3 Flyers’ Early Draft Steals of the Past 5 Years

The NHL draft is very important in building a great team that is successful for a long time. We see it every year with franchises consisting of a large portion of players they’ve drafted. The Philadelphia Flyers must join that group if they are going to build themselves back up.

That being said, great pieces aren’t only acquired in the first couple rounds of the draft. Some come later and have big impacts early or down the line. There are many players who turn out to be superstars that are passed on many times in the draft, and become great once they develop. Here are three players in particular for the Flyers that may be steals later in drafts from the past five seasons as we approach the 2022 NHL Draft.

Noah Cates – 5th Round (137th overall) in 2017

The first of the possible future draft steals the Flyers have in their system is Noah Cates. He was drafted the latest of any of the players in this group at 137th overall in the fifth round during the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. This was an overall weaker draft, but did have its studs as well. Even at this stage of the game five years later, only a handful of later draft picks have even sniffed the NHL.

USA hockey has really picked up over the past few years, and players on the U.S. National U-18 Team generally get a lot of the attention. Cates played on the Omaha Lancers for parts of three seasons. In his first season he played in just two games followed by 11 in the USHL (United States Hockey League) while spending most of his seasons playing high school hockey in Minnesota where he popped off.

Since Cates only played 11 games in his draft year in the USHL, scoring two goals and seven points, scouts didn’t get enough information on him playing against better competition to take a chance on him higher. The following season he went on to score 21 goals and 55 points in 60 games in the USHL, and immediately proved the Flyers right for taking a chance on a player that had potential.

Noah Cates UMD Athletics
Noah Cates, UMD Bulldogs (Terry Cartie Norton-UMD Athletics)

Unlike a lot of talent, Cates took the time to play four seasons for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and got his first taste of the NHL at age 23. Teams also generally take players later in the draft if there’s a chance that he will take some time to arrive in either their farm system or the NHL. Cates appeared to make the right choice in terms of being able to get his degree and develop for a full four-year college career.

Cates has played for Team USA at the World Junior U-20 Championships, and won silver while also playing at the 2022 Olympics for the United States, scoring a goal in four games. He had an impressive start to his NHL career after his college season ended, scoring five goals and nine points in 16 games. He played just over 13 minutes a game on one of the last place teams in the NHL, so his numbers stand out and give hope for the future in Philadelphia.

The Flyers are at a point where they are hoping more than a few of their young players step up and be impactful. Cates has size and the ability to be a power play contributor for years to come. Scoring and a more effective power play are two things the Flyers desperately need after last season, and Cates looks to stay on the team and continue his solid work.

Ronnie Attard – 3rd Round (72nd overall) in 2019

Ronnie Attard followed the same sort of path that Cates did in that he played in the USHL and Division 1 college hockey. He was drafted in the third round at 72nd overall in the 2019 draft, and he too was able to make an impact immediately out of college in his NHL trial games to end the 2021-22 season.

In his early career, Attard spent three full seasons playing in the USHL where he absolutely dominated in his draft year where he scored 30 goals, 65 points, and was a plus-47 in 48 games played as a defenseman. It was a USHL league record for the most goals in a season from a defenseman, and he still managed to be available for the Flyers in the third round.

Attard spent three years at Western Michigan University, where he improved in goals and points each season. After his season ended, he signed with the Flyers and immediately started playing games in the NHL. It took him three games to record his first point and he scored his first career goal in his fifth game. He played 15 games to close out the Flyers’ season, and finished with two goals and four points. This is just a taste for him as he will compete for a spot on the defense next season.

Ronnie Attard Philadelphia Flyers
Ronnie Attard, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As far as offensive defensemen go, the Flyers are without someone who can really carry the offense from the back end. Many teams don’t have a player on the back-end who can score 15-plus goals a season, but with the numbers Attard has put up throughout his career, some time and development in pro could see him be an extremely valuable asset on their defense moving forward.

Attard showed calmness and patience with the puck from the very start with minimal giveaways. Some may peg him as an offensive-only defenseman, but they would be wrong. He is willing to block shots and deliver hits with his 6-foot-3, 208-pound frame while utilizing an active stick. Attard’s game is offensive and he does play with an aggressive style of play in the offensive zone. More time in the opponent’s end means more chances for your team to score. The Flyers surely need help with that, and he is willing to take chances to keep the puck in the offensive zone. With the offensive talent this player possesses, he could be a legitimate option on the Flyers’ power play.

Elliot Desnoyers – 5th Round (135th overall) in 2020

The most recent of the Flyers’ draft picks that appears to be a steal in a late round is Elliot Desnoyers. He was drafted in 2020 in the fifth round, at 135th overall. Like almost any player in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), it takes time to develop and become an impactful player. As long as the player shows progression across seasons, he’s heading in the right direction.

Desnoyers did just that in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) where he played four full seasons. He scored just 11 goals and 35 points in 61 games in his draft year, but followed that season up with a combined 63 goals and 137 points in 98 games the next two seasons. A player who puts up stats like that typically goes in the first two rounds, but the Flyers got the jump on Desnoyers before he broke out in a big way.

Elliot Desnoyers Philadelphia Flyers
Elliot Desnoyers, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He will most likely be making the jump to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League (AHL) to begin next season. There is a chance he could surprise and make the Flyers out of camp and get a trial, but management will likely want to see how his game transfers over to pro at a lower level first unless he really impresses and steals the spot from another young player.

Desnoyers got a taste of World Junior action before the tournament was shut down. He played two games and recorded three assists. It is impressive as a fifth-round draft pick to develop the skills to earn a spot on Canada’s team at any level since they always have many talented young players to choose from. He has shown an impressive ability to score goals and put up points while being considered a Swiss army knife (from “Flyers prospect profile: Scouting 19-year-old ‘Swiss Army knife’ Elliot Desnoyers”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 6, 2022). The Flyers don’t seem to have just one superstar and will have to get the job done by committee, so Desnoyers will be someone who can move around and play all over as needed while still making an impact in games. Every team needs a player like this and the Flyers seem to have found theirs.

Related: Flyers’ History of High First-Round Picks Leaves Something to Be Desired

The future of the Flyers looks good and the more they can hit on players later in rounds, the better and deeper they will become as an organization.