This past weekend brought actual, real-live happenings to one of America’s four major sports leagues for the first time since sports came to a halt in mid-March, as the NFL Draft took place over the Internet. It was nice to, for a weekend, feel happiness and anger over sports things that are happening in the moment, the way we’d all prefer to be doing at the moment as sports (and the world) are on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, it got me thinking about the Flyers’ recent drafts. I have a love-hate relationship with analyses that look back on old NHL drafts, which very much depends on the type of analysis being done. Obviously, teams and other people with vested interests in this should be consistently looking back on what they did right and wrong, and trying to apply what they learn regularly in an effort to get better. Then there’s the kind of analysis that simply looks back and says “hey, what if instead of taking this guy who wasn’t good, you took this guy who IS good?” That’s lazy.
But you know what? I’m bored, and a bit lazy. And also, with Ron Hextall’s mostly-excellent draft career as Flyers GM to look back on, an exercise looking at what the Flyers did in the draft — and what they could’ve done — becomes an exercise of curiosity, rather than one of futility. So let’s do this, as we look at Hextall’s first-ever draft — 2014, where he sat in our very own Wells Fargo Center and invited six new players to the organization.
We’ll go through each pick the Flyers made in this draft, talking about how they worked out and whether the team has any reason to look back on the pick with regret. Then, we’ll take a look at the next 10 picks after that player and try and decide if someone in that range would have been a better pick for the Flyers. Then, we’ll do what I’ll call “extreme hindsight” and take a look at every player chosen between the pick in question and the Flyers’ next pick (or the end of the draft, whichever comes first) to see what could’ve happened in a truly perfect world.
With thanks to hockeydb’s draft page for laying out each team’s picks and each pick’s career to date, let’s get started.
Round 1, Pick 17: Travis Sanheim
How’d it work out? Pretty well! Sanheim quickly emerged as a legit defensive prospect the following season, and was one of the best defensemen in the WHL for the two years that followed. He broke 2017-18 camp with the Flyers and has, outside of one brief trip back to Lehigh Valley in early 2018, hung around ever since, looking the part of a strong second-pair defenseman in his NHL time.
Regret level: Low. Was this an absolute home run of a pick? Probably not. Could you have picked someone else in the latter half of this first round and come up with a similar outcome? Probably. But Sanheim is a top-4 defenseman at 24 years old and has shown potential to be more than that. That’s a good outcome for a pick in the late teens.
Hindsight alternatives: There are a number of decent players that went in the back half of this first round that have achieved some things in the NHL — in fact, each of the five players all taken right after Sanheim (Alex Tuch, Tony DeAngelo, Nick Schmaltz, Robby Fabbri, and Kasperi Kapanen) have all carved out decent starts to their NHL careers already. With that said, if the Flyers could have put David Pastrnak (taken at No. 25 in the first round) on the same track to succeed that Boston did, it’s hard to argue he wouldn’t have been the best option here.
Extreme hindsight alternatives: Again, with due respect to Sanheim, tough to think of a better pick than Pastrnak here.
Round 2, Pick 48: Nicolas Aube-Kubel
How’d it work out? After a bit of a journey, this one seems to be turning up the way the Flyers hoped it would. Aube-Kubel spent parts of four seasons on the Phantoms before cracking the NHL lineup this past season, and he’s immediately proven that he belongs in hockey’s best league.
Regret level: Very low. Even if Aube-Kubel isn’t a superstar, to get a middle-of-the-lineup contributor in the second round isn’t a given, and the Flyers appear to have done that. I mean, there are worse things you can do with a second-round pick, like use it to draft a quarterback when you already have an established starter.
Hindsight alternatives: There aren’t many obvious upgrades in the few picks after Aube-Kubel. Brandon Montour, a right-shot defenseman taken 55th overall by Anaheim and since traded to Buffalo, is probably the only guy between NA-K and the end of the second round that I would definitely trade him for. Ryan Donato (#56 to Boston, since traded to Minnesota) and Christian Dvorak (#58 to Arizona) are also solid forwards.
Extreme hindsight alternatives: Well, if you were going to take a smallish forward, I would have liked Brayden Point (taken 79th overall by, obviously, Tampa), who had emerged as a top-line forward before NA-K even really cracked the NHL. Small players: they can still play!
Round 3, Pick 86: Mark Friedman
How’d it work out? OK. Friedman spent three years at Bowling Green and has put his time in with the Phantoms, and has ascended to the role of first injury call-up when the Flyers need someone on defense.
Regret level: Low. Again, Friedman is probably not going to be a high-impact player, but a potential NHLer from the bottom of the third round is a win, even at the bottom of the lineup.
Hindsight alternatives: Not missing out on a ton here. St. Louis goalie prospect Ville Husso was taken at No. 94 and he at one point was considered one of the NHL’s top goalie prospects, but he’s since fallen off that radar a bit. There may be more exciting options, but no one that’s obviously emerged.
Extreme hindsight alternatives: Nashville grabbed Viktor Arvidsson, in his second year of draft eligibility, in the fourth round at pick #112 and boy it would be nice to have him.
Round 5, Pick 138: Oskar Lindblom
How’d it work out? On-ice, this has gone as well as the Flyers could have hoped it would. Lindblom spent three years in Sweden, became one of the best players in the SHL, and cracked the NHL team midway through his first North American season and never looked back. More than anything, we just hope we get to see him again soon. Oskar Strong, always.
Regret level: Non-existent. A top-6 winger in the fifth round is a home run of a pick.
Hindsight alternatives: Only one player taken within the 10 picks after Lindblom has played more than 100 NHL games — Anders Bjork of Boston — and Lindblom has had a better career to date than him.
Extreme hindsight alternatives: There is no one taken between Lindblom and the Flyers’ next pick that one would take over him. Man, it’s nice to actually pick good players late in drafts. (Hold this thought for the next two guys.)
Round 6, Pick 168: Radel Fazleev
How’d it work out? It didn’t. Fazleev had some promise as he graduated from the WHL to the pros, but it seemed like he never saw eye-to-eye with the coaches he was working with in the minors. (It also seems like he just wasn’t very good.) Fazleev shuffled between Lehigh Valley and Reading, and agreed to mutually terminate his contract in the middle of the final year of his entry-level deal so he could leave.
Regret level: Meh. It was a sixth-round pick, and Fazleev had a decent profile for a sixth-rounder. No use hand-wringing over something that was probably never going to amount to much. Well, unless ...
Hindsight alternatives: Kevin Labanc was taken three picks later by San Jose and he’s become a legit weapon at the NHL level. Damnit.
Extreme hindsight alternatives: (See above)
Round 7, Pick 198: Jesper Pettersson
How’d it work out? (shrug) Pettersson — a double-overager when the Flyers drafted him — went straight to the Phantoms, but failed to establish himself as much of anything, and was in the ECHL by the time his contract expired in 2017. He went back to Sweden at that point.
Regret level: Again, the only reason to be upset about a seventh-round pick not working out is that it did for someone picking a few picks later. Which ...
Hindsight alternatives: Brother-of-future-Flyers-draft-pick-David-Kase Ondrej Kase was taken seven picks later by Anaheim. He’s carved out a great start to his career as a middle 6 winger.
Extreme hindsight alternatives: I’m not going to call the above point extreme because he played for the same team as his brother! Clearly the Flyers had an eye on this team! Just take him! Damnit.
Overall, the nitpicking that one can do here is fairly limited. With their first four picks, the Flyers found two guys who have emerged as no-doubt NHL contributors (Sanheim and Lindblom) and another player who looks like he’s going to become one based on his limited NHL sample (Aube-Kubel), plus a guy who is probably an NHL/AHL tweener but could become something more (Friedman). That is an outstanding yield for one draft, full stop. Sure, they didn’t find the hidden gems in the draft’s final two rounds, but teams don’t bat 1.000 when drafting, and after grabbing Lindblom in the fifth expecting another late breakthrough is probably wishful thinking.
For fun, if we compile all of our hindsight picks listed above, it’d look something like this:
Philadelphia Flyers 2014 Draft, in Extreme Hindsight
|Pick #||Actual Pick||Hindsight Alternative||Extreme Hindsight Alternative|
|Pick #||Actual Pick||Hindsight Alternative||Extreme Hindsight Alternative|
|17||Travis Sanheim||David Pastrnak||David Pastrnak|
|48||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Brandon Montour||Brayden Point|
|86||Mark Friedman||Mark Friedman||Viktor Arvidsson|
|138||Oskar Lindblom||Oskar Lindblom||Oskar Lindblom|
|168||Radel Fazleev||Kevin Labanc||Kevin Labanc|
|198||Jesper Pettersson||Ondrej Kase||Ondrej Kase|
Is it totally unreasonable to suggest that the team should’ve or would’ve taken all of those guys in that last column, given that they’re all forwards and this draft took place at a time when the Flyers needed to continue stocking up their defensive prospect cupboard? Absolutely. Would it still be fun to have all of those guys? Duh.
Even so, looking back on it, the Flyers turned six picks into three NHLers, maybe four if things break right. It would indeed take extreme hindsight to suggest Ron Hextall’s first draft was anything short of a major success.
What grade would you give the Flyers’ 2014 draft class?
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