By now, I’m sure that every single one of you have an opinion about Julien Gauthier, Kieffer Bellows, and Jake Bean without actually watching any of these guys in any substantive amount of time to formulate a learned opinion. I mean, how could you not? If you on dem hockey twitters, you’re probably averaging a 20-50 draft projection/profile article consumption per day rate (thank you for inserting this article into that quota).
I’ll admit it. Other than the same rotation of Youtube videos, draft previews, and 2 Calgary Hitmen games that I was watching for Sanheim, I don’t really have a good understanding of what these guys are capable of. The truth is, whereas we would all be pretty happy if the Flyers took anyone of the the three aforementioned 1998 born players, we don’t really know who will be better. And seeing is that we all now that Pavel Datsyuk was the one-millionth pick in the 1996 draft, the guys actually making the selections don’t exactly have this draft thing down to a science either.
(For the record, I’m all for Gauthier as I believe he will have 300-400 shots on goal a year, and net 25-30 goals a season pretty regularly. Plus, when I do watch those Youtube clips, he reminds me of a better skating Cam Neeley).
What we do know is that the Flyers have NINE other picks after the 18th overall selection. Operating under the assumption that Mr. Hextall retains all of his selections this weekend, this is a great opportunity to fill in a lot of the holes that this team still has. That’s right, as deservedly excited as we should be about Provorov, Sanheim, Konecny, Morin and (even) Stolarz, this team still has prospective depth issues.
Sure Philippe Meyers has been a delightful aberration, and who wouldn’t be encouraged by the last two World Junior outputs that Oscar Lindblom had. Heck, our goaltending pool is even promising beyond Stolarz as Merrick Madsen surprised everyone with the season he had at Harvard, and Hextall somehow got Alex Lyon to sign-up for the Flyers Hockey Club as well. But even if all of these guys (including our “super-star” prospects) become the best players they can be, the Flyers still need players to develop into roles that have a far smaller expectations than #1 center, power-play quarter back, scoring winger, and starting goalie. The focus now has to shift into selecting prospects who can one day compliment our “future stars.”
Just about every article you read is about the first round of the draft. This article is going to focus on the Flyers two Second round selections (48 and 52nd overall) and third round pick (79th overall).
Again, assuming that one (if not, all three) of these picks aren’t parlayed in some kind of trade, the Flyers should focus on defense.
I know. I know. The Flyers have ALL of the defensemen. Why would possibly need any more?
Excellent question. Let’s assume that our current crop of stellar rearguard prospects pan out and populate the Flyers top-6 in this fashion:
Ghostisbehere – Morin
Provorov – Meyers
Sanheim – ?
There are several, practical problems with such a projection: 1) This assumes that there will be no existing/veteran defensmen like Michael Del Zotto or (perenial #NumberHockeyBoy) Radko Gudas around; 2) It assumes that all of these prospects will develop the way that we want them to (please consult Robert Haag on that matter); 3) It assumes none of these guys are prospective trade bait (Sanheim) and will be with the team in the future; 4) It assumes that the Flyers will have a cap situation that will allow them to keep all of them; and 5) It assumes that all of these guys are effective pairings that can play together.
Defensive pairs have to compliment one and other. When they don’t you end up with Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak or, Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek. Weak pairings will get exposed. The ideal goal would be to have as many speedy/offensive/play-making guys like Ghost, always be paired with a safe/can cover a lot of area/shut-down guy like Morin.
This model has been proven to work over the entire history of hockey. Brent Burns is allowed to become a fourth forward because Paul Martin covers his bearded butt. Duncan Keith is everywhere on the ice because Brent Seabrook stays back to take away the middle. Scott Niedermayer had Ken Danyko, Eric Desjardins had Chris Therien and Mark Howe/Nick Lindstrom/Chris Pronger had Brad McCrimmon.
You get the point.
The problem is that Ghost, Provorov, Sanheim, and Meyers are all essentially the same kind of defenseman. The Flyers need at least a couple of more high-end, defensive defensemen like Morin. That being said, with the 48th pick in the 2016 draft, the Philadelphia Flyers (should) select, Lucas Johansen.
When you watch Ryan Johansen’s brother Lucas, he looks a lot like Kelowna alum, Duncan Keith. A great comparison but the my entire interest in him is not to become that power play quarterback that Keith is, but the become the guy that can skate all of the minutes, of all of the games, for all of the years like Keith can. We like to focus on the end-t0-end ability of Keith and Drew Daughtey, but the fact of the matter is that if you’re playing 25-30 minutes a night, you have to be able to take care of your own end.
This video is short but it’s full of technically sound defensive play. What really catches my eye about him as he defends is that: 1) He positions himself between the attacker and the goalie; 2) His stick is always on the ice in position to make a play on the puck at all time; 3) His torso is upright as he engages his opponent which means that he isn’t lunging and/or struggling to make a play against the puck carrier. This is important because desperation lunges at the puck that fail, often result in the defender looking mighty stupid; and most importantly 4) He uses his foot speed to close space between him and his opponent.
It would be a lot to expect of anyone to be the next Duncan Keith just because he can skate like him. While I don’t think Johansen will have the offensive output of Keith, I do believe that his skating ability will be able to give him the Duncan Keith/Troy Polamalu coverage ability.
With the 48th pick in the draft, the Flyers should take Ryan Lindgren out of the National Team Development Program. Lindgren reminds me of 1998 3rd overall pick, Brad Stuart in that they are both really good at all facets of the position but not particularly great at any one specific skill set.
What is most attractive about Lindgren’s game is his compete level. His stride is ugly and choppy like Mark Recchi’s but like Rex, Lindgren keeps those feet pumping until gets to where needs to be. Case in point:
In this play, we see Lindgren pressuring the would be Finnish F1 in an attempt to bottle him up for a controlled entry. What ends up happening is that the middle of the ice is opened up for (probable) future 3rd overall pick, Jesse Puljuarvi to enter the zone on what looks to be a sure breakaway. However, if we watch Lindgren’s foot work to pivot and transition away from his original aggressive play, he then use pure determination to close the gap between him Puljuarvi as #9 in blue tries to control the puck. Had Lindgren not had the technical skating ability and/or determination to close the gap, this would have been yet another highlight for Puljuarvi.
Then with the third round, 79th overall selection, I’d like to see Andrew Peeke be selected.
Peeke looks like present day Jay Bouwmeester – which is not to be confused with Florida Panther Jay Bouwmeester. Meaning that, yes, Peeke has size and strength but no one is going to compare his game to Pronger or Chara’s. Peeke has an extremely efficient, long stride that makes his game look effortless. Even more efficient than his stride is the way he moves the puck. As you just saw in the above video, you never see him over stick handle, or take a ridiculous wide-up slapshot. Everything he does is smooth and with purpose:
This seems like a pretty benign play but Peeke does a masterful job in executing. He exhibits smooth footwork in collecting the loose puck and changing his body position so he can begin to survey his options. He then doesn’t crap his pants as one Russian forward is trying to kill him, and the other is trying to cheat to the middle to take his passing option away. When the frame freezes, we see Peeke with his head up to make an indirect pass off the boards to find an open man instead of trying to throttle a low percentage pass through the forecheckers. Simply put, Peeke puts the puck where the opposition ain’t and you might think that seems like an easy thing to do but it’s an admirable trait especially for a 17 year who thinks they can do anything.
With all three of these guys, the common theme is that they are all use exceptional skating ability to prevent and get themselves out of trouble. Hockey has changed. Defenders can no longer pummel forwards into dust as a reliable skill set. Everyone is getting faster, more agile, and more technical in their skating ability and with that, defensemen must adhere to this change as well.
Would it be great to have a Shea Weber/Chris Pronger/Zdeno Chara type just wrecking people all day?
Sure, but instead of pure, brute strength the modern day defensemen will be admired for their ability to efficiently close gaps and surgically apply stick-on-puck/stick-on-stick puck separation maneuvers on their opponents.
Do I actually think the Flyers are going to draft 3 defensemen in a row with their second and third round picks? No, but these three guys interest me the most because my biggest fear is that Ghost, Provorov, and Sanheim will be everything that we want them to be, but we won’t have the complimentary players they need to be as effective as they could be.
Think about Oliver Ekman-Larsson, P.K. Subban, or Erik Karlsson. These guys are individually dynamic in every way but no matter how good they are, they lack the Ken Danyko, Chris Therrian, or Brad McCrimmon they need to make them even better.
Also, I don’t believe the Flyers forward depth issue to be that bad. 2014-15 wasn’t exactly the season in which the Flyers shot the lights out but the underwhelming offensive output could be the result of a systemic reason (which I’ll illustrate later in the summer). They’re really only really one left winger away from stabilizing the top-6 and then the bottom-6 will be able to settle as well. So, theoretically, a Konecny and/or Gaugthier could fix the forward problems sooner rather than later.
Regardless of how the draft goes down, I have full faith that Hextall will make this team better in a way that only he can.
With that, I’ll see you on the twitters this weekend and we can talk about how dumb I am when none of these guys get selected by the Flyers.