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Trade tree: How an undrafted free agent in 2003 helped the Flyers draft Travis Konecny

Travis Konecny is a Flyer thanks to an undrafted free agent and a series of shrewd trades.

Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers’ 2006-07 season was downright awful, but that trade deadline planted the seeds of success for future teams.

The Peter Forsberg trade helped produce a top-six forward, top-four defenseman, and more, and that was only one of the two interesting trades at that deadline.

Another trade at the deadline started way back in 2003 with an undrafted free agent.

The Flyers signed defenseman Freddy Meyer as an undrafted free agent out of Boston University in 2003. Meyer helped the Phantoms win the 2005 Calder Cup then split time between the NHL and AHL the next year.

December 16th, 2006: Flyers trade Freddy Meyer and 2007 conditional third-round pick to New York Islanders for Alexei Zhitnik

With the Flyers in the middle of their worst season in franchise history, they acquired veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik from the New York Islanders for Freddy Meyer and a third-round pick in the 2007 NHL Draft. Zhitnik played well enough for the Flyers, but would only last a little over two months in Philadelphia.

Meyer went on to be a decent depth defenseman in New York after a year in the Coyotes organization, so it wasn’t a complete loss for the Isles.

As the trade deadline neared, and the Flyers only continued downhill, they cashed in on trading a few of their veterans. Peter Forsberg paid dividends that are still paying off to this day, and so did Zhitnik.

February 24th, 2007: Flyers trade Alexei Zhitnik to Atlanta Thrashers for Braydon Coburn

The Atlanta Thrashers were looking to add an experienced defenseman to push for their first playoff berth in franchise history, and they were willing to pay a pretty penny for it. The Flyers acquired one of the Thrashers’ top young defensemen for Zhitnik in a one-for-one deal.

The Flyers acquired a player that would become a top-four defenseman for the next eight years for a veteran defenseman they had for two months.

The Thrashers did end up making the playoffs for the first – and only – time in their franchise history, but it ended there for them. They got swept in the first round by the New York Rangers.

It wasn’t that much successful for Zhitnik, either. He played one more year in Atlanta before getting bought out at the end of the 2007-08 season.

Two months – 31 games – of Alexei Zhitnik netted the Flyers a promising young defenseman that would be a key cog on the blue line for years to come.

Coburn lived up to the hype. He was a stalwart on the Flyers’ defense from the day he was acquired. He averaged nearly 21 minutes (20:58) as a 21 year old in 20 games to finish the 2006-07 season, and it only went up from there. Coburn averaged at least 21 minutes a game for his entire Flyers career, and he was an effective top-four defenseman at that.

His production didn’t stop there, however. Ron Hextall was able to flip him at the 2015 trade deadline after already trading Kimmo Timonen.

March 2nd, 2015: Flyers trade Braydon Coburn to Tampa Bay Lightning for Radko Gudas, 2015 first-round pick, 2015 third-round pick

While Timonen had one last hurrah in him, Coburn was under contract for another year. That allowed the Flyers to get a pretty good haul for him in return. Not only did they get a first-round pick (and a third-round pick), but also a solid defenseman in Radko Gudas.

Gudas was a pleasant surprise in the trade, playing four years with the Flyers before being traded last offseason.

With Timonen and Coburn gone, the Flyers now had Tampa Bay’s first-round and third-round picks, Chicago’s second-round pick in 2015 and 2016, and a roster player to replace Coburn in Gudas.

The 2007 trade deadline put things in motion for the next several years with the Forsberg and Zhitnik trades. Coburn, and the 2015 deadline, helped to keep those trades alive in a sense and get things ready for the next branches in the trade tree.

The fruits on these new branches haven’t been as immediate as the turnaround from 2006-07 to 2007-08, but it’s getting there. And that’s large in part to this next deal.

June 26th, 2015: Flyers trade Tampa Bay’s first-round pick and Chicago’s second-round pick to Toronto for Nashville’s first-round pick

With the Lightning’s pick (29th overall, acquired in the Coburn trade) and Blackhawks’ pick (61st overall, acquired in the Timonen trade), the Flyers were able to trade up with Toronto for Nashville’s pick (24th overall).

The Flyers used the 24th overall pick to select Travis Konecny after already drafting Ivan Provorov with their own pick at seventh overall.

They had their eyes on Konecny and one other player when the Maple Leafs gave Ron Hextall a call.

“We had two guys on the board that we really, really liked, and we would have moved up for either of them,” Hextall said. “Toronto called for our pick. I think it was a reasonable offer, so we discussed it and we jumped on it. We were either looking to move up, or possibly if the guys were gone, move back.”

Hextall took the opportunity and ran with it, and boy are we glad he did.

Konecny has become one of the Flyers’ best forwards at just 23 years old. He was named to his first All-Star Game this year as he has broken out for 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) through 66 games.

To zoom out a bit wider, the picks acquired in the Coburn and Timonen trades, who were acquired via Alexei Zhitnik – acquired for an undrafted free agent – and a part of the Peter Forsberg trade, resulted in Travis Konecny becoming a Philadelphia Flyer.

And the trade tree isn’t done there. Another branch grew this past offseason.

June 14th, 2019: Flyers trade Radko Gudas to Washington Capitals for Matt Niskanen

The trade for Niskanen has been one of Chuck Fletcher’s best moves. With that trade, the Flyers indirectly got a top-pair defenseman in Niskanen – as well as a few other pieces – for a bottom-four defenseman in Coburn.

Niskanen has been a top-pair defenseman for the Flyers in their bounce-back season this year. He’s under contract for another season as well, which could (should?) mean two playoff runs out of Niskanen.

In return for Coburn, the Flyers got four years of Gudas, which has turned into two years of Niskanen, as well as the more valuable pick used to draft Travis Konecny.

Not only did the Alexei Zhitnik and Peter Forsberg trades result in quality assets at the time, but the branches within the trade tree continue to produce some good players as well.

An undrafted free agent in 2003 and signing Peter Forsberg after the 2004-05 lockout turned into years of quality players for the Flyers – and the trade tree is still active with Konecny, Niskanen, and now Allison under contract.

The 2006-07 season was the lowest of the lows for the Flyers, but from darkness comes light. In this instance, that light has been in the form of a pair of trade trees that culminated in Travis Konecny.