The NHL Draft Lottery took place on Tuesday night, and the Philadelphia Flyers didn’t get the good fortunes they hoped for. They landed the fifth-overall pick, which was the likeliest outcome entering the sweepstakes. The Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils benefitted from the luck of the draw, landing the first and second picks in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, respectively.
Shane Wright and Logan Cooley will most likely come off the board before the Flyers pick on July 7 in Montreal, but the consensus is not as clear for the rest of the top 10. The pick carries incredible importance for the future of a franchise that has no intention of “bottoming out” in a long-term rebuild that would land them in a similar position in upcoming drafts. Philadelphia will have plenty of viable options for selecting a potential franchise-altering player with the fifth-overall pick.
Juraj Slafkovský, LW, TPS (Liiga, Finland)
Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovský emphatically made his case as a top prospect at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing when he led Team Slovakia to their first-ever Olympic ice hockey medal. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound power forward scored seven goals in seven games and earned the honor as the tournament MVP despite a bronze medal finish. The performance wasn’t too bad for a young man who hadn’t yet celebrated his 18th birthday.
Slafkovský played 49 regular-season and playoff games for TPS of the Finnish Liiga in 2021-22. Professional experience in foreign leagues against older, physically mature players in the prime years of their professional careers overseas factors into the draft-day decisions of NHL front offices frequently.
He is more likely than any of the other four targets to be off the board by the time the Flyers pick. However, if he slips past the first four teams, general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher and his assistant Brent Flahr should pounce quickly. Slafkovsky has the complete package of size, speed, and power to become the type of exhilerating top-end talent the Flyers lack.
Šimon Nemec, D, HK Nitra (Slovakia)
Šimon Nemec competed alongside Slafkovský for Team Slovakia in Beijing. He is an all-around defenseman who also has previous professional experience after racking up assists over the past two seasons for HK Nitra in Slovakia. Peter Barrachini of The Hockey Writers has complimented his active stick in the defensive zone and ability to force turnovers.
The inability of defensemen to move the puck up ice effectively plagued the Flyers in disastrous seasons in 2020-21 and 2021-22 and for the better part of the past 11 years since Chris Pronger suffered a career-ending injury in 2011. Nemec would help to fill that glaring void, especially considering an increase in offensive production during his team’s recent playoff run. The lure of a right-handed defenseman always catches the eye of NHL teams, and the Flyers most recently demonstrated that priority by investing extensive resources to acquire and extend Rasmus Ristolainen.
Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
Not many North American prospects will fall in the range of the fifth-overall pick in July, but Matthew Savoie of the Western Hockey League (WHL) will certainly be on Philadelphia’s radar. After an excellent season in 2020-21 with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the United States Hockey League (USHL), he exploded offensively with the high-powered Winnipeg Ice in 2021-22. His 90 points (35 goals, 55 assists) ranked seventh in the WHL. Savoie, projected first-round pick Conor Geekie, and current Flyers prospect Connor McClennon teamed up to help the Ice to the best regular-season record in the WHL.
Savoie stands at 5-foot-9, 179 pounds. Wingers Cam Atkinson, Bobby Brink, Joel Farabee, and Travis Konecny already lack imposing size at the NHL level up front. An undersized center shouldn’t be crossed off the list simply because of the current roster makeup. Fletcher and Flahr should use the fifth-overall pick on the best player available regardless of fit to an NHL roster that will change drastically within the next few years.
Joakim Kemell, RW, JYP (Liiga, Finland)
Joakim Kemell became the youngest player in Liiga history to earn the league’s player of the month award in October, but a shoulder injury in November stunted his offensive outburst (from The Athletic, “NHL Mock Draft 2022: Shane Wright to Canadiens as we pick for every lottery team,” 5/10/22). He finished the season for JYP with 15 goals and eight assists in 39 games. The postponement of the World Junior Championship also slowed his opportunity to gain momentum as a top prospect.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
Last Word on Sports described him as a “pure sniper” with an excellent one-timer and a dangerous wrist shot. The Flyers recently hired Sami Kapanen as European Player Development & Pro Scout. The former Finnish winger should factor heavily into the evaluation of his countryman Kemell prior to the draft.
David Jiříček, D, HC Plzeň (Czechia)
Alex Hobson of The Hockey Writers called David Jiříček “the textbook definition of a two-way defenseman.” He played at the top division of professional hockey in Czechia for the past two seasons. He is a great power-play quarterback who brings a strong slap shot and the threat of a wrister from the point. Prospect analyst Corey Pronman of The Athletic ranked Jiricek as the top defenseman in the draft.
The Flyers have failed to find a franchise-altering player with their only three top-five picks during the 21st century. They missed on Joni Pitkänen with the fourth-overall pick in 2002. The Finnish blueliner showed flashes of potential early in his career but only lasted three seasons in Philadelphia. James van Riemsdyk went second overall to the Flyers in 2007. He has made significant contributions to the franchise, but he recorded more goals, more assists, and a higher average time on ice (ATOI) during his six seasons in the prime years of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs than he has in two stints with the Flyers. Nolan Patrick faded quickly after being selected with the second-overall pick in 2017.
The disaster of the 2021-22 season put the Flyers at a crossroads with many key decisions to make during the upcoming offseason. The choice of which promising prospect to select in Montreal this summer is perhaps the most impactful long-term decision Fletcher will make during his tenure as GM.
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the “Legion of Doom” and Claude Giroux to forgotten journeymen like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. Colin also covers the Philadelphia Eagles and works for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia.