As early as the evening of June 27th, we will begin to see the dreaded draft grade articles. We will the babble about how each particular organization did at the draft, how they did in each particular round, and how they did with each particular pick. I always find these immediate articles somewhat amusing. On draft day, each player taken has played in the exact same number of NHL games: 0.
It takes years to evaluate a draft class. One year out from a particular draft, there is typically a general progression by each player in one direction or another. Two years later, some players are pushing for NHL spots while some players have already shown that they will never be a pro hockey player.
About three years after a particular draft is when one can retrospectively look at a draft class and make substantial solid observations. I firmly believe that a draft class cannot be completely judged until at least five years out.
Of course, look back up to five years is difficult for Philadelphia Flyers fans.Between the years of 2009-2011 the Flyers just one draft pick that came in either the first or second round of the draft. That pick was Sean Couturier.
In that same span, the Flyers had a slew of mid-late round picks. The only prospects from that group that are still are still within the organization are Oliver Lauridsen, Michael Parks, Nick Luukko, Derek Mathers, and Nick Cousins. Of those players, only Cousins and Parks have any hope left of becoming NHL regulars.
With all of that said, now is as good of a time as ever to look back on the 2012 NHL draft. We see in retrospect just how bad the Flyers drafting track record was up to that point. But, they seemed to turn things around in 2012.
Let’s review the seven picks in that draft, grade them, and see where each player is now.
1st Round – Scott Laughton (20th overall)
Center – 6’1″ – 194lbs
At the time of this pick, Claude Giroux was a superstar while both both Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn were seen as great up and coming centers who would usher in a new era in Philadelphia. Drafting another center left many fans scratching their heads. However, the Flyers believed that Laughton was the best player on the board, so they took him.
The pick looks much better now than it did then. Of course, seeing how well defenseman Olli Maatta (22nd overall) has played makes this pick a little bit tough to swallow. But it is hard to find a forward picked after Laughton who would have been a much better pick.
Laughton has played 36 total NHL games, scoring two goals and adding four assists. In his rookie campaign at the AHL level he scored 14 goals and earned 13 assists in 39 games. At this point, Laughton will likely be a Flyer next season and could be the teams third line center moving forward.
Does Laughton have top notch skills? No. Did anyone left on the board at number 20 have top-notch skills? Probably not. So overall the pick was a good one.
2nd Round – Anthony Stolarz (48th overall)
Goalie – 6’6″ – 210lbs
This past season he backed up Rob Zepp in the AHL while playing for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Stolarz went 9-13-2 with a .905 save percentage. Although his numbers do not jump off of the page, it was still a solid rookie campaign for the 21 year old.
Like Maatta in the first round, it can be a little disheartening to see a guy like Damon Severson (picked 60th overall) becoming a good NHL defenseman while Stolarz will need more AHL seasoning. But with his size and athleticism, Stolarz still has a very high ceiling and is looking at a bright NHL future.
3rd Round – Shayne Gostisbehere (78th overall)
Defenseman – 5’11” – 160lbs
If it was not for an unfortunate ACL injury, Shayne Gostisbehere would likely be looking at a guaranteed NHL spot for the 2015-2016 season. Gostisbehere showed steady improvement in the first two seasons following the 2012 draft. During the 2014-2015 season, after only playing five AHL games and two NHL games, Gostisbehere was sidelined for the rest of the season.
Gostisbehere’s electric skills and swift skating ability have made him into a bona-fide NHL prospect. He projects as a top-4 puck moving defenseman who can run a power play very well. He used his speed effectively to be a quality penalty killer at the college level, but only time will tell if he kills penalties as a pro.It is unknown how much this injury has set Gostisbehere back, but there is no denying that this was a home run pick for the Flyers organization. Finding highly skilled players, especially defensemen, in the mid-late rounds is what separates great organizations from just good ones.
4th Round – Fredrik Larsson (111th overall)
Defenseman – 6’3″ – 172lbs
Despite a solid pre-draft season, Fredrik Larsson was never able to put it all together. As of last summer, Larsson is no longer a part of the Flyers organization. The Flyers had a two year window in which to sign him to an entry-level contract and they opted not to do so. Larsson failed to get an NCAA scholarship that would have prolonged his eligibility to sign with Philly.
Unfortunately, this tall, skinny, Swedish defenseman was never able to overcome his injury hurdle. Due to his injuries, and subsequent dietary restraints, Larsson was never able to bulk up his frame. Although the pick made sense at the time, in terms of judging this draft in retrospect, this pick must be given the worst grade of them all.
Larsson is now playing hockey back in his home country of Sweden.
4th Round – Taylor Leier (117th overall)
Left Wing – 5’10” – 174lbs
Although undersized and not a big name, Taylor Leier has flown under the radar to make himself into a legitimate NHL prospect. During his final two junior seasons, Leier scored 64 goals and earned 77 assists (141pts) in only 126 games. He was also named to the 2014 Canadian World Junior team.
This past season Leier completed his rookie season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, scoring 13 goals and adding 18 assists in 73 games. He, like Stolarz, may need some more AHL seasoning. But his swift skating ability, his penalty killing savvy, and his knack for the net make Leier a player who could aid the Flyers bottom six in the near future.
5th Round – Reece Willcox (141st overall)
Defenseman – 6’3″ – 184lbs
Reece Willcox has one more year of NCAA eligibility left before he must sign an entry-level contract or become a free agent. Willcox took something of a lateral step in his development this past season as he dealt with injuries throughout the year. Prior to that, however, Willcox was progressing nicely at Cornell University.
Willcox is a big, right-handed defenseman who has been playing top-4 minutes at Cornell from day one. Willcox has never been a big point producer (he’s tallied just 3 goals and 12 assists in 87 NCAA games), but his blend of size and mobility, taken with the fact that he’s a right-handed shot give him an edge as a potential NHL prospect.
The biggest question facing Willcox is this: How will he respond to adversity? If he comes back with a monster senior season (ala Kevin Hayes), then this pick will look a whole lot better.
7th Round – Valeri Vasiliev (201st overall)
Defenseman – 6’1″ – 203lbs
Vasiliev was once thought of as a first or second round talent. A draft year injury caused his stock to fall, so the Flyers took a flier on him in the seventh round. Although he has not exploded into a top-notch prospect, he has been playing as a regular in the KHL over the past few years.
Last summer there were whispers about Vasiliev coming over to join the Phantoms. Ultimately, it was decided that he was not ready for the North American game and needed at least one more season in Russia. Only time will tell what happens with Vasiliev, but the door is still open for him to fulfill his potential.
All things considered, Vasiliev was a low risk, high reward pick, which is exactly what good teams choose in the seventh round. Therefore, I gave this pick a B+.
If, three years after a draft, an organization can look back and say that six of seven players still have a shot at being NHLers, that is quite an accomplishment. Four of those players have already turned pro, two of whom have played limited time for the Flyers.
No, I do not look back on this class and see a lot of elite talent. But with the picks the Flyers had, they made the most of them. Therefore, three years later, Paul Holmgren gets an ‘A’ for the 2012 Flyers Draft class.