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by Anthony SanFilippo / Philadelphia Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. -- With the NHL Draft just four days away, this much is certain, the unknown factor is far greater this season than ever before.

Will the Flyers draft a defenseman? A forward? A goalie?

Will they keep the pick at No. 11 or trade up? How about down? Will there be other moves in terms of trades?

Nobody knows for sure, not even general manager Paul Holmgren. But he will predict one thing:

“There’s going to be lots of funny stuff happening in the next nine days leading up to July 5,” he said. “We probably have to be prepared for anything if the right thing comes up. Every day there’s more and more talk from around the league. I’ve talked to a few more guys in the last couple of days. There’s certainly potential for movement of picks up and down and some teams are looking to trade their picks for players.”

Paul Holmgren and his staff will be prepared for whatever might come their way this weekend as the NHL Draft approaches.

And the Flyers will be ready.

They recognize that they have needs. They already know that defense is their organizational weakness and with all things being equal, they would draft a defenseman Sunday afternoon with their first round pick.

But all things aren’t equal, which leaves a volatile market for player movement. Compliance buyouts, a draft five days after the end of the season, and free agency just five days later will cause that.

“There’s potential for lots of things to happen,” Holmgren said. “It’s a very competitive league and we’re all trying to do what the Blackhawks just did.”

Yes, win the Stanley Cup.

And to do that, the Flyers will look to fill organizational needs. Holmgren admitted Wednesday that a defenseman is the primary target in a draft stocked with a lot of top end rearguard prospects.

Seth Jones sits atop that list, but the American will likely be drafted in the top three spots.

Darnell Nurse, nephew to former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is next on the list and will probably go in the 5-to-8 range of the first round.

That’s when things will really get interesting for the Flyers, who have four defenseman lumped together in a group on their radar to land in and around that 11th pick.

Those defensemen are Sam Morin, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and Ryan Pulock.

Morin, the 6-7 behemoth from Rimouski may be their favorite.

The Flyers love his size and strength and think his skating is impressive for his size. They are especially pleased with his development in the span of a year.

He grew into his body a little bit (and isn’t done either), and skyrocketed from a projected late third/early fourth rounder a year ago, to a top-15 possibility this year.

He doesn’t have the offensive ability of a Pulock but he may be the most imposing player available in the draft.

If the Flyers take one of the defensemen, they hope it could be their first in franchise history that was selected in the first round and develops into a strong NHLer for the Flyers – and not another team.

“I hear that all the time from [Flyers Chairman Ed] Snider,” Holmgren said. “He’s always telling me we’ve never drafted a top defenseman. From a depth of our franchise, it’s probably an area we lack, but I’m not going to waver. If we get to the 11th pick in the draft and there’s a forward we really like, that’s who we’re going to draft.”

Sean Monahan is a player the Flyers love, but he’s probably going to go No. 5 or No. 6. They also like Swedish forward Elias Lindholm, who is expected to go around 7-10.

A bit of a sleeper might be London forward Bo Horvat. Many mock drafts have him going in the teens, but many believe he is NHL-ready and that his stock could rise on draft day to vault into the Top 10. The Flyers would definitely consider him instead of a defenseman at No. 11.

The Flyers also really like Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin, and while they think he is a top-five talent in the draft, worry – just like many other teams – about him coming over to North America when he has tax-free money on the table already waiting for him if he chooses to instead play in the KHL.

As such, Nichushkin might be considered too big a gamble at this point.

However, any way you slice it, the Flyers are excited about the prospective talent in what is considered a very deep draft.

“I like where we are at,” Holmgren said. I think we’ll get a good player at 11. To get a franchise player you probably have to get up into the top four. I think we have to think down the road at No. 11. You never say never with these young kids, but you have to be prepared to look forward 2-3 years.”

To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37

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