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Greenberg: Flyers see opportunity in Deep Draft Year

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers

There is so much to like in the potential first 10 picks in this NHL entry draft that the Flyers can afford to like ‘em all.

Believe everything you hear before a draft. And believe nothing. Nobody is giving away any secrets.

But Flyers Director of Scouting Chris Pryor, being as honest as the next Director of Scouting before any draft, believes that after Edmonton takes Connor McDavid and Buffalo selects Jack Eichel, there is so little separation between the third and seventh guys on the Flyers’ list that they can be content to allow the Coyotes, Hurricanes, and Devils, picking three-through-six, essentially to make Philadelphia’s selection.

So, would it make any sense to give something up to move up?

“From three back, it’s pretty close right now,” said Pryor on a conference call Wednesday. “It does speak volumes for the quality of picks we’re talking about. “

That’s their story and the Flyers are sticking to it, insisting they will take the best guy available as usual, saying that if comes down to six things to love about a forward, half-dozen to salivate about a defenseman, they might take the forward because of the depth the organization already has in defensive prospects.

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In reality, it almost never is a tie between prospects. If either of the top two defensemen, Noah Hanifin or Ivan Provorov, still are on the board when the Flyers take a forward, that means GM Ron Hextall believes Travis Sanheim, last year’s No. 1, has as good a chance of developing into a cornerstone defenseman as either Hanifin or Provorov.

It’s harder to find that 27-minute defenseman for every situation than it is to get a top-line forward, which is why if there is an opportunity to trade up and get Hanifin or Provorov, you still wonder why the Flyers wouldn’t do it. They risked a lot of assets once on a Chris Pronger and have needed another one since his career prematurely ended.

But there also is a chance that Provorov, seventh in the final Central Scouting ratings, could fall to the Flyers without Hextall moving a muscle, another reason why this might be the most fascinating Philadelphia draft ever when you consider all the high-end possibilities. They will be dictated by six prior picks, not just one as when the Flyers chose James van Riemsdyk second overall in 2007.

If the odds are that this year’s top pick will be a forward, it will be because there simply are more of them at the top end of this draft than there are defensemen. It will not be because scoring has become a greater organizational need.

“It’s a pretty talented group and there’s a lot of really good forwards in that group as there are a few defensemen,” said Pryor. “I would say it probably leans more towards the forward standpoint at this point in time.”

If the Flyers pick a forward, then that’s more just okay, too because at seven the Flyers will get a guy who should be a lot better than just okay. Clearly, there is no denying needs up front. After Scott Laughton, there isn’t a projectable better-than-average scorer in the system and there does not appear to be playmaker.

So the good news is that if there was ever a year to miss the playoffs, this was a good one, with enough high-end talent to make a Flyer fan high over the possibilities.

“You look at the top 10, I have never seen a group, just (from) representation at the world juniors, that’s as predominant as this group this year,” said Pryor. “I think this might be as good as that group in 2003.”

The Flyers got Jeff Carter 11th and Mike Richards 24th in that draft. Marc-Andre Fleury went first, Eric Staal second, Nathan Horton third, Thomas Vanek fifth, Ryan Suter seventh, Dion Phaneuf ninth, Dustin Brown 13th, Brent Seabrook, 14th, Zach Parise 17th, Ryan Getzlaf 19th, Ryan Kesler 23rd and Corey Perry 28th.

Pretty, pretty, good. That said, Nik Zherdev was taken fourth and Hugh Jessiman 11th that year, so there is no such thing as a foolproof pick. The Flyers didn’t get a star in Mel Bridgman at No. 1 in 1975, Joni Pitkanen at No 4 in 2002, van Riemsdyk at No. 2 in 2007, Mike Ricci at No. 4 in 1990 or even a player at all with Ryan Sittler at No. 7 in 1992.

It’s fair to say they can’t afford to blow this one. But also reasonable to conclude there is some safety in the volume of having seven picks this year in the first 99. Using the 2003 draft as an example, Patrice Bergeron went 45th, Shea Weber 49th, Corey Crawford 52nd and David Backes 62nd.

“When it is as deep as it is this year that will push somebody down who normally might go a little higher,” said Pryor. “We’re thinking we are going to have a couple options in the second round.”

He would not go as far as to say they would get the same value at No. 29 this year as they did at No. 17 last June with Sanheim. Then again, who is to say they won’t?

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