Over the last decade, the Philadelphia Flyers have undergone one of the NHL’s more subtle rebuilds. The team never bottomed out following their Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2009-10, but strong drafting and scouting have helped them establish one of the league’s best prospect pipelines.
There have been hits and misses, but the club’s last 11 drafts have laid the foundation of a contending core for years. Here are my rankings for the Flyers’ last 11 NHL Entry Drafts.
My criteria for these rankings:
Number of NHL talents drafted
#11: 2009 Draft in Montreal
81st Overall: G Adam Morrison
87th Overall: D Simon Bertilsson
142nd Overall: G Nicola Riopel
153rd Overall: C David Lebrecque
172nd Overall: LW Eric Wellwood
196th Overall: D Oliver Lauridsen
The choice to analyze 11 drafts instead of 10 was motivated by context. The first two drafts on this list illustrate what it looks like when you don’t have any high picks and don’t scout well.
Related: Revisiting the Brayden Schenn Trade
After trading their first-round pick to the Anaheim Ducks as part of the Chris Pronger deal, the Flyers were without a second-rounder as well, which was moved to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a deal for Vinny Prospal. When they were finally on the clock, they missed big time. David Savard, Craig Smith, Mattias Ekholm and Sami Vatanen all went in the 20 picks after the Flyers took Bertilsson. Only Wellwood ever even played for the club, playing 31 games spread across three seasons. This was a rough draft for the Flyers, to say the least.
#10: 2010 Draft in Los Angeles
89th Overall: C Michael Chaput
119th Overall: LW Tye McGinn
149th Overall: RW Michael Parks
179th Overall: D Nick Luukko
206th Overall: D Ricard Blidstrand
209th Overall: LW Brendan Ranford
Another dud draft for the Flyers as the decade turned. They had also sent their first-round pick in this draft to the Ducks as part of the Pronger trade, and their second pick was traded along with Denis Gauthier to the Minnesota Wild for Patrik Hersley and Ned Lukacevic.
Of the picks they did make, only Tye McGinn saw time with the team, playing in 36 games. Chaput has made a career for himself but has bounced between four clubs and spent far more time in the AHL than the NHL.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Flyers Goalies
Failing to acquire a single useful player in two straight drafts was a sign that going all-in every year is not a sustainable team-building strategy. The cherry on top? Jesper Fast and Mark Stone were both available in the sixth round. On the whole, a very forgettable draft for the orange and black.
#9: 2013 Draft in Newark
11th Overall: D Samuel Morin
41st Overall: D Robert Hagg
72nd Overall: LW Tyrell Goulbourne
132nd Overall: D Terence Amorosa
162nd Overall: G Merrick Madsen
192nd Overall: D David Drake
The 2013 Draft was a series of missed opportunities. Samuel Morin has worked hard to rise through the ranks but has had brutal injury luck, tearing his ACL twice. When healthy, Morin is a physical, stay-at-home defenseman with a mean streak. He may still make an NHL roster one day, but when the four players picked immediately after him were Max Domi, Josh Morrissey, Alexander Wennberg and Ryan Pulock, the hypotheticals are frustrating.
Hagg has factored into a fair number of NHL games with mixed reviews and may be offered a third contract from the club. Both Morin and Hagg are NHL caliber, but where they get docked in these rankings is for their roles at the highest level; both are sixth or seventh defensemen at best.
The rest are no longer in the Flyers’ system. The Goulbourne pick is also a hindsight nightmare, with Pavel Buchnevich, Jake Guentzel and Anthony Duclair all selected in the following eight picks. While it was a fairly top-heavy draft, the Flyers could’ve come out looking much better in this one.
#8: 2019 Draft in Vancouver
14th Overall: D Cam York
34th Overall: RW Bobby Brink
72nd Overall D Ronnie Attard
103rd Overall: D Mason Millman
165th Overall: RW Egor Serdyuk
169th Overall: G Roddy Ross
196th Overall: RW Bryce Brodzinski
This draft definitely falls into the “too early to tell” category but some early returns relative to these picks’ draft position can still be assessed. Some viewed the Cam York pick as a letdown with sharpshooter Cole Caufield still on the board, but general manager Chuck Fletcher did have a plan.
After trading back from 11th overall to 14th, acquiring an additional second-round pick along the way, Fletcher opted for defense first for positional depth. Caufield was tempting, but the run on defense following this pick justified the choice. Five defensemen went in the 17 picks in the first round after the Flyers selected, leaving several forwards with first-round grades available in the second.
After all of their top defensive prospects graduated to the NHL over the last few seasons, the Flyers needed another blue-chip defenseman to develop. With the additional second-rounder, Fletcher traded up to grab a sniper in Bobby Brink, balancing out the top of the draft haul. We’ll see how well these prospects mature, but the team addressed their needs and their top picks played well in their first season in NCAA competition this year.
#7: 2012 Draft in Pittsburgh
20th Overall: C Scott Laughton
45th Overall G Anthony Stolarz
78th Overall: D Shayne Gostisbehere
111th Overall: D Fredric Larsson
117th Overall: LW Taylor Leier
141st Overall: D Reece Willcox
201st Overall: D Valeri Vasilyev
The 2012 Draft has looked better by the year. The Flyers didn’t acquire a game-breaking superstar, but they managed to find a few useful contributors. Laughton’s road to the NHL has been a long one, but he is playing the best hockey of his career this season and is still only 26 years old. His two-way game and persistent effort have led to a regular spot in the top nine.
Shayne Gostisbehere has been inconsistent but is unquestionably an NHL talent and has flashed some star potential. Aside from those two, Stolarz and Leier played a handful of games for the Flyers before being traded and Reece Wilcox is currently on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Any time you can draft more than one roster regular in a single draft, it has to be viewed as a success.
#6: 2011 Draft in Minnesota
8th Overall: C Sean Couturier
68th Overall: C Nick Cousins
116th Overall: D Colin Sullentrop
118th Overall: LW Marcel Noebels
176th Overall: RW Petr Placek
206th Overall: RW Derek Mathers
The 2011 Entry Draft should be exclusively referred to as “The Sean Couturier Draft” for the rest of time. Nick Cousins somehow made his way into over 100 games as a depth forward for the team, but Couturier continues to be the prized jewel. It took some time for him to perfect his game, specifically on offense, but he jumped straight into the NHL and found himself tasked with shutting down Evgeni Malkin in a playoff series that same season.
Related: Flyers’ All-Decade Team
Aside from Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov, Couturier is possibly the best player from that draft class, which boasts 12 All-Stars. The rest of the picks fell by the wayside, but obtaining a high-level, top-line center is always a major boon.
#5: 2018 Draft in Dallas
14th Overall: LW Joel Farabee
19th Overall: C Jay O’Brien
50th Overall: D Adam Ginning
112th Overall: D John St. Ivany
127th Overall: D Wyatte Wylie
143rd Overall: G Samuel Ersson
174th Overall: C Gavin Hain
205th Overall: C Markus Westfalt
The decision between numbers five and six on my list was razor-thin. On one hand, Couturier is arguably the team’s best player, but the rest of the draft fell flat. On the other, Farabee is a nightly regular with first-line potential, and a few of the other prospects have improved their stock since being drafted.
Jay O’Brien was a high-risk, high-reward pick coming straight from high school. He stumbled in his first year of college hockey and opted to go to the BCHL this season, a step backwards. He tore it up in his lone season for the Penticton Vees and is now set to resume his college career with Boston University.
Adam Ginning is a reliable defenseman in the SHL for Linkoping HC, but his offense is minimal. The pick also seemed a bit desperate for the Flyers after watching 16 of the 34 picks between their first and second selections spent on defenders.
The fourth and fifth rounds did seem to bear fruit, as Wylie led all WHL defensemen in scoring this season with 64 points, and Ersson emerged as a possible NHL talent. St. Ivany has enjoyed strong play in his two seasons for the Yale Bulldogs as well, even earning a spot on the USA’s World Junior Championship roster. All in all, this draft class still has a lot of question marks, but there is also a lot of potential here.
#4: 2014 Draft in Philadelphia
17th Overall: D Travis Sanheim
48th Overall: RW Nicholas Aube-Kubel
86th Overall: D Mark Friedman
138th Overall: LW Oskar Lindblom
168th Overall: C Radel Fazleyev
198th Overall: D Jesper Pettersson
It seems only fitting that the last draft held in Philadelphia was also a major success for the Flyers. Sanheim was originally considered a reach but was one of the biggest risers in the draft rankings over the final few months. Those doubts have effectively been dispelled with his ascension to the Flyers’ top-four on defense.
Aube-Kubel has cemented himself in the lineup this season and is due for a new contract; the team will almost certainly oblige. Mark Friedman followed up a strong collegiate career with consistent play for the Phantoms and is now looking to earn a full-time NHL roster spot, albeit on a crowded Flyers blue line. Oskar Lindblom looks like a major steal regardless of his unfortunate illness; a play-driving demon with excellent hockey IQ, he is a lock if/when he returns to the team. Hitting on four of six draft picks as legit NHLers is a victory, but there were some disheartening moments in hindsight.
The trade to acquire Andrew MacDonald is one that haunts the Flyers in almost every way possible. First, it cost a 2015 second-round pick, a third in this draft and an AHLer to get him, then the team rewarded him with a six-year, $30 million albatross of a contract and finally, he boxed out young studs like Sanheim and Philippe Myers from consistent minutes.
The third-round pick that was traded to the Islanders was 78th overall in this draft. Superstar winger Brayden Point was selected 79th. Every team is almost guaranteed to have a few face-palm moments in different drafts, but given all we know now about that fateful trade, it stings that much more. All the same, this was an excellent draft for the Flyers.
#3: 2017 Draft in Chicago
2nd Overall: C Nolan Patrick
27th Overall: C Morgan Frost
35th Overall: C Isaac Ratcliffe
80th Overall: G Kirill Ustimenko
106th Overall: LW Matthew Strome
107th Overall: RW Maxim Sushko
137th Overall: LW Noah Cates
168th Overall: RW Olle Lycksell
196th Overall: D Wyatt Kalynuk
Luck was on the Flyers’ side when they moved up 13 spots to select 2nd overall in 2017. It was a two-horse race between Patrick and Nico Hischier, with the Flyers taking the Brandon Wheat Kings’ forward, but Philadelphia may have snagged another game-changing center in the first round.
Morgan Frost dominated his final two years in the OHL and made the leap to the professional ranks this season. He played top-line minutes with the Phantoms and had a cup of coffee with the big club before being sent back down. In his 20 NHL games, Frost’s skill was evident. He scored a beautiful goal in his debut and will undoubtedly be given a long look next season.
Patrick has been unable to play this year but was solid if unspectacular in his first two seasons. His potential is still that of a franchise center at 21 years old. I was especially high on this draft because every player taken has NHL upside.
Ratcliffe, Ustimenko, Sushko and Strome all made their pro debuts this season with the Phantoms as well as the Reading Royals of the ECHL. The organization took full advantage of the Royals, in particular, as a way to get all of their prospects pro experience with the logjam in Lehigh Valley.
Ratcliffe had a tough transition, but still has plenty of time considering the power-forward role he is destined for. Strome’s skating has been an issue since day one, but with some luck and hard work, it isn’t crazy to see his ceiling as a Scott Hartnell-type player. Noah Cates is an under-the-radar prospect that has improved immensely, evidenced by his inclusion on the WJC roster for the US. Lycksell has been a consistent producer in the SHL despite being one of the youngest players in the league, and Kalynuk will return for a fourth season at the University of Wisconsin, serving as the team’s captain. This could be a draft class that sees every player eventually make it to the NHL.
#2: 2016 Draft in Buffalo
22nd Overall: C German Rubtsov
36th Overall: C Pascal Laberge
48th Overall: G Carter Hart
52nd Overall: RW Wade Allison
84th Overall: LW Carsen Twarynski
109th Overall: C Connor Bunnaman
139th Overall: D Linus Hogberg
169th Overall: C Tanner Laczynski
172nd Overall: C Anthony Salinitri
199th Overall: D David Bernhardt
This is where some readers will scratch their heads. The 2017 class was/is dripping with star potential, no doubt, but the 2016 class may have been even more important. The main reason for this is Carter Hart. The Flyers are arguably the most snake-bitten team in NHL history regarding goaltending, as exhibited by the 19 different goalies to play 15 or more games for the team since 2000 and the eight deployed last season. Hart has been good with flashes of great in his young career and is already looking like the starter for the next decade-plus. Outside of Hart, however, injuries almost made this draft a massive failure for the club.
Rubtsov spent his first post-draft year bouncing between the KHL, MHL and QMJHL, making his adjustment difficult. He had a decent next season in the QMJHL but didn’t quite live up to his first-round pedigree. He began his pro career in 2018-19, starting fast with the Phantoms before going down for the season 14 games in. He had a so-so year before the season shut down but recovering from major shoulder surgery was likely a factor.
Twarynski and Bunnaman both showed that they belonged in the NHL this year, only getting boxed out due to the Flyers’ tremendous forward depth; they would be nightly regulars for five to ten other NHL clubs. Laberge spent the majority of this season in the ECHL, but a serious concussion in 2016 has impacted his development up to this point. Hogberg has established himself as an SHL mainstay and will be a player to watch in development camp.
The two players that could split the difference between draft classes are Allison and Laczynski. Both recently signed their entry-level contracts after four-year college careers and could see time with the Flyers next season. Neither is likely to become a superstar, but middle-six contributors would be ideal trajectories. Strong skating mixed with high hockey IQ is the same recipe that has brought Lindblom success at the next level; Allison and Laczynski could replicate that and make the bottom two lines very fun to watch next season. At this time next year, this draft will look very strong. You heard it here first.
#1: 2015 Draft in Sunrise
7th Overall: D Ivan Provorov
24th Overall: C Travis Konecny
70th Overall: G Felix Sandstrom
90th Overall: G Matej Tomek
98th Overall: LW Samuel Dove-McFalls
104th Overall: C Mikhail Vorobyev
128th Overall: RW David Kase
158th Overall: C Cooper Marody
188th Overall: G Ivan Fedotov
How could the number one spot be given to any other draft class? The 2015 Draft could go down as the best draft of all time and the Flyers landed two of their most impactful players in the first round. Ivan Provorov has been the team’s number one defenseman since his rookie season and is arguably the best defenseman to come out of this draft. The team locked him up long-term last offseason, and his annual $6.75 million is starting to look like a bargain.
Ditto Konecny. Converted to the wing as a pro, he was the Flyers’ leading scorer before the season shut down and is the team’s fifth-highest paid forward. Both contracts should age well barring injuries and if the salary cap ceiling increases following the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Flyers also grabbed several other prospects with NHL upside with their remaining picks. Although Tomek has seen his stock plummet since being drafted, Sandstrom and Fedotov have had professional success overseas and are contenders for the backup goalie job next season. Vorobyev and Kase are fringe NHLers as well, playing primarily with the Phantoms and remaining near the top of the call-up list.
The Andrew MacDonald trade cost the Flyers their second-round pick in this draft, 37th overall. The Islanders traded that pick to the Boston Bruins, who ultimately selected Brandon Carlo. While not a star, Carlo is an every-night defender on one of the best teams in the league, which is no small feat. The best draft that the Flyers have had in the last decade could’ve easily been that much sweeter. Regardless, this draft set the team up for sustained success, more so than any other draft in recent memory.
Just the Beginning
Building a team through the draft can be a long, arduous process. It takes patience, luck and good scouting. The Ron Hextall regime was patient and scouted well, but it took Chuck Fletcher’s aggression to maximize the team’s growth potential.
Half of the Flyers’ roster was acquired in the last 11 drafts, 8 if you consider that 2009 and 2010 didn’t produce anyone and the 2019 class hasn’t had any debuts yet. The potential that still exists in the Flyers’ farm system, despite the numerous graduations to the NHL over the last few seasons, is still enough to get fans excited for the future.
Temple University Graduate, Former hockey player and coach interested in all things Flyers