After weeks of speculation, day one of the NHL Draft is finally upon us. The Philadelphia Flyers, barring any trades, will be selecting with the 18th pick in the first round of the draft sometime after 8 p.m. tonight. Until then, specifics regarding their top targets will almost certainly remain murky, at best.
But that doesn't mean that it's impossible to narrow down the list of possible selections. On Tuesday, we broke down the likelihood of all players generally accepted as "first-round talents" to be available when the Flyers pick at No. 18. The main finding was that Philadelphia's selection will most likely come from Tiers 3 and 4 from that article -- a pool of nine possible players.
None of the nine are slam-dunk prospects. If they were, there would be little chance any would be available by the middle of the first round. Instead, each prospect brings reasons for optimism regarding their future, and also legitimate causes for skepticism.
Acknowledging that, we've put together two cases for each of the nine highlighted players. First, we'll argue why the Flyers should make that player the 18th selection in the draft if he proves to be available. Then, we'll play devil's advocate, and explain why Philadelphia would be better served to stay far away.
The case to pick him: If Bean is available when the Flyers pick at no. 18, Bean will almost certainly be the "best player available" according to the public consensus. He's an elite offensive defenseman who nearly scored at a point per game rate (64 points in 68 games) in his draft year, and he's even young for the class (just turned 18 two weeks ago). Bean may be yet another left-handed defenseman, but he has played the right side often with the Calgary Hitmen, and already has chemistry with WHL teammate and Flyers prospect Travis Sanheim.
The case to pass on him: It's almost always correct to go "best player available" in the draft, but Bean could be a rare exception. Looking at his skillset, he's a left-handed, offensive defenseman who needs work in his own zone. The Flyers already have one young blueliner in the NHL who fits that profile (Shayne Gostisbehere). They also have Ivan Provorov, another LHD who brings better offensive skill and far superior defensive talent, and is as close to a surefire professional defenseman as there is in juniors. And then there's Sanheim, who has the same general skillset as Bean, except he's taller, faster and more adept with the puck.
That's not even counting Samuel Morin and Michael Del Zotto -- two more lefty shooting defensemen who could be a part of Philadelphia's future on the blueline. If you buy the current research that handedness is very important in maximizing the talent of your defense, then Bean would have to be far more than "just barely the BPA" to warrant a selection over superior fits.
The case to pick him: McLeod is a tantalizing combination of a high floor and a high ceiling. Forwards who are six feet, two inches tall and can also skate like the wind simply don't bust very often, especially when they also showcase a commitment to two-way play. At worst, he's a bigger Darren Helm, lacking scoring touch but still a fantastic role player in any team's bottom-six. At best, he develops into the next Ryan Kesler, an elite two-way center who pushes play against top competition and uses his fearsome speed to constantly create chances and score goals.
The case to pass on him: Despite his obvious physical tools, McLeod's scoring at the junior level has been merely good. Few scouts question his ability to get the puck into the offensive zone, but there are worries regarding his instincts, creativity and shooting ability once it's there. If the Flyers are skeptical that he'll ever be more than a very solid third line center, they may prefer to take a player with higher upside potential.
The case to pick him: After an impressive run with the U.S. National Team Development Program, McAvoy took the leap to college hockey last season and stood out on a nightly basis. Like Bean, he's an offensive-minded defenseman, but unlike Bean, his play in his own zone is reasonably developed after a year against older competition, and he's already filled out from a frame standpoint. In addition, he's a right handed defenseman, which remains a need in the Flyers' prospect pool.
The real question is regarding his eventual offensive upside -- some scouts are sold, others see him more as a Carlo Colaiacovo-type. If Hextall thinks the scoring will come, then McAvoy becomes a two-way defenseman who isn't far from being NHL ready. Add in the fact that he's a RHD, and that could be the final push that the Flyers need to call his name tonight.
The case to pass on him: Again, it comes down to fit. While McAvoy is probably a better fit than Bean in terms of skillset, the strength of the Philadelphia prospect pool remains their defense. McAvoy is a solid prospect, but is he so much better than the forwards that will be available at pick #18 to warrant a selection over them? Considering that McAvoy's offensive ceiling may be limited, Hextall could evaluate him as having the upside of a merely solid second-pair defenseman. That's probably not enough to justify a selection.
The case to pick him: Bellows is the ideal "need meets talent" selection for the Flyers. During his time with the U.S. National Development Team, he established himself as a high-volume shooter, never hesitating to pull the trigger. For a team (and a prospect pool) filled with playmakers, the addition of a pure sniper would be welcome. He's also known as a physical, aggressive forechecker, which is a characteristic that appears tailor-made for Dave Hakstol's preferred tactics. His ability to play left wing also fits on a team with two natural RWs (Voracek and Simmonds) locked into its top-two lines for years to come.
The stats love him too. He scored 50 goals this season with the USNTDP, playing alongside fellow top prospect Clayton Keller, and tore it up at the U18 World Juniors. If he's available at pick no. 18, there's a good chance Bellows would both be the best fit and the best player available for the Flyers.
The case to pass on him: While Bellows' skating has improved over the past two seasons, he's far from a burner, and some worry that playing alongside a gifted passer like Keller has artificially inflated his numbers. Like most snipers, there are concerns about the defensive side of his game, and he's been criticized in the past for taking himself out of the play due to aggressive checking. If Philadelphia is more interested in adding a two-way player to their prospect pool, Bellows probably isn't the ideal choice.
The case to pick him: Kunin screams "safe pick," and that's not meant as an insult. Scouts rave about his hockey IQ, his work ethic, and his all-around game. In addition, Kunin has already proven that he can produce at an impressive rate at the collegiate level, scoring 32 points in 34 games as a freshman at Wisconsin.
While he may not have the high-volume shooting tendencies of Bellows, or the physical prowess to score goals down low like Julien Gauthier, Kunin's shot is deadly accurate and quick. He's even received comparisons to Joe Pavelski, which is obviously high praise. With Kunin, the Flyers could be getting the sniper they desperately need, without sacrificing two-way play.
The case to pass on him: Kunin isn't really a "wow" player. His shot is high-end, but the rest of his physical toolbox can be categorized as "good not great." The team that selects him will be banking on his hockey IQ and intangibles to push him into elite territory because from a physical standpoint, Kunin probably tops out as a middle-six NHL forward. If Hextall wasn't sufficiently sold on those intangibles during the team's interview with Kunin during the scouting combine, he likely passes on the Wisconsin forward.
The case to pick him: While Fabbro is yet another defenseman, his skillset and playing style seems like it could perfectly complement players like Gostisbehere and Sanheim, at least on paper. Scouts universally note Fabbro's preternatural calm in the defensive zone, as he is the type of player who seems to slow down the game when the puck is on his stick. His awareness and positioning are his best assets, as he plays a style more befitting an NHL veteran. However, Fabbro still possesses plus puck skills and is a smart passer, as he showed while outplaying teammate Jakob Chychrun when the two were paired together at the U18 World Juniors.
Fabbro's conservative style could be the ideal fit beside more risky offensive talents like Gostisbehere and Sanheim. In addition, Fabbro is also a righthanded shot, so he would help to balance out the future pairings in Philadelphia. And as his 67 points in 45 games this season in the BCHL hint, Fabbro has offensive upside as well. Hextall could see him as both filling an organization skillset need, and possessing high-end potential due to his smarts.
The case to pass on him: Questions about his quality of competition remain. The BCHL is a significant step below the three major Canadian junior leagues, college hockey, and even the USHL, which adds to the uncertainty surrounding Fabbro. He'll play at Boston University next year, but the team that selects him will simply have to hope that the skillset carries over to a higher level. In addition, Fabbro is not an elite skater, a flaw that could be exploited in a tougher league.
The case to pick him: Rubtsov is viewed as one of the smartest forwards in the entire draft. His hockey IQ is supposedly off-the-charts, and scouts seem convinced that he'll stick at center as he progresses in his professional career. In Russia, he's already being used as the "tough minutes" forward on his team, matching up against top lines and playing heavy minutes on the penalty kill. Rubtsov also revels in playing a physical game, whether that be leading the way on the forecheck or battling for loose pucks in the defensive zone.
While Rubtsov isn't quite the physical specimen, it's not ridiculous to compare him to Sean Couturier in terms of style of play. Clearly, Couturier thrived in his first season under Dave Hakstol, and if the Flyers want to replicate that skillset with their draft selection, Rubtsov would be the ideal pick.
The case to pass on him: As has been the big question surrounding Couturier during his NHL career, Rubtsov's ultimate offensive upside remains unclear. He's merely a decent skater, and doesn't seem to possess the goal scoring talent of prospects like Bellows, Kunin or Gauthier. Rubtsov's high-end hockey IQ makes it less likely that he'll be a complete bust, but there's legitimate concern that he lacks a single standout physical skill to aid him in becoming a dynamic player at the next level.
Also, while Rubtsov has hinted that he will move to the CHL next season, that's not a guarantee. Hextall may be concerned that Rubtsov will stay in Russia, which makes it tougher to keep an eye on him, and could delay his eventual move to the NHL. Combined his concerns over his scoring potential, that may be enough to keep the Flyers from targeting the Russian.
The case to pick him: The raw numbers may not show it, but Max Jones possesses a dynamic set of skills. He's a plus skater with size, and he favors a high-energy game complete with tenacious forechecking and relentless physical play. Some may be scared off by his mediocre-for-a-first-rounder 52 points in 63 games, but it's important to note that he played down the lineup on a stacked London Knights squad. Jones' primary point scoring at even strength (after adjusting for ice time) was actually better than that of highly-touted prospects Alexander Nylander and Logan Brown.
Jones could be poised for a breakout season next year in terms of point scoring, as he takes a larger role on the Knights. Hextall may see a Jones selection as a way to "buy-low" on a power forward whose best days are ahead of him from a production standpoint.
The case to pass on him: It may not have been Max Jones' fault that playing on the same team as Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk deflated his ice time and point totals, but the fact that he hasn't taken a primary role on his junior team yet does add uncertainty to his projection. He performed well in limited minutes, but can he do the same while carrying a heavy load? In addition, there are legitimate concerns surrounding Jones' on-ice discipline, which culminated with a dirty hit in the OHL playoffs that led to a 12-game suspension.
Jones has too much skill to be written off as simply another Tom Wilson, but a bigger Steve Downie isn't a terrible way to describe his downside. Hextall may not want to take a risk on Jones in the first round if he doesn't feel that the young forward can reign in his emotions in key situations.
The case to pick him: I made the bulk of this case last week, when BSH chose to select Gauthier in the SB Nation Mock Draft. But to recap -- Gauthier is an elite scorer, a physical freak who uses his size and speed combination to dominate down low and own the high-danger areas of the offensive zone. His underwhelming point production can mostly be explained by abnormally-low secondary assist totals, a statistic that is primarily luck-based.
Considering the Flyers' emphasis upon a cycle game to create much of their offense, adding a player who regularly can "get to the dirty areas" is especially valuable. Matt Read specifically noted the absence of a forward with that skillset during his exit interview in April. As Gauthier is already built like an NHL player (6'4'', 221 pounds), there's a good chance he could make it to the Flyers quicker than other forward prospects available at #18. That combination of impressive stats, organizational need and proximity to the NHL makes Gauthier an enticing prospect for Philadelphia.
The case to pass on him: There are viable concerns regarding his hockey sense and consistency. Like many snipers, Gauthier can seemingly slide in and out of games, playing passive and appearing to lose focus. He also will never be confused for a defensive stalwart. The real question with Gauthier is whether his key skill (goal scoring, especially from in close) is enough to outweigh the underwhelming parts of his game. If the answer is yes, he could be the next Rick Nash. If no, then his floor is something close to what Ryan White delivered for the Flyers this past season. That may be too wide a range of outcomes for Ron Hextall.
And for fun, my personal draft board...
1. Kieffer Bellows
2. Michael McLeod
3. Dante Fabbro
4. Luke Kunin
5. Julien Gauthier
6. German Rubtsov
7. Charlie McAvoy
8. Jake Bean
9. Max Jones