The FanSided NHL sites are doing a collective mock draft, and the Flyers are on the clock at 11th overall. Here are the selections thus far:
1. Colorado Avalanche – Seth Jones, D, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
2. Florida Panthers – Nathan MacKinnon, F, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
3. Tampa Bay Lightning – Jonathan Drouin, F, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
4. Nashville Predators – Valeri Nichushkin, F, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
5. Carolina Hurricanes – Sean Monahan, F, Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
6. Calgary Flames – Aleksander Barkov, F, Tappara (SM-liiga)
7. Edmonton Oilers – Darnell Nurse, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
8. Buffalo Sabres – Elias Lindholm, F, Brynas IF (SEL)
9. New Jersey Devils – Hunter Shinkaruk, F, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
10. Dallas Stars – Nikita Zadarov, D, London Knights (OHL)
It came down to five players for me: Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Pulock, Adam Erne, Anthony Mantha, and Frederik Gauthier as the wildcard. I considered Max Domi, as well, but feel the Flyers will stick with their stated commitment to go with size on the wings. Given a combination of value and the organization’s most dire need lining up, I decided I could not pass on the opportunity to draft a player who projects as the rare safe and potential high-end prospect in Finnish defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (TPS, SM-liiga). I’m surprised he slipped to #11.
First, his name is Rasmus. Very cool. The late ’94 birthday (October 27) has been championed as a top-10 pick in this draft going back a couple seasons, when he began playing in SM-liiga, Finland’s top professional league, before his 17th birthday. He measures an imposing 6’3″ and 207 pounds (with the frame to add more bulk), and posted 3 goals and 12 assists in 52 games for TPS in 2012-2013. Ristolainen is a right-handed shot and poised, steady two-way defenseman who logged a ton of ice time against his team’s toughest competition this past season. Reports are that he’s not a flashy player, but one who is smart and solid in all zones and situations, the type of player you want on the ice against the other team’s best players and in the biggest situations. Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus lauds Ristolainen’s maturity and hockey sense as his best attributes — he “thinks the game at a level well beyond his years, and he does not make many mistakes on the ice.” He has the vision to make crisp outlet passes, and his size does not impeded his mobility, as he’s classified as good skater who can carry the puck out of his own zone. Speaking of size, Ristolainen uses it to his advantage in terms of reach/stick use and physicality; he’s known to both play the body adeptly (along the boards and in front of the net) and throw his weight around to deliver big hits.
It’s odd, I’ve read analysts who say that Ristolainen’s overall defense/play in his own zone is beyond his offense at this point, but then reports from fans of SM-liiga/TPS who watch him regularly and say that defensive awareness/play in his own zone is his biggest weakness. So, yeah, I don’t know. What’s not in dispute is that he flashes as a puck-handler and puck-mover, with the heavy shot and facilitation skills to man the point on the power play. At the NHL Combine, Ristolainen showed off a blend of strength and endurance by finishing seventh in the Pull Test and fourth in the VO2 Max. He also mentioned Shea Weber as his idol and the player after whom he tries to model his game. He’s considered a “safe” prospect with a high floor, but there’s some disagreement about his ceiling. Either way, there appears to be little doubt that Rasmus Ristolainen is going to be a valuable NHL defenseman for a long time.
Put it all together and you have a prospect who sounds like he could be ready for the NHL as soon as this upcoming season. The Flyers are well set for the future up front but in desperate need of a young, franchise-type defenseman to help transition into the post-Chris Pronger and post-Kimmo Timonen era. And consider what a perfect situation it would be for Ristolainen to come to Philadelphia and be mentored by countryman Timonen in what will be, by all accounts, his final NHL season. He could then succeed the beloved Finnish defenseman and help anchor the Flyers’ blue line for years to come.
Feels like a no-brainer pick to me. Let’s see what the Flyers do if the board actually falls this way on draft night.
YouTube highlight video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReDJ3bg1Gds