While every fan (and general manager) hopes that the club lands a future star in the NHL draft, the main goal is to establish – or replenish – depth in the organization. Perennial Stanley Cup contenders are built on deep rosters, not on one or two stars.
With that in mind, here are 10 of the deepest and most notable drafts in Philadelphia Flyers history, listed chronologically. Some drafts, such as 2006, produced a “home run” selection (Claude Giroux in this instance) but the emphasis of this list on depth as well as star power.
The franchise has recently produced a string of draft crops with the promise of providing both high-end talent and organizational depth. For instance, the class of 2012 has already produced three players who have made their NHL debuts with the Flyers and two others under Flyers contract. The class of 2013 has three players under Flyers contract, 2014 has four contracted players to date and 2015 has two thus far. However, it is too soon to gauge their impact.
1. CLASS OF 1969 (Clarke, Schultz, Saleski)
No draft was more crucial to the Flyers’ two Stanley Cup victories and the Broad Street Bullies image than the 1969 draft. Although the Flyers’ first-round pick, right winger Bob Currier, never played a game in the NHL, the club struck gold in the second round with the selection of Flin Flon Bombers center Bobby Clarke.
Clarke was a junior hockey standout for Flin Flon coming off a season in which he racked up 137 points (51 goals, 86 assists) in 58 games. Combined with his now-legendary work ethic and leadership, Clarke would have been one of the top players chosen in the 1969 NHL draft, but his diabetic condition led every team in the NHL to pass him over in the first round.
Finally, the Flyers selected him with their second pick, 17th overall. It never occurred to Clarke, an unworldly teenager, that his diabetes would be a focal point at the draft. But Paddy Ginnell, Clarke’s coach in Flin Flon, knew differently. Many of the questions NHL scouts asked him about Clarke centered on the limitations of his medical condition, not on the player’s skating, passing or shooting ability. He wanted to make sure Clarke got a fair shot at the NHL before he was labeled damaged goods.
At Ginnell’s insistence, Clarke visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to undergo a battery of tests. Doctors agreed there was no reason Clarke couldn’t play pro hockey if he took care of himself. The physicians put their conclusions in writing. Even so, Clarke fell out of the first round of the draft, allowing the Flyers to snap up their future team leader with their second pick.
Thirty-eight years, two Stanley Cups, three Hart Trophies, a Selke Trophy and a Hockey Hall of Fame induction later, Clarke remains the single most important draft selection the Flyers have ever made. Meanwhile, the Flyers started to assemble the “Broad Street Bullies” crew of tough role players with their fifth and sixth-round selections.
In the fifth round, 52nd overall, the Flyers drafted Swift Current Broncos left wing Dave Schultz. In junior hockey, Schultz fancied himself more of a goal scorer than a tough guy. But the man who would eventually become known as “The Hammer” and set the NHL single-season penalty minute record started to warm to the enforcer role in his draft year. Although he lacked top end speed, Schultz’s muscle and fisticuffs made him a valuable part of the Flyers’ championship mix.
Schultz became the preeminent Broad Street Bully during his four seasons with the Flyers. As beloved at the Spectrum as he was despised in every other building, Schultz even managed to score 20 goals during the 1973-74 season. During the run to Flyers’ first Stanley Cup, he scored a playoff series-winning overtime goal against the Atlanta Flames and assisted on Clarke’s famous overtime goal in the second game of the Stanley Cup Finals against Boston.
In the sixth round, 64th overall, the Flyers grabbed tall, lanky right winger Don Saleski of the Regina Pats. Although Saleski was sometimes labeled an enforcer during the Broad Street Bullies era, he was really more of a checking winger who became a penalty killing standout as his career progressed.
Only once in his eight-season NHL career did Saleski top 150 penalty minutes (1972-73). But he scored 20 or more goals for the Flyers in three straight seasons and scored six goals during the team’s run to the 1976 Stanley Cup Finals. Known as a clutch goal scorer, 20 of Saleski’s 118 regular-season goals with the Flyers were game winners and he tallied 11 shorthanded goals.
2. CLASS OF 1972 (Barber, Bladon, Jim Watson, MacAdam)
Three years after drafting Clarke, Schultz and Saleski, the Flyers struck pay dirt with a second group of selections. The club’s 1972 draft produced a second Hockey Hall of Famer, a perennial all-star defenseman, an underrated offensive defenseman and a prospect who became a key trading asset in landing a future all-star forward.
Considered by many to be the best all-around left wing of his generation, Bill Barber primarily played center during his junior career with the Kitchener Rangers. With Kitchener, he centered a high scoring line with left winger Jerry Byers and right wing Al Blanchard. Barber scored 127 goals and added 171 assists over his three seasons with Kitchener.
Debate raged among OHA devotees as to which team had the best line in the league: the Rangers’ Three Bs (Byers-Barber-Blanchard) or the Toronto Marlboros’ trio of Steve Shutt, Billy Harris and Dave Gardner. All six forwards from the rival Kitchener and Toronto lines were chosen in the first round of the 1972 NHL Entry Draft.
Harris was taken first overall by the Islanders. Shutt went fourth to Montreal. Barber’s name was called by the Flyers at, appropriately, number seven. Gardner came up eighth overall with the Canadiens’ second pick of the first round. The New York Rangers took the Kitchener Rangers’ Blanchard 10th and, finally, Byers was selected 12th overall by the Minnesota North Stars. The players enjoyed varying degrees of professional success, but the cream of the crop was clearly Barber and Shutt.
Converted to left wing shortly after joining the Flyers, Barber provided the perfect complement to Clarke. A two-way force that could also play the point on the power play, Barber was a perennial 30-to-40 goal scorer and a crucial component of the Flyers’ two Stanley Cup teams. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990, Barber later went on to a successful scouting and coaching career in the Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning organizations.
In the second round of the draft, 23rd overall, the Flyers selected defenseman Tom Bladon from the Edmonton Oil Kings. An offensive-minded blueliner with a deft shooting and passing touch, Bladon bypassed the minor leagues and joined the Flyers for the 1972-73 season.
Nicknamed “Bomber” (for his heavy point shot) or “Sparky” (in joking reference to his quiet demeanor), Bladon was an under-appreciated part of the Flyers’ success in the 1970s. Routinely cracking double-digit goals and between 35 to 53 points per season, Bladon set a single-game point record for a defenseman when he scored four goals and added four assists in a December 11, 1977 game against the Cleveland Barons.
Bladon sometimes heard boos at the Spectrum because he was not a physical defenseman and, as with many defensemen who handle the puck frequently, sometimes had problems with turnovers. Nevertheless, he was a +186 for his six-year Flyers career and had back-to-back seasons in which he topped +40 for the season.
Often paired with Bladon on the Flyers, third round selection (39th overall) Jim Watson became the backbone of the Philadelphia defense in the 1970s and early 1980s. Despite being a modest point-getter, he was chosen for five NHL All-Star games and the 1976 Canada Cup team.
The younger brother of original Flyer Joe Watson, Jimmy was considered a solid late first-round NHL draft candidate while playing for the Calgary Centennials. For unknown reasons, he slipped all the way to the third round. The Flyers snapped him up and soon learned they had found one of the biggest steals of the draft.
The younger Watson stepped into the NHL lineup quickly and, by the time a serious back injury forced him to retire at age 30, Watson racked up a career +295 defensive rating, good for fifth in franchise history. Among Flyers defensemen, only Mark Howe (+349) ranks higher.
In the fourth round, 55th overall, the Flyers selected high-scoring Charlottetown and University of Prince Edward Island center Al MacAdam. Considered one of the Flyers top minor-league scoring prospects and versatile enough to play either center or wing, MacAdam earned a five-game call-up to the big club in 1973-74 and also dressed in one playoff game. After the season, the Flyers traded him to the Oakland Seals as part of a deal for right winger Reggie Leach.
Leach, who was Clarke’s linemate on the Flin Flon Bombers, teamed up with Clarke and Barber to form the LCB line, the most prolific scoring line in Flyers history over a multi-season period. MacAdam, meanwhile, went on to a long and productive NHL career of his own, topped off by a 42-goal, 93-point season for the Minnesota North Stars in 1979-80.
3. CLASS OF 1978 (Wilson, Linseman, Cochrane, Stastny)
The Flyers owned three first-round picks in the 1978 Draft. They obtained the sixth overall pick from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a trade that sent Ross Lonsberry, Orest Kindrachuk and Tom Bladon to the Penguins. The Flyers received the seventh overall pick from the New York Rangers as compensation for the Rangers hiring Fred Shero as coach and general manager. Philadelphia also held its own pick (14th overall).
With the sixth overall selection, the Flyers took skilled and aggressive defenseman Behn Wilson. The organization then took talented and agitating center Ken “the Rat” Linseman with the next selection. Philly tabbed Dan Lucas with the 14th pick.
Wilson went on to set Flyers franchise rookie defenseman records for goals (13, broken by Shayne Gostisbehere’s 17 in 2015-16) and points (49) while racking up 197 penalty minutes. As a second-year NHLer, Wilson missed 19 games during the regular season but chipped in 13 points in 19 playoff games as the Flyers reached the 1980 Stanley Cup Final. The following year, he played in the 1981 NHL All-Star Game while on his way to posting a career-best 16 goals, 63 points and 237 penalty minutes.
The Flyers traded Wilson, whom some regard as the best pure fighter in franchise history in addition to being an offensive threat, to the Chicago Blackhawks in the summer of 1983 in a deal that brought defenseman Doug Crossman to Philadelphia.
Linseman had a knack for irritating opposing players as well as setting up teammates for goals with his playmaking ability. Centering what became known as the “Rat Patrol” line along with Brian Propp and Paul Holmgren, the trio gave the Flyers a highly effective second line after the famed LCB Line was reunited.
In 1981-82, Linseman led the Flyers in scoring with 92 points (24 goals, 68 assists) while being tagged for 275 penalty minutes. He was also one of the best playoff performers in franchise history, notching 53 points (11 goals, 42 assists) in 41 games.
In the summer of 1982, Linseman was part of the blockbuster three-team trade that resulted in future Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe (formerly with the Hartford Whalers) becoming a Flyer and Linseman going to the Edmonton Oilers. Midway through the 1989-90 season, Linseman began a brief second stint with the Flyers after being acquired from the Boston Bruins in exchange for former Philadelphia captain Dave Poulin.
Lucas appeared in only six NHL games, dressing in six games for the Flyers in 1978-79. The Flyers’ third-round pick, enforcer defenseman Glen Cochrane, had more success.
Selected by the Flyers with the 50th overall pick, Cochrane spent three full and two partial seasons with the Flyers, establishing himself as a fearsome and intimidating presence. While paired with Howe in 1982-83, “Cocher” posted a plus-42 rating to go along with 237 penalty minutes. For his Flyers career, Cochrane rolled up 1,110 penalty minutes in just 257 regular season games and was plus-74.
The Flyers selected Slovakian forward Anton Stastny with the 198th overall pick (12th round) of the draft. As detailed in Jay Greenberg’s Full Spectrum, the organization attempted to help arrange for the defections of Anton and brothers Peter (a future Hockey Hall of Famer) and Marian to come to North America and play for the team. Agent Louis Katona failed to deliver the trio to the Flyers as promised. Later, the Flyers lost the rights to Anton Stastny because he was not yet age-eligible for the NHL Draft in 1978 (he was 19 and players at the time had to be 20). Anton was re-selected by Quebec Nordiques with the 83rd overall pick of the 1979 NHL Draft and later, after defecting, joined his brothers with the Nordiques.
4. CLASS OF 1979 (Propp, Wesley, Lindbergh, Carson, Eriksson, Kerr)
The 1979 NHL Entry Draft is generally considered the deepest class in NHL history, highlighted by the likes of Hall of Famers Ray Bourque, Mike Gartner, Mark Messier (who was a third-round pick), and Michel Goulet. For the first time since 1974, the NHL allowed the drafting of underage players. This draft also included underage players from the WHA, which had merged with the NHL in the spring of 1979. The Flyers cashed in on the talent bonanza, putting in place several key components of their 1980s success.
With the 14th overall pick of the draft, the Flyers selected Brandon Wheat Kings scoring machine Brian Propp. In the second round, 35th overall, the Flyers took AIK Solna goaltender Pelle Lindbergh from Sweden. A few months later, they signed a rookie free agent named Tim Kerr who slid through the cracks of the ’79 draft and went undrafted.
For arguments’ sake, we’ll consider Kerr’s acquisition an extension of the 1979 draft. In effect, he was the equivalent of an extra pick.
Propp and Kerr turned out to be two the most prolific offensive players in team history. The speedy, crafty Propp and the powerful Kerr were dissimilar in style, but achieved similar levels of dominance on the ice. Lindbergh, meanwhile, went on to become the first European to win the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the league.
Along with Mark Howe, Dave Poulin, Brad McCrimmon (who was originally chosen by the Boston Bruins one pick after Propp in the ‘79 draft), Ilkka Sinisalo (like Kerr, an undrafted free agent) and the young Rick Tocchet, these players were the backbone of a team that reached the 1985 Stanley Cup Finals.
The 1979 draft class also produced two other players who played roles in the Flyers’ teams of the 1980s. The Flyers took checking winger Lindsay Carson in the third round (56th overall) and Swedish defenseman Thomas Eriksson in the fifth round (98th overall).
For good measure, Philly tabbed yet another future NHLer, defenseman Blake Wesley, with the first pick of the second round, originally acquired from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Don Saleski. Wesley played briefly for the Flyers and was subsequently traded to the Hartford Whalers, along with aging Cup-era star Rick MacLeish, for a package of players and draft picks that included the 1982 first round pick used to select future team captain Ron Sutter.
5. CLASS OF 1982 (Ron Sutter, Hextall, Dvorak, Brown, Bergen, Roupe)
For the Flyers, the 1982 NHL class featured Ron Sutter (his twin brother, Rich, was drafted by the Penguins 10th overall and acquired one year later by the Flyers in trade), a fiery goaltender by the name of Ron Hextall, veteran Czechoslovakian defenseman Miroslav “Cookie” Dvorak, feared enforcer Dave Brown, flash-in-the-pan scoring sensation Todd Bergen and Swedish left winger Magnus Roupe.
Part of hockey’s most prolific family, identical twin brothers Ron and Rich Sutter were born on December 2, 1963, in Viking, Alberta. Of the twins, Ron (drafted fourth overall by the Flyers) had the more successful career both with the Flyers and other teams. On Oct. 23, 1983, the Flyers made a multi-player and draft-pick trade to acquire Rich from Pittsburgh.
The Sutter twins played as teammates on the Flyers for three seasons (1983-84 to 1985-86). Both brothers brought the sort of gritty two-way game and toughness that are hallmarks of their famous hockey family. Their tenure together included a trip to the 1985 Stanley Cup Final against Edmonton.
Rich had a little less offensive ability than Ron. Rich’s best seasons in Philadelphia saw him score 16 goals (1983-84) and 39 points (1985-86). On June 6, 1986, the Flyers traded Rich Sutter to the Vancouver Canucks in a trade that brought defenseman J.J. Daigneault to Philadelphia.
Ron remained with the Flyers after Rich’s departure. He was part of the leadership group on the team that reached Game Seven of the 1987 Stanley Cup Final against Edmonton. In terms of point production, Ron Sutter’s best seasons saw him score 26 goals in just 55 games (1988-98) and post 60 points in 75 games in 1985-86. That year he was also the runner-up for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward.
Ron became the Flyers captain during the 1990-91 season. On Sept. 22, 1991, the Flyers traded Sutter and defenseman Murray Baron to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Rod Brind’Amour and Dan Quinn. Sutter concluded his Philadelphia career with 555 regular season games and 69 playoffs to his credit, as well as 137 regular season goals, six playoff goals, 359 regular season points and 33 playoff points, 854 regular season penalty minutes and 149 playoff penalty minutes.
The Flyers chose Dvorak in the third round, 46th overall. A longtime star in the domestic league and a standout defenseman for the Czechoslovakian national team, Dvorak was allowed by the communist government to leave for North America and play in the NHL as part of a money-raising program that allowed selected older Czech and Slovak players to play in the NHL in exchange for a transfer fee.
Nearing his 31st birthday, Dvorak was selected by Flyers in the third round of the 1982 NHL Draft. He went on to enjoy three strong seasons as a Flyer. Dvorak won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team’s top defenseman in 1983-84. For his Flyers and NHL career, he played 193 games and posted 85 points (11 goals, 74 assists) and a combined plus-85 rating. He had two assists in 18 career playoff games.
The Flyers selected fiery goaltender Hextall in the sixth round (119th overall). The grandson of Hockey Hall of Fame forward Bryan Hextall Sr., the son of NHL player Bryan Hextall Jr. and the nephew of NHLer Dennis Hextall, Ron was the lone goalie of the bunch.
Hextall won the Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie with the Flyers in 1986-87. Although he never hit those heights again, he went on to enjoy a long and productive career that earned him in induction into the Flyers’ Hall of Fame.
The player became one of the best puckhandling goaltenders in NHL history. Hextall functioned almost like a third defenseman on opposing dump-ins. During the first portion of his two-stint Flyers playing career, Hextall became the first NHL goaltender to be credited with a goal by virtue of shooting the puck into the other team’s net. He was the first to do it both in the regular season and the playoffs.
Hextall was also noted for his combustible temper on the ice, especially in his early years in the NHL. His fiery manner on the ice stood in stark contrast to his soft-spoken nature and wry sense of humor off the ice. Another Hextall trademark was the way he rhythmically tapped his stick across the goal posts and crossbar, always in the same pattern, before the drop of the puck on faceoffs.
Drafted one round earlier than Hextall, with the 98th overall pick of the draft, the Flyers selected offensively talented forward Bergen. The player made a big splash scoring-wise upon being promoted to the NHL in 1984-85. He racked up 11 goals and 16 points for the Flyers in just 14 games. In the playoffs, Bergen added 13 points in 17 games.
Following his rookie season, Bergen retired from hockey with the intention of instead pursuing a career as a professional golfer. He also had differences with Flyers head coach Mike Keenan. In November 1985, the Flyers traded Bergen’s rights to the Minnesota North Stars. He played briefly in the AHL in 1986-87 while preparing to come back to the NHL but retired again after 27 games due to injury.
Philly tabbed Brown in the seventh round (140th overall). The 6-foot-5, 210-pound enforcer carved out a 729-game NHL career for himself, posting 97 points (45 goals, 52 assists) and 1,789 penalty minutes. In two separate playing stints with the Flyers, Brown played a combined 552 regular season games with 78 points (39 goals, 39 assists) and 1,382 penalty minutes.
Few policemen in Flyers – or NHL – history understood and executed their role better than Dave Brown during his two stints in orange and black. The right winger took the safety of his teammates seriously on the ice, putting himself in harm’s way if necessary. He went toe-to-toe with many of the NHL’s top fighters of the 1980s and 1990s, including Bob Probert, Gino Odjick, Chris Nilan, Marty McSorley, Rob Ray, Randy McKay, Jay Miller and Stu Grimson, earning immense respect from his peers.
The Flyers took skilled Swedish forward Roupe in the 12th round (182nd overall). Although he had more success in Europe and internationally than he did in the NHL, it is a boon when any player selected that deep into the draft goes on to play in the NHL. Roupe appeared in 40 games for Philadelphia over parts of the 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons.
6. CLASS OF 1983 (Zezel, Smith, Tocchet, Eklund)
The second of back-to-back drafts that provided numerous players who became integral parts of the Flyers’ success in the mid-1980s, the Flyers did not own a first-round pick in 1984 but nevertheless came up with numerous future impact players for the club.
In the second round, 41st overall, the Flyers chose Toronto Marlies center Peter Zezel. A high-scoring junior player (he racked up 35 goals in his draft year and 133 points the following year), Zezel was considered a somewhat below-average skater. But he quickly found a role on the Flyers and became a productive forward for four-plus seasons, topped off with a 33-goal, 72-point campaign in 1986-87 when the Flyers returned to the Finals, pushing the Edmonton Oilers to seven games.
With his matinee idol looks, Zezel was one of the most popular Flyers in team history among female fans. More importantly, he earned respect from the fan base at large for his skills on the ice, which enabled him to play in 873 NHL games. After being traded by the Flyers to St. Louis in 1988, he played for the Blues (two stints), Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks.
Three picks after Zezel, the Flyers’ turn came up again. They chose forward Derrick Smith from the Peterborough Petes. Although he was never a big scorer at the NHL level, Smith was a solid foot-soldier for seven seasons with the team.
In the sixth round, 125th overall, the Flyers unearthed a diamond in the rough in Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds right wing Rick Tocchet. The rugged Tocchet started out primarily as a checker and enforcer, but through sheer hard work, became a high-scoring power forward. Tocchet started to come into his own during the 1987 playoffs, when he recorded 11 goals and 21 points in 26 games.
Thereafter, Tocchet became a threat to beat opponents with his goal-scoring prowess as well as his fighting ability. After topping 40 goals twice for the Flyers and serving a stint as team captain, Tocchet was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a deal that brought the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh and rising young superstar Mark Recchi to the Flyers. Tocchet returned to Philly at the 1999-2000 trade deadline and finished his playing career with the Flyers.
In the eighth round, 161st overall, the Flyers took AIK Solna center Pelle Eklund. A prolific playmaker with world-class speed, Eklund proved to be arguably the third-best pure setup man in Flyers history, after only Bobby Clarke and Peter Forsberg.
Eklund’s crowning achievement was his dominant performance in the 1987 Stanley Cup playoffs, especially in the semifinals against the Montreal Canadiens. In addition to his stellar work on the power play, Eklund proved to be a fine penalty killer, too. He won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as Flyers’ MVP in 1990-91 and topped the 50-assist mark three times despite frequent injuries.
7. CLASS OF 1990 (Ricci, Simon, Renberg, Therien, Kordic, Soderstrom)
The Flyers’ 1990 and 1991 drafts provided the crux of the package the team used to acquire the rights to 1994-95 Hart Trophy winner Eric Lindros and build a club that reached the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals. The nod here goes to the 1990 crop over the 1991 crop because of the sheer number of 1990 draftees who made it to the NHL, and the fact that 1991 first rounder Peter Forsberg did not join the Flyers until 14 years later.
No draft throughout NHL history produced more players who eventually played for the Flyers than the class of 1990. In addition to the Flyers’ own picks who broke into the NHL with the team, a record number of future Flyers were taken by other teams in the 1990 Draft – including first-round selections Petr Nedved (picked 2nd overall by Vancouver), Keith Primeau (third overall by Detroit), Jaromir Jagr (fifth overall by Pittsburgh), Derian Hatcher (eighth overall by Minnesota), John Slaney (ninth overall by Washington), Turner Stevenson (12th overall by Montreal), Mark Greig (15th overall by Hartford), Karl Dykhuis (16th overall by Chicago), Shawn Antoski (18th overall by Vancouver).
In terms of individual players the Flyers selected in the two drafts, none surpasses the Flyers’ gusty selection of Forsberg in 1991. Forsberg was pegged as a late first-round or early second round pick by The Hockey News, but Flyers scouts, especially Inge Hammarstrom, saw something special in the young Swede, and convinced General Manager Russ Farwell to “go off the board” and take Forsberg sixth overall.
Forsberg and Flyers 1990 first round pick, Mike Ricci, were both dealt to Quebec in the Lindros trade. Ricci, a gritty two-way center, scored 20 goals both seasons he played in the orange and black while displaying remarkable resolve while dealing with the terminal illness of his father, Mario. Tough guy Chris Simon, a second-round pick (25th overall) in the 1990 draft, also ended up going to Quebec.
From a Flyers standpoint, the real offensive gem of the 1990 draft was Swedish winger Mikael Renberg. A standout for Piteå HC and Luleå HF, Renberg combined two-way play, speed, grit, finesse and a deft scoring touch. He was also one of the team’s most popular players of the 1990s for his work ethic on the ice and likeable demeanor off it.
During the 1993-94 season, Renberg set a Flyers rookie scoring record that still stands. The following year, he combined with Lindros and newly acquired John LeClair to form the “Legion of Doom” line; arguably the Flyers’ most successful unit after the LCB line of the 1970s. Renberg got off to a torrid start in 1995-96, but a serious sports hernia injury derailed him. After struggling for much of the next year, he was one of the Flyers’ top clutch scorers during the run to the 1997 Finals.
In Round Three of the 1990 draft, 47th overall, the Flyers chose Providence College and Canadian national team defenseman Chris Therien. The 6’5’’ blueliner went on to earn a spot on the 1994-95 NHL All-Rookie Team and play 764 NHL games, of which 753 were played in a Flyers uniform during two stints with the club.
Two rounds later, 88th overall, the Flyers took Medicine Hat Tigers defenseman Dan Kordic. One of the Flyers’ best fighters of the last decade-plus, Kordic played on the Flyers blueline in 1991-92. Held back by skating and puckhandling issues, Kordic went down to the minor leagues and played left wing as well as defense. He returned to the big club as a winger in the mid-1990s and formed the “Dan Line,” along with fellow tough guys Scott Daniels and Daniel Lacroix.
In the 11th round, 214th overall, the Flyers selected Swedish goaltender Tommy Soderstrom of Djurgårdens IF and the Swedish national team. A small, acrobatic keeper, Soderstrom was plagued by inconsistency during his NHL career with the Flyers and Islanders, but was also capable of some spectacular performances. As a rookie in 1992-93, Soderstrom recorded five shutouts and temporarily unseated Dominic Roussel (a 1988 third round pick) as the Flyers starter. After the 1993-94 season, the Flyers traded Soderstrom to the Islanders and re-acquired Ron Hextall.
The 1990 draft produced three additional selections – defenseman Terran Sandwith, center Kimbi Daniels and center Vyacheslav Butsayev – who made it briefly to the NHL with the Flyers.
The most notable of the three was Butsayev, a Soviet national team player considered at the time to be a potential impact player in the NHL. Taken in the sixth round, 109th overall, he played parts of two seasons with the Flyers. Daniels, a former junior scoring standout with Swift Current, suited up in 27 games for the Flyers. Sandwith never dressed in a regular season game for the Flyers, but was a spare defenseman. He later played eight games with the Edmonton Oilers.
The following year, in addition to Forsberg, the Flyers grabbed defenseman Dmitri Yushkevich in the sixth round. He went on to a long and productive NHL career, including two stints with the Flyers. Other members of the Flyers class of 1991 included the late Andrei Lomakin and Yanick Dupre, future journeyman defenseman Aris Brimanis and longtime Philadelphia Phantoms fan favorite, goaltender Neil Little.
8. CLASS OF 1993 (Niinimaa, Prospal, Holan, Healey)
Somewhat like the 1990 Draft, the NHL Draft class of 1993 was more notable from a Flyers standpoint for other teams’ selections who later played in Philadelphia – including each of the first three picks of the draft (Alexandre Daigle by Ottawa, Chris Pronger by Hartford and Chris Gratton by Tampa Bay). In the meantime, the Flyers did not own a first-round pick because it had been sent to Quebec in the Lindros trade, but they still found a pair of long-time NHL players among their picks.
Janne Niinimaa, selected in the second round (36th overall), played 741 games in the NHL including 143 with the Flyers at the beginning of his career prior to being traded to the Edmonton Oilers for Dan McGillis. During his time with the Flyers, Niinimaa earned an NHL All-Rookie Team selection in 1996-97 while posting 44 regular season points and 13 playoff points for a team that reached the Stanley Cup Final. As a member of the Oilers, he played in the 2000-01 NHL All-Star Game. Niinimaa also enjoyed a successful international career with Team Finland.
Picked by the Flyers in the third round (71st overall) Vaclav Prospal also broke into the NHL with the Flyers’ Cup finalist team of 1996-97. Traded midway through the next season to Ottawa along with Pat Falloon in exchange for Daigle, Prospal went on to play 1,108 regular season games in the NHL. He had a second stint with the Flyers as a rental player in 2008. During his two stints with Philly, Prospal played 77 regular season games (14 goals, 47 points) and 22 playoff matches (four goals, 17 points).
The 1993 Draft also produced offensive defenseman Milos Holan, whose promising career was later curtailed by a bout with leukemia which he ultimately won, and late-1990s depth winger Paul Healey.
9. CLASS OF 1998 (Gagne, Niittymaki, Divisek, Hubacek, St. Jacques)
Simon Gagne attended the 1998 NHL Draft believing that he would be selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. Then he started to worry that he’d slip out of the first round. The Habs opted for Gagne’s Quebec Remparts teammate, Eric Chouinard (who later had two stints with the Flyers). The Colorado Avalanche, who owned four first-round picks, bypassed Gagne four times. Finally, the Flyers selected him with the 22nd overall pick.
Gagne, drafted as a center, would eventually settle in at left wing and become one of the smoothest skaters and efficient scorers the Flyers have had in the last two decades. In his decorated career, Gagne won NHL All-Rookie Team honors (1999-2000), the Pelle Lindbergh Trophy as the Flyers’ most improved player (2000-01), two NHL All-Star Game selections (2000-01 and 2006-07), two Olympic selections for Team Canada, back-to-back Bobby Clarke Trophies as the Flyers’ most valuable player (2005-06 and 2006-07).
Over his two stints as a Flyer, Gagne produced 540 points (264 goals, 276 assists) in 702 regular season games and 47 points (32 goals, 15 assists) in 90 playoff matches. During Forsberg’s stay with the Flyers in 2005-06 and 2006-07, he and Gagne formed a deadly combination along with linemate Mike Knuble.
The Flyers selected Finnish netminder Niittymaki in the sixth round (168th overall). Chronic hip injuries set him back repeatedly and may have affected his quest to stake down the full-time starting job for the Flyers. At the NHL level, he had moments of brilliance but also inconsistency. The goaltender, however, had quite the pedigree outside the NHL after the Flyers drafted him: three straight Finnish league titles (two as a starter), Finnish league rookie of the year, a 2004-05 Calder Cup championship with the Phantoms, AHL playoff most valuable player (2005), Olympic most valuable player (2006), Olympic silver medal (2006).
Niittymaki also held two unique distinctions. While playing for the Phantoms, a fluke opposition misplay resulted in him being credited as the only goaltender in any professional league to be credited with an overtime goal (a shorthanded OT goal at that). More of his own volition, Niittymaki carved the distinction of sporting a perfect career record (17-0-0) in games against the Atlanta Thrashers/ Winnipeg Jets franchise.
Czech forwards Divisek (selected with the 195th overall pick) and Hubacek (taken 243rd overall) were not destined become NHL regulars but at least played five and six games respectively for the Flyers and each scored a goal for the team. That made both players successful picks relative to where they were selected in the draft. Likewise, ninth-round (253rd overall) pick Bruno St. Jacques provided some depth help on the Flyers’ blueline in 13 NHL games for the club prior to being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in the deal that brought Sami Kapanen to Philly.
10. CLASS OF 2003 (Carter, Richards, Ruzicka, Potulny, Picard)
On a leaguewide basis, the 2003 NHL Draft is considered to be one of the deepest classes in history. The Flyers were among the teams that fared well in the draft that year, primarily due to the first-round selections of Jeff Carter (11th overall) and Mike Richards (24th overall).
The players announced their arrivals to the pro level by immediately becoming key components to the Philadelphia Phantoms run to the championship in the 2005 Calder Cup playoffs. Carter went on net three straight seasons of 33-plus goals for the Flyers – including 46 goals and 84 points in 2008-09 – and played in the 2008-09 NHL All-Star Game.
Richards won back-to-back Bobby Clarke Trophies (2007-08 and 2008-09) as Flyers’ MVP, played in the 2007-08 NHL All-Star Game, enjoyed back-to-back 30-goal seasons (2008-09 and 2009-10) and captained a Stanley Cup finalist team in 2009-10.
The June 23, 2011 trades that sent Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Richards to the Los Angeles Kings brought an array of talent to the Flyers: Jakub Voracek, the eighth (Sean Couturier) and 68th (Nick Cousins) picks of the 2011 NHL Draft, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. In the LA trade, the Flyers also obtained a 2012 second-round pick the Flyers flipped to the Dallas Stars in exchange for defenseman Nicklas Grossmann.
While none among defenseman Alexandre Picard (third round, 85th overall) or forwards Stefan Ruzicka (third round, 81st overall) or Ryan Potulny (87th overall) made large-scale impacts, each made their NHL debut with the Flyers before moving on. Most notably, Picard was part of the February 2008 trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning that brought Vaclav Prospal back to the Flyers as a valuable stretch-drive and playoff rental in a season in which the Flyers reached the Eastern Conference Final.
Another Flyers’ 2003 third round pick, Colin Fraser, also played in the NHL (359 games) after the Flyers traded his rights to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2004 in the deal that brought Alexei Zhamnov to Philadelphia. Zhamnov had a big impact as a stretch-drive and playoff rental that year, as the Flyers came within one win of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.