The draft is just three weeks away, and there's no doubt that the debate has been raging in the Flyers front office on what kind of player they will take with the 21st overall pick in the first round. What weaknesses need to be addressed in the organization?
The most glaring weakness is, of course, the goaltending hole. As I'm sure we all know by now, the Flyers technically have no goaltender signed to an NHL contract for the upcoming season. Martin Biron, Antero Niittymaki, and Scott Munroe are all unrestricted free agents come July 1, and the remaining goalie prospects in the organization -- Jacob Deserres, Johan Backlund, Jakub Kovar, etc. -- are not expected to ever reach NHL status.
Calling it luck might be a stretch, but it's certainly fortunate that the Flyers aren't completely reliant on this years draft to find an immediate starter. It's not going to happen, as this years goalie class is quite weak. Besides, goaltenders rarely ever jump from the draft to make an immediate impact in the NHL. There is debate who the top goalies in the draft are -- some think Matt Hackett of the OHLs Plymouth Whalers, others think Edward Pasquale of the same league's Saginaw Spirit, and there are other options as well -- but where scouts mainly agree is that none of these guys will be selected in the first round.
In their draft preview edition, The Hockey News had Olivier Roy of the QMJHL's Cape Breton Eagles as the top goalie in the draft, followed by Pasquale. They foresee Roy as the 38th best prospect in the entire draft and Pasquale as the 40th. Could the Flyers select one of these guys? Sure, but it would be extremely shocking to see them be selected at 21st overall.
Instead, you can look at the Flyers other organizational weakness: the center position. Paul Holmgren -- and his predecessor Bob Clarke -- have done an excellent job stocking the system with talented wingers. Picks like Claude Giroux (22nd overall, 2006, James van Riemsdyk (2nd overall, 2007), and Andreas Nodl (39th overall, 2006) give the Flyers a ton of versatility on the wings, especially when you mix them with the talent already on the NHL squad.
On defense, strong attention was paid to acquiring young talent and it's beginning to pay off. Ryan Parent will be a mainstay on the the blueline for years to come while Luca Sbisa continues to impress. Look for the Flyers to try to add to that talented young defense core in this draft. Young talent on defense is a priority, but it's not necessarily the top.
But for the most part, it seems as though the Flyers would be best suited to pick up a center with their first round selection this year. They are deep at center in the NHL ranks, but when it comes to the system, the stock is pretty thin. The top-ranked center prospect would be Jonathan Matsumoto, one of the Phantoms leading scorers last season. After him, however, there's virtually nobody.
So it would make the most sense for the Flyers to go after a center ice-man in the first round, especially considering this draft is pretty thick at that position. So who should be available at center at the back end of the first round when the Flyers are on the clock?
Kadri has been described as "one of the most dangerous offensive players in the OHL" and his consistent growth throughout his three junior seasons shows you why. After finishing up with just 22 points in his rookie campaign, he followed up nicely with 65 points in his sophomore year in Kitchener. After being traded to the London Knights, Kadri finished with 78 points in 56 games this past season.
In addition to scoring prowess, Kadri possesses tremendous speed and a decent streak of grit, but despite being listed as a center, he played primarily as a winger in London this year. The chances of Kadri falling all the way down to the 21st pick, however, are extremely slim. If he's there, the Flyers take him without question. But don't count on him being there.
Josefson is a solid two-way kind of guy. He's not going to put up unbelievable offensive numbers, but he can contribute at both ends. Here's what his head coach in the Swedish Elite League had to say about him, via NHL.com: "Josefson is among an elite band of 1991 birth-year players -- there are just three, in fact -- playing regularly in the Elitserien. He's not that big, but he's physically built. He looks like a player that is 25. When we were making that decision, we couldn't look at his age, just how he was competing against the other players on the team. His strengths are that he can read the play, he's strong with the puck, moves his feet really well and he always gets himself time when he gets the puck on his stick."
Josefson is ranked as the third best European skater in the draft by NHL Central Scouting, the 10th best forward in the draft by ISS, and 15th by The Hockey News.
He played most of his shifts in Brandon this season with Brayden Schenn, ranked fifth among skaters in this draft by the International Scouting Service. But THN says that Glennie "projects to be a more prolific scorer than Schenn" and that he is "considered a better skater than Schenn, but Schenn is seen as a player with more grit." Schenn, the younger brother of Toronto's Luke Schenn, has drawn comparisons to Mike Richards for his hard-nosed style of play. Glennie has more offensive skill than his linemate, which leads me to believe he could be to Schenn what Jeff Carter has been to Richards.
Glennie could drop a bit due to an injury he suffered this past January. He missed three months with a broken elbow but still finished up with 70 points in 55 games with the Wheat Kings. Ranked by the ISS as the 20th best skater in the draft, there is an off chance he could be available when the Flyers are on the clock.
A point per game player in the OHL, Holland is ranked at number 11 by the ISS. He's been knocked for his work ethic but that might be only because he's not a hard-nosed type of player. As quoted in THN, one scout says "he's not a high-energy player" but he's "smart and calculating" and he "has all the pro tools -- good hands and he's very talented." His talent level is right up there with the top players in the draft.
The son of former NHLer Ray Ferraro, Landon is small forward who simply knows how to put the puck in the net. He scored 37 goals this passed season for Red Deer and is a pretty well rounded offensive player. He can skate, he works hard, and is a very smart player with the puck. He also has been called one of the fastest skaters in the draft. His defense isn't as good as it could be and that will definitely be something that he has to work on, but if Ferraro is available at 21, I don't know how the Flyers pass him up. He's ranked at 18 by the ISS.
Morin played for team USA in 2007 and 2008, and he definitely impressed. In international competition at the world under-18 championships, Morin scored six goals and two assists in six games. Prior to that, he picked up 34 points in 28 games at the under-18 level and 46 points in 37 games at the under-17 level.
He regressed a bit this past season, however, scoring 25 goals and 20 assists in 45 games. And while scouts have said things like "he might have better instincts around the net than any player in the draft" and that he's "the best pure shooter in the draft," they can't pinpoint the reason for his weak season.
He's a solid player that will continue to grow, and he certainly possesses un-teachable talent. He is a slightly risky pick, which could make him drop to the 21st spot or beyond. The ISS has him ranked at number 28.
"He's a good player, but a project," says a scout quoted in The Hockey News. That's not exactly the best evaluation Shore could've asked for, but it could be worse. He's compared to Holland as a player that has the tools but doesn't always bring it all to the table on every shift. He's not a guy that's going to score you a hundred goals or even produce a ton of points, but when he plays to his ability consistently he has the potential to be a very solid two-way player in the NHL. He utilizes his 6-2 frame very well and is an excellent skater.
Kyle Palmieri, 5-10, 193 pounds, US NTDP -- [video] -- [stats]
Palmieri is a Jersey kid, kicked off of the US under-18 team in a cloud of uncertainty a few months back. Many scouts believe that this will cause him to drop in the draft, but others believe it oddly may have helped him out. As the story goes, he got kicked off of the team because he failed to rat out another player on his team, which could actually be an attractive quality in a young hockey player.
Besides his off-ice problem, though, he's a solid two-way center that has excellent vision and a blistering shot. He's not the biggest guy, but he's very strong on his skates and, as a scout with NHL Central Scouting says, "he very seldom passes up the opportunity to make the right play." He will attend Notre Dame in the fall. A smart, character player and a Jersey guy, Palmieri could be a Flyer if still available at 21.
Louis Leblanc, 6-0, 178 pounds, Omaha Lancers (USHL) -- [video] -- [stats]
Leblanc is ranked at number 16 by the ISS and 13 by NHL Central Scouting, but the fact that he played in the USHL could wind up hurting his selection chances earlier on the first round. He was extremely impressive in his rookies season with Omaha, putting up a point per game and 28 goals in a league that doesn't usually feature dominant offensive players with numbers like that. He was named USHL rookie of the year, but scouts have concerns that his numbers may not translate as well to other leagues.
Here's what NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee had to say about Leblanc, via NHL.com: "The most impressive things about Louis LeBlanc are his hands and his evasiveness with the puck; that separates him from other players on the ice right away. He needs to fill out a little bit yet, but he has the frame to be a big center. The other part of LeBlanc’s game that I noticed was his vision; his ability to see and dissect a play and to make the right play. He’s also very competitive and he gets involved in the play."
His favorite NHLer is Mike Richards.
And there you have it. 10 guys who could very well be Flyers in just three short weeks. Virtually any one of them are solid picks, and it looks as though the organization has a good chance at adding a solid center with their first round pick this season. But draft night can be a crazy couple of hours, and these things are never set in stone. With the needs that the Flyers have to address this offseason, there's no guarantee that they even use the 21st selection. If they do, though, there's a plethora of talent available to bring home.