Although the Philadelphia Flyers’ most noteworthy moves came at the beginning of the week on June 23rd, it was the 2014 NHL Draft held at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia on Friday night (and Saturday morning) that was the main attraction. It was the first time that commissioner Gary Bettman and his contingent allowed the event to be held in Philadelphia, in front of arguably the most passionate fan-base in all of North of America. And those attendees (myself, included) did not disappoint, and, in turn, were not disappointed.
Every single time Bettman, a native of Queens and orchestrator of three contentious lockouts during his tenure, stepped to the podium he was greeted by merciless “boos” that rained down on him as if he, himself, had single-handedly cost the Flyers a Stanley Cup. I am in the camp of those who despise the evil tyrant known as Gary Bettman, but I must say that he handled himself very well in the face of around 12-15 thousand or so heckling spectators.
As for the actual draft, it was rather uneventful. Even with the lack of trade movement that was promised by most “insiders” or “experts”(Pen James Neal to Nashville was the highlight), the actual event went off without a hitch. Walking around the Wells Fargo concourse and finding yourself face to face with many baby-faced, future NHLer’s was quite a thrill and something that I will never forget.
Flyers rookie General Manager Ron Hextall had already made a splash earlier in the week by dealing fan favorite Scott Hartnell in exchange for the more versatile R.J Umberger and his re-signing of young 20-goal scorer Brayden Schenn; and despite rampant rumors about the orange and black being even more active on the draft floor (including credible whispers of trading for the #1 overall pick) nothing came to fruition. The Flyers stood pat.
And with the 17th selection in the first round Hextall and his team decided to pick, from the the WHL, Calgary Hitmen defenseman Travis Sanheim. Despite the shock amongst the Flyers faithful for not selecting the likes of Kasperi Kapanen (son of former Flyer Sami), Alex Tuch (a 6’4” power forward), or Anthony DeAngelo (the south Jersey blueliner), Sanheim still received a deafening roar of approval.
Though not well known amongst the mainstream (ranked #53 in Central Scouting’s N.A. skaters), Sanheim, much like Morin last season, was the fastest riser in the 2014 draft class. Former Calgary GM, and current NHL Network/TSN analyst Craig Button, had him ranked as the 8th best player in the entire draft and even compared him to Ryan Mcdonagh at the same age. Essentially the kid was the wildcard. And despite a lack of fanfare, Philadelphia may have just gotten themselves a major steal.
Standing at 6’3″, Sanheim is an exceptional skater with profound vision. He plays a solid two-way game and impressed scouts most during the World’s Under-18 Tournament in which he managed to notch 6 points in 7 games. He may never reach the offensive potential that Ryan Mcdonagh has displayed in New York but he projects very favorably as a top-4 blueliner in this league. I’d compare him most to steady Blackhawks defender Niklas Hjalmarsson; nothing fancy but very few weaknesses.
In the following rounds your Philadelphia Flyers selected: #48th Overall- C/RW Nicholas Aube-Kubel (Undersized, speedy playmaker; brings versatility); #86th- D Mark Friedman (Mobile, two-way dman with PP potential); #138th- LW Oskar Lindblom (6’3” Power forward who wreaks havoc in front of net, had early 2nd round grade beginning the season); #168th- LW Radeel Fazleev (A teammate of Sanheim’s, this 6-foot Russian is a hardworking two-way player who could spend a few seasons honing his skills in Russia); #198th D Jesper Pettersson (Undersized at just 5’9” but still weighs 200+lbs; Flyers scouts describe him as “thick and feisty”, sort of the anti-Timonen when it comes to small dmen; more defensive depth in the system).
After being harshly criticized by most pundits for a complete lack of blueline prospects just a few years ago, things are now dramatically different. The organization now boasts 6’3″ righty Mark Alt (expected to challenge for a spot in training camp), offensive dynamo and Union College hero Shayne Gostisbehere, 6’6″ monster Samuel Morin, two-way blue chipper Robert Hagg, and now a smooth skating, 6’3″ Saneheim. In just two seasons the Philadelphia organization has rebuilt its defensive pipeline.
Like usual the Flyers followed their internal rankings rather than listening to the pundits who frequent NBC, the NHL Network, and TSN. Hextall has openly admitted to the public (prior to the draft) that the best way to build a true contender is through internal development rather than just throwing money at the problem in free agency. And I must admit that that is a breath of fresh air following the regime’s of Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren. Of course the problem with this approach is that Flyers fans will not bear the fruits of their labor for several years. But if Hextall stays true to his philosophy we should see a legitimate contender blossom within the next few years as all their blue-chip blueliners start teaming up with a forward corps that is just entering its prime. Time will tell whether or not Hextall is the next Dean Lombardi or disgraced former Canucks GM Mike Gillis. Here’s hoping for the former.
Up next: a breakdown of the Flyers current roster and what can be done this summer to take the next step.