Most fans are expecting the Flyers to draft a defenseman with the 20th Overall selection in the 2012 NHL Draft. It makes the most sense, the Flyers had a sub par defense most of the year, Chris Pronger's career might be over, Kimmo Timonen isn't getting any younger, and Matt Carle could be on his way out. The Flyers are hurting for a defenseman and are in search of a star defenseman for the future. But should they pass on a defenseman in favor of a potential superstar forward?
Tomas Hertl from the Czech Republic could be that superstar. He's 6'2 and weighs 200 lbs, in 2010-11 he lead the Czech Jr. league in points and in 2012 he won the Rookie of the Year award in Czech professional league. Christopher Ralph of The Hockey Writers laud's his puck possession and stick handling abilities. Hertl's ability to uses his body to protect the puck is not unlike another big Czech who plays for the Flyers. Most scouts compare him to Dallas Stars All-Star forward Jamie Benn, a big strong player who isn't afraid to grind it out in the corners while still having high light reel play making ability. The Flyers look at their big men like Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell as players who crash the net and get garbage goals; even a bigger player like James van Riemsdyk is at his best when he uses his strength to over power defensemen and drive the net. A player like Hertl can use his skill and size to make plays in congested areas, similar to the player he emulates: Evgeni Malkin.
Probably the best indicator of Hertl's game breaking ability is that he is highly touted by the Detroit Red Wings Director of Player Development, Jiri Fischer. The Red Wings are without a the best team at cultivating talent from Europe. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, the list goes on and on of European players drafted in the third round or later by the Red Wings who went on to become superstars. While coaching Hertl at the 2012 World Junior Championships, Fischer had this to say: “It’s not hard to see what is immediately impressive with Hertl. He has a big frame and when he isn’t being physically punishing, uses it well to benefit his offensive game. What jumps out after is equally as exciting. Hertl has good vision and a soft touch with the puck." Interview by Christopher Ralph of The Hockey Writers. On top of all that Hertl did very well at the NHL Draft Combine, finishing first in the VO2 MAX test measuring aerobic fitness, and second in the hand coordination test. The knock against Hertl is his speed, while it may not be great its something he can work on. But his skill and hockey sense more than make up for a lack of speed.
You may be thinking that Hertl's offensive potential is all well and good but the Flyers need a defenseman. I agree, the Flyers do need a defenseman, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have to take one in the first round of this draft. The last defenseman the Flyers took in the first round was Luca Sbisa in 2008; the Flyers sent him to Anaheim in the Chris Pronger deal. Since being drafted four years ago he hasn't done all that much, he just played his first full season in the NHL and didn't do a whole heck of a lot to impress anybody. One could assume that a defenseman taken in a similar spot, the Flyers drafted Sbisa with the 17th pick Overall, would take at least three years to break into the league. Drafting a defenseman in the first round doesn't guarantee that player will be a star defenseman, or even a quality defenseman. In 2006, defensemen were selected with the 19th, 20th, and 21st overall selections. 19th Overall was Mark Mitera, who has never played a game in the NHL. 20th Overall was David Fischer who has only ever played in the ECHL, that's the league below the AHL. 21st Overall was Bobby Sanguinetti, the over achiever of the group, he's played in a total of 8 games in the National Hockey League. Those of you familiar with the Flyers Draft history will remember the 22nd Overall pick in the 2006 draft was Claude Giroux.