Ever since Paul Holmgren joined the Philadelphia Flyers management team in 1995, the Flyers have had a very strong drafting record. Their first round picks have been some of the most enviable in the NHL, especially when it comes to NHL level forwards. They have found forwards like Steve Downie, Justin Williams, Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, and Claude Giroux in the first round, and each of those picks was after number 20 overall. When it comes to picks within the top 15, Homer and the staff have found forwards like Dainus Zubrus, James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier, and Jeff Carter. No matter how much you may not like the guy, it is hard to deny that he is a smart drafter.
It remains to be seen whether or not Holmgren and the staff can draft and develop defensemen. In 2008, he drafted Luca Sbisa with the 18th overall pick. Sbisa played in 39 games as a Flyer and was traded one year later at the 2009 NHL Draft in the blockbuster deal that brought Chris Pronger to Philadelphia. Joni Pitkanen was drafted 4th overall in 2002. A 4th overall draft pick needs to be a top pairing defenseman. I understand that it is nearly impossible to know on draft day how good a defenseman will be, however, when player is picked that high, he is expected to be a game changer. Pitkanen never has been. He has turned into a solid, mid-pairing guy who will score 30-40 points a year and log over 20 minutes a game. He is not a Norris trophy caliber defenseman by any means.
Due to trades of his own, Holmgren was left without any first or second round picks in both 2009 and 2010. He has picked up one of the top prospects from the class of 2009, Brayden Schenn, since then. The loss of those picks has had serious implications on the team today. Those players would be about 21-23 years old right now and would just now be beginning to show their potential. In the later rounds of those drafts, Holmgren was able to pick up a few key players. In 2009 he found Eric Wellwood in the 6th round and Oliver Lauridsen in the 7th round. In 2010, Holmgren snagged Tye McGinn in the 4th round.
From 2011-2013, however, Holmgren has had plenty of chances to pick quality prospects. He has had first round selections every year and nine 2nd-4th round selections. Sean Couturier, the first round pick of the 2011 draft, is already beginning to reward the organization. The top pick in 2013, Samuel Morin, is a long range defensive prospect who could pay big dividends to the club if they remain patient with his development. The class of 2012 has started to show positive signs, and if Holmgren canned anytime soon, the class of 2012 could be his crowning achievement.
With the World Junior Championships starting today, Flyers fans should be thankful for Homer and his staff. The Flyers have five prospects in the tournament. Robert Hagg, the 41st overall pick in 2013, will be one of the premier defenseman on Sweden’s roster. The four other Flyers prospects who are participating in the tournament come from the draft class of 2012 and will represent Canada, the United States, and Russia. The Flyers had seven picks in 2012. Third round selection Shayne Gostisbehere competed for Team USA in the World Junior Championships last year and is ineligible this year because he is 20 years old. Of the other six picks, four of them will be on display during the tournament.
Here is your guide to the Flyers competing in this years World Junior Tournament:
Team Canada – Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier
The Flyers first round pick in 2012, center Scott Laughton, is having an impressive season. I have wrote about him many times, including here and here. I will not go into detail for those of you who are familiar with the prospect, but he will be the captain of Team Canada. Laughton will most likely center Canada’s third line behind the top two centers Bo Horvat and Nicolas Petan. Both Horvat and Petan were drafted in 2013 and have considerable offensive skill. Laughton has been moved around the line up in the pre-tournament exhibition games, but if he is on the third line, do not consider it a knock on his ability. Laughton, much like current Flyer Sean Couturier, is a two-way specialist. He will be called upon to shut down the top opposing players while chipping in offensively. Just look at Laughton’s offensive totals this season (24 goals, 26 assists, and 50 points in 29 games) and you will see that he has the offensive chops to be effective in the tournament.
Left winger Taylor Leier was drafted in the 4th round in 2012, at 117th overall. He has made the final cut for the Canadian team. Even though he was a healthy scratch for one of the pre-tournament exhibition games and does not figure to play a large role for Team Canada, the fact that Leier is a participant for Team Canada is very impressive. Leier has put together a great season for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. He has 22 goals and 21 assists (43 points) through 31 games. There has been speculation that Leier will be on a line with Laughton, but it is not clear what kind of role Leier will play for Team Canada, Leier is the captain of the Winterhawks and signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers on September 9th, 2013. The deal is worth $808, 067 /year and will kick in next year when Leier will most likely join the Adirondack Phantoms.
Team Canada’s preliminary round schedule:
12/26 – vs. Germany 7:30am
12/28 – vs. Czech Republic 11:30am
12/30 – vs. Slovakia 11:30am
12/31 – vs. United States 11:30am
Team USA – Anthony Stolarz
Goaltender Anthony Stolarz was the 2nd round pick for the Flyers in 2012 at 45th overall. Stolarz will back up John Gillies and may not see a whole lot of playing time. Gillies is a Calgary Flames prospect and was Team USA’s back up goaltender in this tournament last year. Stolarz is putting together a solid season. He is the starting goaltender for the London Knights of the OHL and is 20-3-1 with a SV% of .926 and a GAA of 2.50. Stolarz is the best goaltending prospect in the Flyers system and may soon become the heir apparent to current goalie Steve Mason.
Team USA preliminary round schedule:
12/26 – vs. Czech Repubublic 11:30am
12/28 – vs. Slovakia 7:30am
12/29 – vs. Germany 9:00am
12/31 – vs. Canada 11:30am
(Team USA having back-to-back games on the 28th-29th, there is a chance that Stolarz sees the ice on the 29th against Germany)
Team Russia – Valeri Vasiliev
Valeri Vasiliev was the Flyers’ 7th round draft choice in 2012. Going into the draft, Vasiliev was ranked as the 16th best European skater available by some scouts. A nagging injury and the all important “Russian factor” dropped him from a possible 2nd or 3rd round pick to the 7th round and the 201st overall spot. It looks like the Flyers may have found themselves a late round gem. At the tender age of 19, Vasiliev is a starter for the KHL club Spartak Moscow. He has 2 assists through 26 games and only averages 13:10 of ice time per game. However, to be a starter in Europe’s toughest league as a teenager is an accomplishment. Unlike Stolarz, Laughton, and Leier, Vasiliev is playing against grown men, not 16, 17, and 18 year olds. This high-profile tournament will be a great chance for the Flyers scouts to watch their late round prospect. For more information on Vasiliev and the “Russian factor”, check out this article by Bill Meltzer.
Team Russia preliminary round schedule:
12/26 – vs. Norway 9:00am
12/28 – vs. Switzerland 1:00pm
12/30 – vs. Finland 9:00am
12/31 – vs. Sweden 8:00am
Team Sweden – Robert Hagg
This past summer, the Flyers selected defenseman Robert Hagg with the 41st overall pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. Hagg was ranked as the one of the top 10 European skaters in the draft by most scouts and had an outside shot of being a first round pick. Like Vasiliev, Hagg is playing against grown men for the MODO hockey club in Sweden. He has played on Sweden’s second defense pair in the pre-tournament exhibition games alongside Chicago Blackhawk’s prospect Robin Norell. Hagg participated in the World Junior Championships last year and played in five games. He scored a goal and added one assist. This season, Hagg will look to build upon that performance.
Team Sweden preliminary schedule:
12/26 – vs. Switzerland 1:00pm
12/28 – vs. Finland 9:00am
12/29 – vs. Norway 11:30am
12/31 – vs. Russia 8:00am
All game times via TSN.com. Lines and defense combinations via NHL.com and Corey Pronman. We will be keeping up with the tournament and giving you updates as the tournament progresses. Thank you for reading.