Michael Raffl and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare slipped through the cracks, as once did Tim Kerr and even a Hart Trophy winner, Martin St. Louis. It happens. NHL level talent occasionally does go undrafted. And whether tiny, gangly or with a correctible skating deficit, every Cinderfella has his own story.
Usually, though, it’s the little guys that get the short end of the evaluation process. Christian Marti stands six-feet-three inches tall and has a reach like NHL Central Scouting’s for finding players that the clubs should check out. So it couldn’t have been a very small crack that Marti fell through all the way to the Flyers as an undrafted free agent - not at that size.
It’s hardly as if scouts had to risk avalanches through treacherous Alps passes to get to Kloten to see the big Swiss defenseman there. Marti had played in three World Junior Championships, the best meat market there is.
“I’m watching him last year, thinking, ‘How did this happen?” said Chris Pryor, the Flyers Director of Scouting.
“Maybe he was a tall, gangly kid and it was only in the last couple years that things started to come together for him. I don’t remember us discussing him when he was [draft eligible], so I don’t know.
“I just know we like him now.”
The Flyers like Marti so much that they have given him a two-year deal to prove himself an NHL prospect with the Phantoms. That’s a fair commitment, but then there is every reason to believe there will be no shortage of commitment from a prospect who impressed everyone during development camp last week with his sincerity.
To have made it this far, Marti had to want this badly. In 2012 he left Switzerland for Blainville, Quebec to chase his dream.
“Our (Swiss) team was having money problems, so I was looking for a Plan B,” he said. “It was always a dream of mine to play in North America anyway and my agent (Rollie Thompson) knew the Blainville coach (Joel Bouchard, actually, owner-GM-coach) really well.
“I was one of two imports so I knew I would get a chance to play a lot.”
When he was not one of the 211 players taken in the 2013 NHL entry, Marti decided that rather than playing as an overage player in the Quebec League, he would grow up faster competing against men for Geneve-Servette in the top Swiss League.
That’s where he was spotted by Flyers scout Ilkka Sinisalo, who suggested Pryor take a look. The same eyes that liked Raffl and Bellemare over the last two years, approved.
“There is a presence to Christian’s game that you noticed right away for a young guy playing in a men’s league at that age,” said Pryor. “He skates well, is competitive, and has decent hands.
“That’s a pretty good league over there, which people would realize if they look at the rosters (littered with former NHL players). He could handle himself in that environment.”
A year ago Marti was at Blackhawks development camp, where among the things he learned was how hard it is for an undrafted guy to get one of the limited spots on an AHL roster. Mark Streit will begin his 10th season in the NHL in October, so there have been some Swiss success stories, but only seven of Marti’s countrymen have lasted 200 NHL games.
So it’s a big dream he is chasing. In one sense he already has realized it.
“When I first saw the contract in front of me -- Philadelphia Flyers, NHL -- it was an unbelievable feeling,” Marti said. “It’s a big step."
Of course there’s still one more big one to go to get to a team that has seven NHL veteran defensemen signed; Michael Del Zotto bound for another year either by his scheduled upcoming arbitration or a multi-year contract; plus four exciting prospects – Shayne Gostisbehere, plus three D taken in the top 17 of the last three drafts – on the way.
As with three other UFAs at camp, -- center Cole Bardreau, left wing Danick Martel (once a Marti teammate at Blainville) right wing Pavel Padakin (a John Paddock tout from Regina) -- the Flyers don’t waste their time and money on guys they believe have no chance. After European scavenger hunts that have brought them Raffl and Bellemare, the Flyers have done better over there than the Clark Griswolds for sure.
Over here, Marti may be a long way from the big rinks of his youth, but he is the kind of stay at home defenseman that makes the smaller rinks work for him.
“I think I’m good in my own zone,” he said. “I can move the puck good and skate it good. I’m a big guy but still mobile. If somebody asks me what I am, I want to be a shutdown D.”