Paul Holmgren has developed a reputation for wheeling and dealing in the days leading up to the NHL Entry Draft.
Since assuming his role as Flyers general manager, Holmgren has dealt players and draft picks to land veterans such as Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell and Chris Pronger. Last year, he traded up to nab Sean Couturier with the 8th overall pick, shipping Jeff Carter to Columbus in a deal that also brought Jakub Voracek to the Flyers.
Yet, Holmgren said the Flyers likely will stand pat this year and wait for their first pick to roll around when the first round kicks off Friday at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center. The draft concludes Saturday with rounds 2-7.
Holmgren said the talent level in the first round plateaus after the first five or six picks but that the Flyers are happy selecting at 20th overall. He said he doesn’t anticipate the Flyers trading that pick for the rights to an unrestricted free agent or moving up in the draft to snatch a player capable of playing in the NHL immediately.
“I only had one conversation in that (latter) regard,” Holmgren told reporters Monday. “Whether that heats up a little bit or not, I don't know. We're not actively trying to move up. As I said earlier, we like the position we're in."
While highly-touted prospects like right winger Nail Yakupov, defenseman Ryan Murray and center Filip Forsberg probably won’t be on the board for the 20th pick, it’s not terribly uncommon for players drafted late in the first round to develop into stars.
The Flyers know this as much as any team in the league. They have grabbed a number of their future centerpieces in the latter half of the first round, including Simon Gagne (22nd overall, 1998), Mike Richards (24th overall, 2003) and Claude Giroux (22nd overall, 2006).
“Our first round pick is at 20 and we are happy with that position,” Holmgren said. “We think we will get a good player there that is a good prospect. … Somebody might like a player at 10 that we might like at 20, or something like that. It is a different draft for sure. There are some top-end guys there and maybe after the first five or six players it evens out."
In recent drafts, the 20th pick has yielded players such as Alexander Frolov (Los Angeles, 2000), Travis Zajac (New Jersey, 2004) and Michael Del Zotto (New York Rangers, 2008).
Angelo Esposito, once considered a potential No. 1 overall selection, fell to the 20th pick in 2006. Pittsburgh drafted him, but Esposito since has been traded by three NHL franchises and has yet to make his league debut.
The Flyers have held the 20th pick three times in the past, selecting defensemen Larry Goodenough (1973), Kerry Huffman (1986) and Darren Rumble (1987).
Under Holmgren, the Flyers have decided to draft the best available player instead of trying to fill a particular void within the organization’s depth charts. Holmgren said this year will be no different.
"I would say that we will stick with our same philosophy,” Holmgren said. “We have done well with that. I think that is why we like the 20th pick. Historically, we have done pretty good picking late too. I think our guys do a good job there.
"I could tell you now, positionally we are stronger as an organization at the forward position than we are at defense. That doesn't mean that we are going to take a defenseman. If there is a forward that our group likes ahead of the defenseman, we will probably take the forward. That's what I would say. That is the way we have always done business and we will continue to work that way."
Holmgren added that he wouldn’t be opposed to selecting a goalie in the first round if one of the goalies the Flyers have interest in is still available. He said there are some goalies the Flyers like that they expect to be taken “fairly high.”
"I guess we could,” he said. “I think we have a couple of young guys that we signed here. Niko Hovinen is going to play this year in North America. Cal Heeter, out of Ohio State, we signed. We have some young guys that are under contract that are going to play in the system. That doesn't mean that we won't look at a goalie at some point in the draft. In the first round, who knows?"
The last goalie the Flyers selected in the first round was Maxime Ouellet, whom they drafted with the 22nd pick in 1999. Brian Boucher also was taken with the 22nd pick in 1995.
In the last five years, the Flyers have used their top choice to select left winger James van Riemsdyk, defenseman Luca Sbisa, goalie Adam Morrison, center Michael Chaput and Couturier. Morrison and Chaput were each third-round picks.
Sbisa and Couturier each immediately earned roster spots when the Flyers broke training camp in 2008 and 2011, respectively.
Holmgren said the Flyers have looked at several players who could provide an immediate impact to an NHL club, but whether they are available when the Flyers select remains to be seen.
"I think there’s a number of players who could probably step right in and play,” Holmgren said. “Should they, or will they, is another question. There are certainly players that I've seen that could and probably will step there and play right away.”
The Flyers also have picks in the third, fourth, fifth and seventh rounds.