While making my selections for this Winter’s 25 under 25, I started to wonder about the Flyers draft history, given the gluttony of prospects in the Flyers pipeline. It is very thoroughly noted that the Flyers have historically been a “short term solutions” team, with the AHL and prospect pool being under-prioritized for big name trades and headline grabbing moves. Of course, Ron Hextall changed this with his drafting strategy, and thanks to him, the Flyers are in possession of one of the deepest prospect pipelines in the NHL.
I wanted to explore is the Flyers draft history of European players. I’m curious about taking a look back at trends the Flyers showed in their drafting, and whether or not the majority of their European picks made the NHL, either with the Flyers or otherwise. Of course, success with the Flyers will be prioritized, but this is not an article with the purpose of ranking their draft choices.
It is worth noting that under Ed Snider, the Flyers very rarely (or did not at all) draft players from Russia or any of the Soviet influenced countries in the Eastern Bloc until after around the fall of the Berlin Wall. Of course, there was the fact that these players would have to defect to the west in order to play in the NHL, but regardless, Snider was very much against the idea of the Flyers sporting “Communist” skaters. As such, you won’t see many Eastern Europeans until later in these lists.
The first part of this little jaunt into the past will look solely at goalies. Here is a guide to the list pictured below:
1968-2018 European Goalies Drafted
From 1968 to 2018, the Flyers have drafted 17 European goalies. 11 of them have (so far) not played an NHL game. The six goalies that have played in the NHL combined for 1133 total games, 559 of which were played for the Flyers. Here, I will now take a look at those six NHL goalies:
Pelle Lindbergh (Sweden)
NHL Games with Flyers - 151
Total Games - 157
I’ve already written quite a lot on Lindbergh, and here is a link to that article I wrote earlier. Pelle played all of his NHL games with the Flyers, and provided them with quite the return on investment. He was famously the first European to win the Vezina trophy, and is one of the best goaltenders the Flyers have ever seen.
Tommy Söderström (Sweden)
NHL Games with Flyers - 78
Total Games - 156
We skip forward quite a while to get to the next European goalie, all the way to the 1990 draft with Tommy Söderström. Of course, the Flyers had Ron Hextall primarily in net after Lindbergh, so the need to draft a goalie was relatively weak. Tommy played for the Flyers in 1992-93 and 1993-94. The next year, Söderström, interestingly, was traded to the New York Islanders, where he played the remainder of his NHL games, for a 30 year old Ron Hextall after his two year departure from Philadelphia. The Flyers also received a sixth round draft pick that would become Dmitri Tertyshny, a 6’1” defenceman who would score 10 points in 68 games in his only NHL season (1998-99). In the end, his 0.881 save percentage was lackluster.
Johan Hedberg (Sweden)
NHL Games with Flyers - 0
Total Games - 373
Though the Flyers drafted Hedberg in 1994, he never suited up for the orange and black. His rights were traded to the San Jose Sharks in 1998 for a seventh round pick in 1999 that would become Pavel Kasparik, who would never play in North America. Hedberg would go on to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks, Dallas Stars, Atalnta Thrashers, and New Jersey Devils before retiring after the 2012-13 season. His career save percentage was 0.901, so it’s safe to say the Flyers didn’t miss out on anything big here.
Antero Niittymakki (Finland)
NHL Games with Flyers - 161
Total Games - 234
Ah, Nitty. As much as nostalgia goggles can impact a viewpoint, I’ve tried to take a step back and simply look at his numbers, and...he really didn’t pan out. As a sixth round pick, Niittymakki wouldn’t have had terribly high expectations lofted upon him, but that promise in 2003-04, where in three games he posted a 0.961 save percentage probably inflated views of him. He was sub 0.900 for the next two seasons, though in his last year as a Flyer, he upped his percentage to 0.912, which is quite league average. He then signed as a free agent in Tampa Bay, and again signed as a free agent in San Jose the following year.
Roman Cechmanek (Czech Republic)
NHL Games with Flyers - 163
Total Games - 212
Oh how this one stings. He was sooooo good for the Flyers, objectively speaking. In his three years in Philadelphia, he posted two straight seasons of 0.921 and 0.925 save percentage in his final year. If only he didn’t leave in frustration. I’m personally of the opinion that had Cechmanek been the goaltender in 2003-04, the Flyers could have at least reached the Stanley Cup Final. In the end though he was traded to the LA Kings for a second round pick that would be flipped to Chicago (they would pick Bryan Bickell).
Joacim Eriksson (Sweden)
NHL Games with Flyers - 0
Total Games - 1
Eriksson would only play one game, with the Canucks in relief of Eddie Lack. Not much to say about him. For all intense and purposes he was a flop.
As a final thought, it’s interesting that less than half of the goalies drafted here (35%) even played a single game at the top level. Furthermore, if I were only counting games played as a Flyer, only four of the goalies would count towards the total games played. This illustrates that the Flyers have had rather poor judgement with European goalies, especially highlighted by the string of flops between 2001 and 2006. This certainly isn’t to say that the team have bad judgement on goalies as a whole — Lindbergh, Hextall, and Carter Hart prove that the Flyers have drafted real gems at the position. The strange result of goalie flops can probably be chalked down to poor luck, as goalies are harder to scout and judge than positional players.