Unlike last season when the Philadelphia Flyers were able to take advantage of a high pick in the NHL Draft (seventh overall) to nab top defenseman prospect Ivan Provorov, the 2015-16 season brought a better on-ice result for the team and in turn, a later first round draft pick.
But even at the 18th selection in the first round, there is always talent to be had. Teuvo Teravainen is the most recent example of an impact player chosen at that slot, with Andrei Vasilevskiy, Chris Kreider and Nick Bjugstad all selected right after at No. 19 in their drafts.
It's a spot where a team can snatch up a player who has suffered an unexpected slide down draft boards, or take a chance on a high-risk, high-reward talent. Unfortunately, in this mock draft, many of our top targets at BSH were taken just before the 18th pick. Kieffer Bellows, a sniper with excellent pedigree, went to the Hurricanes at 13. Other desirable forward targets like Luke Kunin and German Rubtsov were taken at picks 14 and 16 respectively. And any hopes that Dante Fabbro, a smooth right-handed defenseman, might slip all the way down to the Flyers' pick were dashed by Nashville at 17.
- Toronto Maple Leafs, via Pension Plan Puppets, select center Auston Matthews.
- Winnipeg Jets, via Arctic Ice Hockey, select winger Patrick Laine.
- Columbus Blue Jackets, via The Cannon, select winger Jesse Puljujarvi.
- Edmonton Oilers, via The Copper & Blue, select forward Pierre-Luc DuBois.
- Vancouver Canucks, via Nucks Misconduct, select defenseman Olli Juolevi.
- Calgary Flames, via Matchsticks & Gasoline, select winger Matthew Tkachuk.
- Arizona Coyotes, via Five For Howling, select defenseman Jacob Chychrun.
- Buffalo Sabres, via Die By The Blade, select winger Alexander Nylander.
- Montreal Canadiens, via Eyes On The Prize, select forward Tyson Yost.
- Colorado Avalanche, via Mile High Hockey, select center Logan Brown.
- New Jersey Devils, via All About The Jersey, select Clayton Keller.
- Ottawa Senators, via Silver Seven, select defenseman Mikhail Sergachyov.
- Carolina Hurricanes, via Canes Country, select forward Kieffer Bellows.
- St. Louis Blues, via St. Louis Game Time (via trade with Boston), select center Luke Kunin.
- Minnesota Wild, via Hockey Wilderness, select center Michael McLeod.
- Detroit Red Wings, via Winging It In Motown, select center German Rubtsov.
- Nashville Predators, via On The Forecheck, select defenseman Dante Fabbro.
Absent an obvious, no-brainer selection still on the board, the great minds at Broad Street Hockey had a long debate on the best player for the Flyers to choose. After much discussion, we came to a consensus.
With the 18th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers are proud to select, from the Val-d'Or Foreurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, right wing Julien Gauthier.
In the end, the decision came down to four players -- Gauthier, defenseman Jake Bean, forward Max Jones, and forward Alex DeBrincat. We evaluated each as a possible choice, and eventually decided to go with Gauthier.
Bean came the closest to being a consensus "best player available" via mock drafts on the interwebs, but the Flyers' pipeline is already flush with high-end lefthanded defensemen whose skillsets lean more towards scoring than defensive acumen. Bean would need to be head-and-shoulders above the other options at #18 to disregard organizational depth, and we deemed that he was not quite at that level.
Some have criticized Max Jones for poor counting statistics (52 points in 63 games), but his numbers were deflated due to lack of ice time on a stacked London roster. Still, Jones' issues with on-ice discipline and the fact that he's yet to prove that he can score at an elite level given a first line role were enough justification to rule him out. DeBrincat has been a dynamic scorer in juniors, but there are legitimate questions as to whether he can keep up his hard-nosed style at the NHL level considering his lack of size. He's a true high-risk, high-reward selection, and the BSH team decided they preferred a safer choice.
Gauthier brings a much needed skillset
The Flyers' current forward corps is far from terrible. They have two stars (Giroux and Voracek), strong complementary scorers (Simmonds, Schenn, Couturier), support forwards (Raffl, Read) and intriguing young pieces (Cousins, Laughton). But they do lack a true sniper, a player with the ability to regularly create his own shot and also score at an efficient rate.
Enter Julien Gauthier.
Gauthier is a true power forward with a singular focus -- to score as many goals as humanly possible. At 6'3'' and 229 pounds, he certainly has the size to brutalize the junior level, and likely could hold his own physically in the NHL as well. But what sets Gauthier apart from most "big-bodied" forwards is that he can actually skate. Rather than a simple muck-and-grind support forward mostly tasked with winning puck battles, Gauthier can both go through an opponent and around one. It's no fluke that he scored 38 goals in his age-16 season and 41 goals in his draft year.
From what we've seen so far of Dave Hakstol's preferred tactics, the Flyers lean towards a heavy and aggressive forecheck to create much of their offense. Gauthier's combination of size and speed would seem perfect for puck retrieval situations, while his shoot-first mentality seems likely to complement key forwards like Giroux, Voracek, Couturier and even Travis Konecny, all of whom have playmakers' mindsets.
But not only does Gauthier possess a desirable skillset, he actually may be underrated from a statistical standpoint.
Advanced stats like Gauthier
Early in the season, Julien Gauthier was viewed as a legitimate top-10 prospect in the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft. Since then, his stock has fallen, to the point where it's likely that the Flyers will have the opportunity to choose him at pick 18.
A quick glance at the numbers helps to explain the fall. After scoring 73 points in 68 games (1.07 PPG) as a 16-year old, Gauthier showed little progression from a raw points standpoint, totaling 57 in 54 games (1.05 PPG) during the 2015-16 season. That stagnation was accompanied by concerns from scouts regarding Gauthier's hockey IQ and his passing ability, and the result has been a downgrade in his stock.
But Gauthier's raw totals this season were deflated by an almost complete absence of secondary assists. Just two of his 57 points were second assists, a ridiculously low number.
Is that anything to worry about? Could Gauthier be struggling to help his teammates create tangible offense, and that's the reason for his low secondary assist totals?
Most likely, the answer is no. BSH writer emeritus Eric Tulsky determined in 2011 that secondary assists have very low repeatability, implying that they are basically a product of luck. The sentiment has been echoed by other leading figures in the advanced statistical community, and while there is a case to be made that second assists on the power play may have some predictive value, the stat as a whole is more noisy than useful.
Let's instead look at Gauthier's goal scoring and primary point (goals plus primary assists) production. The great site Prospect-Stats allows us to isolate even strength production for players in juniors, and even estimate performance accounting for ice time.
In the QMJHL this season, Gauthier wasn't just the most efficient even strength goal scorer out of draft-eligible prospects. He was the best in the entire league, period. Gauthier's 0.537 even strength goals per game rate was tops among all players, and so was his estimated 2.196 Goals per 60 minutes mark. In fact, that 2.196 Goals/60 rate at even strength led the entire CHL, and his Goals per Games Played rate would have ranked third in the OHL and fifth in the WHL. Even at age 18, Julien Gauthier is already one of the best goal scorers in junior hockey.
His performance in terms of primary points isn't quite as impressive, in that it is merely "very good for a prospect" rather than "jaw on the floor eye-popping" like his goal metrics. Gauthier ranked eighth among QMJHL players in even strength primary points per games played, beating out 2015 first round picks Evgeny Svechnikov and Anthony Beauvillier, in addition to Flyers' prospect Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who was in his final year of juniors. Gauthier's 3.0228 estimated even strength primary points per 60 rate ranked fifth in the QMJHL, just a hair behind Pierre-Luc Dubois, who is expected to go in the top-five of this draft.
Essentially, we're looking at a prospect who very well may have seen his stock drop primarily due to a statistical fluke. To be clear, Julien Gauthier is not a forward being overrated due to his size/speed combination, like some accused scouts of doing to Lawson Crouse last year. Instead, Gauthier looks more like one with a relatively high floor due to his undeniable physical prowess, yet also possessing a high ceiling considering his truly elite goal production at the junior level.