flyers’ franchise record for points by a rookie with 82. Together with Eric Lindros and John LeClair, Renberg formed the “Legion of Doom” line. This feared line helped lead the Flyers to a Stanley Cup Final in 1997.
Renberg scored at least 20 goals in each of his first four seasons with the Flyers. He was then traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in August of 1997 as part of the compensation for the Flyers acquiring restricted free agent Chris Gratton. He played a full season in Tampa before he was traded back to Philly midway through the 1998-99 season, effectively reversing the Gratton trade.
Renberg tallied 26 points in the Flyers’ 46 remaining games that season. He added another 29 in the Flyers’ first 62 games the following season before he was traded to Phoenix in March for Rick Tocchet. Renberg played the final three seasons of his NHL career in Toronto before leaving to play in Sweden in order to be close to family. He finished his NHL career with 190 goals and 274 assists for a very respectable 464 points in 661 games.
2. Tom Bladon (1972)
Tom Bladon may not be as well known as Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber or some of the other Broad Street Bullies, but he was still an integral part of both Stanley Cup-winning teams. The Flyers drafted this talented defenseman in the second round (23rd overall) of the 1972 NHL Amateur Draft. Bladon played the first six seasons of his career in Philadelphia, and in each of those he recorded at least 20 assists and averaged over 30 points. His best season came in 1976-77 when he notched 10 goals and 43 assists for 53 points.
Related: Top 5 Goaltenders of the 1960s
Bladon is perhaps best known for a game he played the following season when he recorded one of the greatest individual performances in NHL history. Playing against the Cleveland Barons on Dec. 11, 1977, Bladon recorded four goals and four assists. That made him the first defenseman in NHL history to tally at least eight points in a game. He also achieved a plus-10 in that game, which is still a single-game NHL record.
After that season, Bladon bounced around between Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Detroit before hanging up his skates in 1981 at age 28. Still, he will always be remembered for his success in Philadelphia, and will perhaps leave fans wondering what could have been had he stayed a bit longer.
1. Bobby Clarke (1969)
Though he was selected 17th overall in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft, Bobby Clarke was technically a second-round pick, as the NHL had only 12 teams then. It didn’t take long for Clarke to make the other 11 teams regret passing on him. Clarke joined the Flyers that fall and recorded 46 points in his rookie season. Over the next three seasons, he increased his point totals by roughly 20 points each season. In his fourth season, he tallied 104 points and earned his first Hart Trophy.
Clarke spent the entirety of his 15-season career with the Flyers. He served as captain for nine of those seasons, leading the Flyers to their only two Stanley Cup victories in 1974 and 1975. He eclipsed 100 points another two times and won the Hart Trophy twice more. He was also selected to the NHL All-Star Game nine times.
To this day, Clarke holds several franchise records including: games played (1,144); assists (852) and plus/minus (507). Clarke was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987 and was named to the NHL’s “100 Greatest NHL Players” list in 2017. Not bad for a second-round draft pick.
As the Flyers gear up for this year’s NHL Draft, they will look to add another future star to their roster. Of course, their best chance to do so will be in the first round, but as this list shows, they just might get lucky in the second.
Covering the Flyers for THW | Lifelong Islanders fan, but promise to become a little more sympathetic to the Flyers | Also a 4X marathon-runner | UChicago ’19