In an ideal world, every draft pick a team makes will become stars or, at the very least, important role players. However, we know that’s not how it always works. Drafting players is a big gamble. Sometimes first round picks never develop or get hurt. Sometimes, it is your later round picks that shine brighter. Case in point, Noah Cates seems to be the best pick from the 2017 draft for the Philadelphia Flyers despite being selected 135th overall in the fifth round.
Realistically, you expect more from your higher level picks than you do from the lower ones. Your picks in the first three or four rounds you expect will play for your team and be your team’s future. Anything lower than that, you just hope for the best.
In the fourth round of this draft, the Flyers selected Cole Knuble. Knuble, a forward, has played for the US National Junior Team, the Fargo Force of the USHL, and will be attending the University of Notre Dame. The 18-year-old skater has some scoring punch, but is still raw and needs further development; much like you’d expect from a fourth-rounder. However, he comes from good lineage. His father, Mike, was a former Flyers’ star.
Mike Knuble came to Philly in 2004, just before the lockout. He didn’t hit the ice until the 2005-06 season. He had previously been on two Stanley Cup-winning teams for Detroit and played for the NY Rangers and Boston Bruins. It was in Boston, after playing six years, that he finally became a star player at the age of 30; showing sometimes it takes a while to fully develop into a good player. After scoring a total of 50 goals in his first six seasons in the NHL, he tallied 51 goals in his final two seasons in Boston before signing with Philly.
As a Flyer, he was immediately paired up with Simon Gagne and Peter Forsberg. In his first season, he set career highs in goals (34), assists (31), and points (65). And while on a historically bad Flyers’ team in 2006-07, he scored 24 goals in a season shortened by injuries. In four seasons with Philadelphia, he never posted fewer than those 24 goals.
At the conclusion of the 2008-09 season, Knuble signed as a free agent with the Washington Capitals. Again, he went on to post two 20+ goal seasons. It’s fun to imagine what he could’ve done had the Flyers re-signed him in 2009 and he was part of the 2009-10 Stanley Cup run.
Knuble signed another one year deal to stay in Washington, but scored just six goals as a 39 year old; a 18 goal drop from the season before. In his final season, he re-signed with the the Flyers, played in 28 games, and scored four goals with four assists. He retired at the end of the season having played in 1,068 games with 278 goals and 548 points. The interesting thing about Knuble is that 228 of his career goals came after turning 30.
Knuble was a gritty, grind-it-out player. He needed time and opportunity to develop into a star player. He had his best seasons in Philadelphia. He was also selected in the fourth round (76th overall), like his son. It took him a while to find his feet, but when he grew into his own, Knuble became a good player.
If Cole Knuble can capture any bit of what his father did, he will have a successful career. Mike Knuble showed that if you are patient with a player, they can become an important part of your team. Cole, while raw, may need that sort of patience. The knock on him is that he needs to improve his skating, but he can score with the best of them.
The younger Knuble was a star player in the Elite Hockey League as a teen, playing for Fox Motorsports teams in Michigan. Each year he was assigned to a tier based on his age. As a 15 year old, he scored 36 goals with 44 assists in 65 games. The following season, Knuble scored 13 goals with 16 assists in 16 games in a COVID shortened 2020-21 season.
Soon after, he joined the Fargo Force of the USHL. He scored 20 goals with 29 assists in the 2021-22 season and followed that up with a 30-goal, 36-assist performance the following year, guiding Fargo to the Clark Cup Finals. Knuble was third in the USHL playoffs with nine goals scored and would be awarded the USHL Curt Hammer Award; given to the player who demonstrated outstanding performance, leadership, pride and determination on and off the ice. Knuble was also the captain for Team USA in the 2022 World Junior A Championship, leading the team with nine points as they captured a gold medal.
When reading all of his draft profiles, scouts praise his leadership and scoring abilities. He can move the puck and he can elevate the play of those around him. Most importantly, the scouts all see the drive in him to get better and improve; not just to sit on the laurels of his previous successes. He will battle in front of the net, despite being 5’10”, but has greatly improved his passing game. If he can work on his skating at Notre Dame over the next few seasons, his future could be really bright.
As a kid, Cole used to skate on the ice with his father and some of the other Flyers’ players. One of those players is current general manager Daniel Briere, who played on the same lines at times with Mike Knuble. Briere knows what Mike is all about and how talented he was. If he passed on any of his hockey abilities and wisdom on to his son, the Flyers just got a steal in the fourth round. Cole seems to have the scoring touch earlier than his father does. If he can capitalize on that, he may be rising up the prospect ranks pretty soon.