In hockey, player development is rarely linear. There are players that are pro-ready coming straight out of the entry draft, while others require more painstaking regimens. As currently constructed, the NHL Entry Draft consists of seven rounds, 217 total selections. Even with the abundance of scouting resources utilized by teams today, spanning across continents, there are still players that remain under the radar.
Every club wishes to find the next Artemi Panarin, but some teams have a more established track record of uncovering the diamonds in the rough. The Philadelphia Flyers are one such team. Across the decades, the team has managed to find impact players outside of the draft. These are the best undrafted free agent signings in Flyers’ history.
Pierre-Eduard Bellemare (2014-2017)
NHL Career: 38 goals, 49 assists, 87 points in 454 games
Flyers Career: 17 goals, 17 assists, 34 points in 237 games
Bellemare was discovered by former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall prior to the 2014-15 season, after spending five years in the SHL. Never a potent offensive weapon, Bellemare has carved out a niche as a fourth-line penalty-kill specialist. He was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft and is approaching 500 career NHL games, now playing for the Colorado Avalanche.
Ruslan Fedotenko (2000-2002)
NHL Career: 173 goals, 193 assists, 366 points in 863 games
Flyers Career: 37 goals, 38 assists, 75 points in 199 games
Fedotenko would be higher on the list if more of his career were spent with the Flyers. He was traded after the 2002 season to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he would remain for the next four years. He was also part of the 2004 Lightning Stanley Cup-winning team that defeated the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Final that playoff season. Fedotenko was a fairly underrated depth forward for the bulk of his career.
Yegor Zamula (2018-Present)
NHL Career: N/A
Zamula’s inclusion is partially the result of personal bias; his potential, like Philippe Myers, is through the roof. He emerged as a top-notch prospect during the 2018-19 season after signing an entry-level contract with the Flyers.
Initially passed over in the 2018 draft, he was one of the best defensemen in the WHL over the last two years, scoring 84 points in his last 89 games. He also played on the top defensive pair for Russia in the World Junior Championship and shined while doing so. His season ended early due to a back injury but once he returns, watch out for this kid.
Tim Kerr (1980-1991)
NHL Career: 370 goals, 304 assists, 674 points in 655 games
Flyers Career: 363 goals, 287 assists, 650 points in 601 games
The best undrafted free agent signing in Flyers franchise history is undoubtedly Tim Kerr. He was signed prior to the 1980-81 season after three years with the Kingston Canadians of the OMJHL, now known as the OHL. Initially thought of as an enforcer, Kerr established himself as an elite goal scorer starting in 1983-84, when he rattled off four consecutive seasons of 54 goals or more. Better than a point-per-game player for his career, he also holds Flyers records for most 50-goal seasons (4), most career regular-season power-play goals (145), most regular-season hat tricks in a year (5) and most career regular-season hat tricks (17), among other records.
Kerr also holds the NHL records for most power-play goals in a season (34), most power-play goals in a period of a playoff game (3) and the fastest four goals in a playoff game (8:16). He suited up in 54 games split between the Hartford Whalers and New York Rangers following his tenure in Philadelphia, but will forever be known as one of the best finds in Flyers history.
Ilkka Sinisalo (1981-1991)
NHL Career: 204 goals, 223 assists, 427 points in 582 games
Flyers Career: 199 goals, 210 assists, 409 points in 526 games
The early 1980s: A time before comprehensive scouting. Hockey operations have come a long way since then but scouting, or a lack thereof, has been attributed to the Flyers’ discovery of Ilkka Sinisalo. Considering that the first Finnish player to play in the NHL was Matti Hagman in 1976-77, it is not surprising that in the early ’80s, Finland was not the heavily scouted region that it is today. Sinisalo was signed by the Flyers following a dominant season for HIFK of the Finnish pro ranks that saw him score 27 goals in 36 games.
He became the first Flyer to score his first NHL goal on a penalty shot and went on to be one of the best European players in franchise history, still standing as the Flyers’ all-time leading goal scorer among Europeans. He also is the fourth-highest scoring Finn in NHL history. Sinisalo went on to have a career as an NHL scout following his retirement in 1996 and unfortunately passed away in 2017 after a bout with pancreatic cancer. He is a likely candidate for the Flyers’ Hall of Fame, having already been inducted into the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.
Dave Poulin (1982-1990)
NHL Career: 205 goals, 325 assists, 530 points in 724 games
Flyers Career: 161 goals, 233 assists, 394 points in 467 games
Another gem found hiding in Europe, Dave Poulin was passed over in his draft year following a four-year career at the University of Notre Dame due to his small stature. He spent the subsequent season playing in Sweden for Rogle Bandyklubb of the SHL, where he was coached by Ted Sator, a scout for the Flyers. Sator took notice of his skills and advocated for his signing. Poulin made his debut late in the 1982-83 season when he scored two goals in a road win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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He was cemented as a key contributor for the Flyers the following season when he was put on the team’s top line with Kerr and Brian Propp. Poulin also holds a special distinction in Flyers’ lore as the man who replaced Bobby Clarke as captain upon Clarke’s retirement in 1984. (from ‘POULIN THE NEW HEART AND SOUL OF FLYERS,’ The Morning Call, 03/31/1985) Poulin very nearly led the team to the Promised Land in 1987, falling to Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers in a seven-game Stanley Cup Final. He was elected to the Flyers Hall of Fame in 2004.
Philippe Myers (2018-Present)
NHL Career: 5 goals, 13 assists, 18 points in 71 games
The inclusion of Phil Myers on an all-time list may seem premature, but based on his play in the limited number of games he has suited up for, the sky is the limit for the young defenseman. After being passed over in the legendary 2015 draft, Myers was invited to the Calgary Flames training but was not offered a contract. He received a similar camp invite from the Flyers, with Philadelphia extending him a contract offer at its conclusion. Myers spent the 2015-16 season dominating the QMJHL, scoring 45 points in 63 games for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
He had only scored 8 points in 60 games the season prior. Myers’ performance was so impressive that many scouts believed that he would’ve been a first-round pick in 2016 had he not signed with the Flyers. He scored at more than a point-per-game pace again for the Huskies in 2016-17 before making his pro debut with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He spent two years on the Phantoms’ top defensive pair honing his skills alongside Travis Sanheim.
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Myers has now established himself as a lineup mainstay and is only scratching the surface of his potential. He is still developing, but his offensive instincts have flashed and his play-reading on defense has improved. Given his size (6-foot-5, 210 pounds), skating ability and right-handed shot, Myers has the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman.
Matt Read (2011-2018)
NHL Career: 88 goals, 100 assists, 188 points in 449 games
Flyers Career: 87 goals, 100 assists, 187 points in 437 games
Matt Read was a quietly productive player during his time in Philadelphia. He signed with the Flyers in the spring of 2011 at the conclusion of his four-year collegiate career at Bemidji State University. He made the team out of training camp and had a 24-goal, 47-point rookie season. He remained a middle-six contributor for a few more seasons before his play took a downturn.
He is still playing in the AHL for the Toronto Marlies, but his points-per-game average during his time for the Flyers is a bit surprising at .427, which equates to about 35 points per season. He may have had a very short peak, but Read brought meaningful minutes to the table on a nightly basis for the orange and black.
Michael Raffl (2014-Present)
NHL Career: 78 goals, 74 assists, 152 points in 470 games
Michael Raffl may not be a star player, but his consistency has to be appreciated. He played professionally in the Allsvenskan league, Sweden’s second pro tier until age 25 when he signed with the Flyers. He played two games with the Phantoms before making the jump to the NHL for good in 2013-14.
Now in his seventh season, Raffl has found his niche in the bottom of the lineup but has seen extended time in pretty much every forward spot imaginable. This versatility has allowed him to hold on to his roster spot, even if he has never been an abundantly productive player. All the same, no one accidentally plays in almost 500 NHL games. Although his game lacks flash, Raffl is the model of bottom-six consistency at the highest level.
The Best May Be Yet to Come
The draft is the most obvious and effective way to build a strong team, but franchises that are able to find difference-makers along the margins can jump the line in terms of acquiring top prospects. Not all are destined for accolades, but effective NHLers are always in demand. The Flyers have had consistent success in this endeavor, with some of their best discoveries yet to reach their potential.
Temple University Graduate, Former hockey player and coach interested in all things Flyers