It was only a few weeks ago that the Philadelphia Flyers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs but already the team has been busy planning how it can get better next season. With the Stanley Cup awarded this week, the attention now shifts to the NHL Entry Draft on June 22-23 in Pittsburgh but who does Philadelphia have on its radar with its 20th overall selection?
First round picks are always the most enticing of the draft and the Flyers have certainly struck gold late in the first round in recent years. In 2006, the Flyers drafted a ‘‘forgettable player’’ – just ask Bob Clarke, who forgot his name at the podium when making the announcement – with the 22 pick. That player was Claude Giroux, who has gone on to become one of the NHL’s elite players. Even before him it was Mike Richards, back in 2003.
But now the Flyers have an important decision to make which is what position it needs to address for the immediate future. Last season the Flyers were third in the NHL in scoring, with a plus-32 goal differential, so the youthful offense might not be a concern. The Flyers dumped a lot of money into goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov last year, so he’s not going anywhere, though the team could be looking for an upgrade over back up Sergei Bobrovsky, who will be in the final season of his contract.
But the biggest concern has got to be the defense.
With the future of Chris Pronger uncertain and 37-year-old Kimmo Timonen entering the final year of his contract, the Flyers have a big void at the blue line. That void would leave Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn – barring a significant free agent signing like Ryan Suter – in charge of eating up major minutes and although they’re solid defensemen, they’re more complimentary-type players rather than guys who can shoulder the load and lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup.
The perfect fit to fill that void for the Flyers would have to be defenseman Ryan Murray of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips. Murray is a good two-way defenseman that already has plenty of leadership and maturity thanks to his WJC stint as one of the youngest members of Canada’s defense, not to mention the fact that he was the youngest captain in the Silvertips’ franchise history.
But there is one problem with Murray – he’s slated to be a top five pick. If that’s the case, the Flyers would have to give up a lot to get him but with a potential bargaining chip like James van Riemsdyk, it’s certainly a viable option for Philadelphia to move up in the draft.
The more realistic choice for the Flyers would be defenseman Hampus Lindholm of Sweden’s Rogle BK. Projected to go between 16 and 18, Lindholm is certainly a player that could fall into the Flyers’ lap at 20. Lindholm is one of the best puck-moving defenseman available in the draft and although at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds he’s not the biggest player available, he plays the game with plenty of grit, something the Flyers have been missing on the blue line.
Last season, he was named the U20 Super Elit League’s Best Defenseman after notching five goals and 12 assists in 28 games with Rogle BK. Lindholm was ranked fourth amongst European skaters in Central Scouting’s final rankings which were released in preparation for the upcoming draft.
If Lindholm does happen to fall to the Flyers, he could be cultivated as Timonen’s replacement for the 2013-14 season and might have a shot to make this upcoming season’s roster, which would be a small contributing role, perhaps along the lines of Marc-Andre Bourdon last season. But the Flyers have attempted to cultivate high-potential defenseman in the past. Luca Sbisa and Ryan Parent were both taken in the late teens of the first round, traded away and are on the border of being chalked up as busts by their respective teams.
Whether the Flyers trade-up or stay-put, the team’s first round pick would be best spent locking up the blue line for the future. No matter what happens, it might wind up being yet another busy summer for the orange and black.