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NHL Draft 2013: Focus turns to young defensemen as Flyers address need

With their first two picks in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers are going to attempt to combat their long-time defensive development problems by attacking them head-on.

Jamie Squire

The snap reaction yesterday to the 2013 NHL Draft for the Flyers -- at least according to our site's comments and among fans and other writers on Twitter -- was less than glowing. Generally speaking, there was been skepticism about the team's first-round pick of Samuel Morin, universal disapproval of the third-round choice of Tyrell Goulbourne, and a bunch of shoulder shrugs at the team's later three picks. The choice of Robert Hagg seemed to be the one saving grace for a lot of folks out there.

I think that any defense of the choice of Goulbourne -- a player who looks like he'll top out as another version of Zac Rinaldo, and unquestionably one who was taken at least three rounds too early -- is pointless, given that there was obviously still some talent on the board at that point and taking a fighter/pest at that point in the draft is beyond silly. And I don't think any of us really know anything about Terrance Amorosa, Merrick Madsen, or David Drake, so trying to dissect those picks as anything more than shots in the dark is not worth it at this point in time.

But in a sport where it's just about impossible to tell how good a draft actually looks until several years down the road, the success of any given team's draft in any given year is going to be defined by the successes it has at the top of its draft. And at the top of this Flyers draft, we can clearly see the direction in which they're going.

The question heading into this draft for the Flyers was an obvious one: What were they going to do to try and brighten up the future of this team's defense? Would they go back to what's worked for them in the first round in recent years by taking a forward, or would they -- in the face of daunting historical trends -- take advantage of a deep group of defensemen and try and get that guy who they think could be an anchor on the blueline for years and years to come?

Paul Holmgren, Chris Pryor and Co. resoundingly answered that question by taking defensemen with their first two picks. You'll have to go all the way back to 1976 to see the last time the Flyers took a defenseman in both the first and second rounds. We've got reason to be skeptical of whether or not they'll work out, but it's clear that they're looking to make a change in the face of that sad history. And by leaving Newark with two of the eight or so best defensive prospects from this draft, they'll have as good a chance as ever to do just that.

Question the selection of Samuel Morin if you'd like, as many -- myself included -- did as the pick was made. But it's clear that the Flyers see something in him that they really like, and their recent success with first-rounders and with QMJHL prospects on the whole, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. The second-round choice of Robert Hagg, meanwhile, is deserving of a lot of praise as the team managed to pick up a guy pegged as a late-first-round talent at the 41st spot in the draft.

These guys represent a new direction for the Flyers with their young prospects, and their success or failure if what will define this draft five years from now -- or whenever we reach the point where it's fair to start truly evaluating it.

Morin and Hagg will almost assuredly jump to the top of the Flyers' defensive prospect rankings, in whatever order. They're both going to take some time to develop, and there's obviously a chance of a flameout in either or both of their cases. But there's also clear upside in both of these picks.

Morin's quite unpolished, but with his size and skating ability there's a whole well of untapped potential in there, and for the crap that the Flyers seem to be getting for taking him in that spot, apparently they weren't the only ones considering it. It's not a safe pick by any means, and he'll need some time and some luck, but you can see why they like him and why he's shot up so many draft boards in recent weeks and months.

Hagg is another guy who's a bit of a project and not exactly a safe pick either -- by his own admission, he's got some consistency issues -- but he's already faced some solid competition in Sweden, and if he's able to harness what he's done so far and become a bit more consistent as a player, the Flyers could have something special on their hands.

So that's how we're going to have to evaluate the 2013 draft. Not by the wasted third-round pick, and not by the three USHL guys in the later rounds that none of us know anything about. It became clear by pick No. 41 that this success or failure of this draft for the Flyers will come down to what happens with the pair of big-name defensive prospects it pulled in early on.

Should we be nervous about those? Yep. But the first step is admitting that you have a problem. If nothing else, the Flyers have finally acknowledged that they've got a problem in developing defensemen, and finally they're going to try and approach that problem head-on.