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

The Philadelphia Flyers finished 29th in the league this season and will pick fifth overall in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal. The New Jersey Devils jumped them and a few other teams to land in the second spot, meaning the Flyers dropped one slot in the draft order.

Here’s a look at who the Flyers have picked around the fifth overall draft position over the years, how those players helped the franchise, and what a top player could do for the organization sooner than later at the spot he is drafted at.

Former High Flyers’ Draft Picks Impactful Throughout the Years

In the Flyers’ long history, they have had 11 picks that they’ve drafted around where they will pick in this year’s draft — fourth to seventh. Below is the list of the players, where and when they were selected, what they did for the Flyers, and if they were a hit or a miss for the franchise.

  • 1967 Fifth Overall- Serge Bernier
  • 1969 Sixth Overall- Bob Currier
  • 1972 Seventh Overall- Bill Barber
  • 1978 Sixth Overall- Behn Wilson
  • 1978 Seventh Overall- Ken Linseman
  • 1982 Fourth Overall- Ron Sutter
  • 1990 Fourth Overall- Mike Ricci
  • 1991 Sixth Overall- Peter Forsberg
  • 1992 Seventh Overall- Ryan Sittler
  • 2002 Fourth Overall- Joni Pitkanen
  • 2015 Seventh Overall- Ivan Provorov

In the Flyers’ inaugural season, they selected Serge Bernier fifth overall. Their drafting didn’t start on a good note as he only played 123 games over a season and a half before heading to the Los Angeles Kings. Soon after, he left for the WHA (World Hockey Association), which rivaled the NHL at the time. He finished his short-lived career with the Flyers with 35 goals and 75 points and was a failed first pick for the organization.

Two seasons later, the Flyers found themselves with the sixth overall pick. They drafted Bob Currier from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and he never played an NHL game.

The Flyers finally hit on a high pick in 1972 when they brought Bill Barber on board. He is in the Hall of Fame, a three-time All-Star, and was a part of the teams that won the organization’s only two Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975. One of the team’s key pieces for many years, Barber spent his entire 12-year career playing in Philadelphia and recorded 420 goals and 883 points in 903 games. His best season was in 1975-76 when he scored 50 goals for the first and only time in his career and finished with 112 points.

Bill Barber Philadelphia Flyers
Bill Barber, Philadelphia Flyers (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

In 1978, the Flyers had three first-round picks and selected Behn Wilson and Ken Linseman sixth and seventh overall. Both came from Kingston of the OHL (Ontario Hockey League). Wilson was a defenceman who was average for the NHL and played five seasons with the Flyers. Linseman was a much better player, but he didn’t spend much time in Philadelphia either before moving on. He started his career very well by recording 243 points in 240 games through four seasons. He returned later in his career for 29 games, but he didn’t do much in his return. Though Linseman was a top-10 talent, the Flyers weren’t able to keep him around to benefit from his success.

Ron Sutter was the fourth overall pick in 1982. Though he did stick around longer than most, he was another average talent who scored over 50 points in a season just twice. Scott Stevens and Phil Housley went in the two spots after Sutter, and they are both in the Hall of Fame.

It was a while before the Flyers picked that high in a draft again. In 1990, they selected Mike Ricci fourth overall. He had a solid career that finished with 605 points in 1099 games, but they only had him on the team for two seasons. He was a solid high pick considering who else went in the first round. But Jaromir Jagr went one pick after him to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

However, the Flyers hit on their first-round pick the following season when they drafted Peter Forsberg. Unfortunately, he was traded before he had a chance to play a game for the Flyers. That was until 2005-06 when he came to Philadelphia but only suited up for 100 total games for them. Forsberg is a Hall-of-Famer, a two-time Cup-winner, three-time All-Star, Calder Trophy-winner, Art Ross Trophy-winner, Hart Trophy-winner, and was close to winning the Selke Trophy on four separate occasions. He was certainly a hit; the organization just didn’t get to benefit from his storied career.

Peter Forsberg Philadelphia Flyers
Peter Forsberg, Philadelphia Flyers, Oct. 28, 2006 (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

After Forsberg, the Flyers drafted Ryan Sittler. This was a complete miss as he didn’t play one game in the NHL.

The Flyers didn’t get a high first-round pick until 10 years later, in 2002, when they selected Joni Pitkanen. Though he played in 535 games in the NHL, 206 of them with the Flyers, he was not worthy of the fourth overall picl. This was a pretty weak draft overall, and since management chose a defenceman, I suspect they were looking at Jay Bouwmeester, who was selected third overall. Still, a middle-class defenceman who didn’t have a long career or made a huge impact for his team isn’t a hit at fourth overall in any draft.

The most recent non-lottery Flyers pick that came high in the first round was when they selected Ivan Provorov. The 2015 NHL Entry Draft will go down as one of the best drafts in history, and with the seventh overall pick, the Flyers had a ton of options. Zack Werenski went right after Provorov, and Thomas Chabot went a little later in the first round. There were also very talented forwards taken in the first round that the Flyers elected to take their defencemen over, including Mikko Rantanen, Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Timo Meier, and Brock Boeser. Provorov has gone downhill after a promising start to his career. If he can return to the player he was a few seasons ago, then he may be a hit down the line. But, for now, given the talent surrounding him in this draft, he’s a miss.

Flyers Have Missed on All Top-3 Picks in Their History

The Flyers have only ever picked in the top-three of the draft three times:

  • 1975 First Overall- Mel Bridgman
  • 2007 Second Overall- James van Riemsdyk
  • 2017 Second Overall- Nolan Patrick

They did not hit on any of these players. Not one of them stayed with the Flyers for more than seven seasons: they were all traded and nowhere close to being the franchise players the team expected or needed at the time.

Mel Bridgman was a 45-60-point scorer for the Flyers until he was traded to the Calgary Flames. That three-quarters of a season saw him score more goals and put up more points than in any of the previous six seasons in Philadelphia. He continued his success in New Jersey a couple of seasons later, scoring 60-plus in three consecutive seasons. Any first-overall pick needs to hit and be a cornerstone piece of their franchise. Hitting on the pick that they used on Bridgman could’ve pushed them over the edge to win a third Stanley Cup in the following seasons, where they fell short many times.

The 2007 NHL Entry Draft saw James van Riemsdyk selected second overall by the Flyers. He has split his career between the Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he was shipped after his third season. In his first three seasons in Philadelphia, he showed promise with his scoring touch, but he was young. The Flyers let him go too early as he then had the best years of his career as a Maple Leaf. The Flyers have since re-signed him to a large contract, but he has only gone downhill. He was no franchise player, and the Flyers missed on more valuable players in the first round, like Jakub Voracek, Logan Couture, Max Pacioretty, and David Perron.

James van Riemsdyk Philadelphia Flyers
James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The team’s most recent lottery pick was Nolan Patrick. The Flyers thought they were lucky to move up so many spots in the 2017 Draft, but unfortunately, they missed big time on their second-overall selection. Nobody could have seen all the injuries coming, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. Patrick has been injured every season, even missing all of 2019-20. After he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights, none of the issues went away. Without listing off all the good players who went in the first round, the following three picks in the draft produced Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, and Elias Pettersson.

Related: Pros & Cons of Flyers Hiring Barry Trotz as Next Head Coach

The Flyers missed on all the top-three picks in their history but were able to hit on three to four of their 11 other high first-round selections, which is close to where they will be picking in the 2022 Draft. Two of the players that hit became Hall of Famers, but then others never saw the ice in an NHL game.

The talent pool is very deep in the 2022 Draft, so it wasn’t the worst season to fall apart. But the Flyers will have to change their fortunes. It will be game-changing if their selection can turn into a very successful NHL player and stick around with the organization. If not, we can begin to speculate why the Flyers haven’t competed for the Stanley Cup in a while. They may even have to start looking at their scouting staff and general manager.

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