Philadelphia Flyers Getting Value Out of Later Draft Picks

Mar 11, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Flyers left wing Noah Cates (49) moves the puck against Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) and left wing Jake Guentzel (59) during the second period at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Flyers left wing Noah Cates (49) moves the puck against Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) and left wing Jake Guentzel (59) during the second period at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

If you’ve been a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers for at least the last ten years, you know it is hard to give former general managers Ron Hextall and Chuck Fletcher a lot of credit for anything. From draft picks that didn’t pan out to bad trades to questionable free agent signings, they have put an unfortunate mark on this team.  When it comes to drafting top tier players, they’ve had some successes, but surprisingly they’ve had a knack for selecting well in the lower rounds.

It doesn’t matter what sport you follow, you want the bread and butter of your team to come for the upper rounds. Philadelphia sports fans can cheer on the recent drafting of players such as Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, Aaron Nola, Bryson Stott, Lane Johnson, and DeVonta Smith. At the same time, we cringe at hearing names like Markelle Fultz, Mickey Moniak, and Jalen Reagor. Heck, even Shawn Bradley looks like a better first round choice than Ben Simmons.

For the Philadelphia Flyers, it is the same. the Konecnys, Farabees, and Yorks are expected to be the stars of the team. We hope they can play as long and fruitful as Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton have and be key cogs of the team. But what about the lower picks?

Every Eagles fan knows that Jason Kelce was a sixth-rounder. Yet, he has been immeasurably more impactful than fireman Danny Watkins. Ryan Howard was a fifth-round pick for the Phillies in 2001 and outperformed every first-through-third round selections (except Cole Hamels) from 2001 through 2014 with Aaron Nola.

Theoretically, your picks from the first three rounds are your stars; your main players that your team is built around. Anything you get from rounds four-through-seven is just extra. Those guys should, in theory, be your depth pieces. Every now and then, you find a diamond in the rough that surprises.

Starting in 2016, a few of the picks from the first two rounds have been shoddy. German Rubtsov was a no-show and is now in the KHL. Nolan Patrick was always hurt, as was Jay O’Brien. Likewise, several of the second rounds have been huge disappointments. Few Flyers fans are weeping that Pascal Laberge and Isaac Ratcliffe are gone. Those guys were high picks and high picks that were frankly wasted.

However, drafting in any sport is a roll of the dice. You never know what you are going to get. Sometimes a highly touted prospect succeeded because the conditions were right on a talented team. Perhaps a player on a team that isn’t good actually has more talent or just needed time to grow and develop.

If we go back to 2016, the Flyers have been rather successful in lower-tier draft picks. These are the guys that the Flyers can turn to now as a major part of their rebuilding efforts. They have also shown the most growth.

No offense to first-rounder Morgan Frost, but Noah Cates could be the Philadelphia Flyers’ best draft 2017 selection as a fifth-rounder. He’s grinded it out and become a center on the Flyers top line after starting out the year on the bottom line. He scored 16 goals in his first full year as a Flyer and seems to be one of the bright spots of this young team.

Also taken in that draft in the sixth round is Olle Lycksell, who has appeared in eight games as an injury replacement and played well enough at the AHL level, scoring 14 goals. While Lycksell should start the year in Lehigh Valley, he has earned some NHL experience and is worth developing. He may not end up becoming a star, but he could become a valuable third line piece.

In 2018, the Philadelphia Flyers selected goaltender Sam Ersson. Ersson had a decent rookie season playing on a losing team. At times he showed some flashes that he could end up becoming a franchise goalie or, at worst, a reliable backup. With the Flyers acquiring Cal Petersen, look for Ersson to spearhead the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but he could be recalled if Carter Hart or Petersen get hurt or traded.

Tanner Laczynski has had several opportunities to play as a sixth round pick. While he hasn’t exactly lit the hockey world on fire, partly due to battling nagging injuries, he has been eating up close to ten minutes of ice time per game. He is expected to compete for a bottom-six spot during training camp.

Few of the draft picks selected in 2020 or after have reached the NHL. One of them was 2020’s fifth-rounder Elliot Desnoyers. Desnoyers, a late blooming star in the QMJHL for the Halifax Mooseheads, had a breakout season for the Phantoms, scoring 23 goals and 44 points this year. His efforts culminated in a late season call up for four games. For a 21 year old prospect, it shows the faith that the Flyers have in him.

While we hope that all of the first and second-round picks pan out for the Philadelphia Flyers, especially 2023’s first round selections Matvei Michkov and Oliver Bonk, the fact that they are getting valuable play from lower-end picks is a great sign. Perhaps it is because those selected in the upper echelons in the draft feel that they have earned stardom because of how high they have been chosen and those taken in the lower four rounds feel they have to earn it.

If that is the case, more is expected from top selections, but those who truly want it will take it. We’ve seen that in the rise of players like Cates and Desnoyers. They have worked hard and earned a place on the roster. The more you want it, the more the desire inside of you is fired up, the more of an impact you can have.

Moreover, the culture that Daniel Briere, Keith Jones, and John Tortorella are trying to build here is a culture based on hard work and effort. That desire to improve and work hard will put anyone in the lineup, no matter what round they were selected. And if the Flyers can continue to find gems after the third round, their future will be very bright indeed.

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