Five Years Later: Revisiting the Flyers 2017 Draft

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 23: A general view as Cale Makar is selected fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche during the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 23: A general view as Cale Makar is selected fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche during the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Man, sometimes you wish you had a DeLorean. Maybe you wouldn’t have made the career decisions you made or not gone out with that person you cringe at when you hear their name. Sport teams, and their fans, are the same way. Perhaps we don’t sign that free agent who turned out to be past their prime or a total bust. Maybe we drafted better. It’s been five years. The 2017 draft was supposed to be a draft that changed the Flyers. Looking at what happened, it did…and not for the better.

In 2017, the Flyers amazed their fans by jumping into the second overall pick in the draft lottery, jumping up from 13th place. Expectations were high, naturally, that they would pick the future of the franchise. They selected Nolan Patrick from the Brandon Wheat Kings.

He was a highly touted prospect who had scored over 100 points in his third season as a 17 year old. The following year, he put up 46 points in 33 games as he dealt with a sports hernia injury. It was also reported, that while he recovered from the injury, he would miss the 2017 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship. Despite the injury, he was rated as the top skater in North America and despite the injury, the Flyers selected him.

You know the rest of the story. Patrick missed training camp while still recovering  from more abdominal surgery. He played in a few games and then missed nine games due to a hit by Ducks forward Chris Wagner. He played in 73 games, scoring 13 goals. Not bad, but not exactly setting the world on fire for a number two pick. His second season he put up pretty much the same numbers.

Then the headaches started. He sat out the 2019-20 season. He played in only 52 games and put up only nine points in 2020-21.  He would be traded to Nashville who immediately flipped him to Vegas. He played in 25 games and notched seven points.

Patrick is still just 23 years old and may have a future in front of him if he can get himself healthy. But this past winter, a bombshell hit.

Former Flyers GM and all-time great Bobby Clarke revealed, and just before Christmas, that NONE of the Flyers scouts wanted to select Patrick. He claimed that he and all of the other scouts wanted Cale Makar instead and that Hextall “did his own thing” and chose Patrick instead.  If this is true, this is devastating news for Flyers fans.

The Colorado Avalanche would select Makar at fourth overall; two spots down from Philly. Makar didn’t transition to the NHL right away. He played two years at UMass-Amherst first. The seasoning did him well as he was named the 2019-2020 Calder Memorial Trophy winner as top rookie of the year. He made his first all star appearance this season. He set an Avs team record with 28 goals by a defensive player. In comparison, that is four more goals than team leader James van Riemsdyk and team leader Travis Konency’s 52 points fall far short of Makar’s 86 points.

Makar would also go on to win Conn Smythe Award this year as the Avs rolled through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Makar finished the playoffs with 29 points in 20 games. He had seven points in the final round. And adding insult to injury, Makar just won the 2021-22 Norris Trophy as the league’s best defensive player.

But what if…………

What if the Flyers had selected Makar instead of Patrick in 2017? In some ways, I can understand the move. In 2015, the Flyers selected Ivan Provorov in with the #7 pick. In 2014, Travis Sanheim was selected with the #17 pick. In 2013, their first and second round picks went to select Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg. In 2012, Shayne Gostisbehere was a third round pick. On paper, the Flyers future was brimming with bright defensive prospects.

In reality, Hagg and Gostisbehere are gone, Morin retired due to injuries, and Provorov and Sanheim, while decent players, are not the game shutting down defenders we thought they would be.

Which makes the revelation we could’ve had Makar all that much more painful. With him on the front line with Provy, would the Flyers have made the playoffs? Would they have traded top picks for Ristolainen? Would Gostisbehere still be in Philly? For that matter, would Giroux?

It’s hard to say. Hextall would be fired the next season. It wouldn’t be because of this move, but this move is representative of the Hextall era. He helped to draft and trade his way into making a brief hockey dynasty in Los Angeles that brought two Stanley Cup championships to the city. It was hoped that he could recreate that magic here. That did not happen.

While nobody could’ve foreseen the injuries that Patrick got, everyone could see that Makar would become something special. Even with the glut of “talented” defenders the Flyers had in the minors, we all know that you can never have enough top level defenders. Teams with shut down defenses win championships (ask the 90s-00s NJ Devils). Heck, you could’ve even traded a prospect that was highly touted for a top winger on some team who was blocked by a star forward on the parent club.

If Clarke’s rumors are true, and let’s be honest, sometimes you have to take him with a grain of salt, then this is heartbreaking to hear. Makar would look amazing in orange and black smashing into Sidney Crosby or setting a power play goal that gets by Igor Shesterkin. Woulda been nice.