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Under the Microscope: Flyers 2020 Draft Class

Flyers contributor looks in depth at the strengths, needs for improvement and ceiling of every Flyers Draft pick

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

The Philadelphia Flyers wrapped up the 2020 NHL Draft with five overall selections: four forwards and one defenseman. The team twice traded up in the mid-to-late rounds, making 2-for-1 pick exchanges in order to select targeted prospects while they were still on the board. 

The Flyers had different skill sets and primary attribute strengths to choose from with the 23rd pick of the first round -- there were well-balanced forward prospects, playmakers, undersized speedsters, toolsy defensemen, etc. -- and opted for one the two or three best pure shooters in the Draft in taking Tyson Foerster in Round 1. 

In Round 2, they selected an undersized offensive minded and puck moving defenseman in selecting Emil Andrae. Trading up to the first pick of the fourth round, the Flyers opted for a thick-framed power forward in Zayde Wisdom. In the fifth round, Philly went for a plus-skating two-way swingman forward best known thus far for his defensive awareness via the selection of Elliot Desnoyers. Lastly, in Round 6, the Flyers went for a pint-sized goal-scoring forward in Connor McClennon, who is a swing-for-the-fences lottery ticket that late in the Draft.

One common thread for each and every pick: they are all players for whom high "compete" levels, work ethic and motor were integral parts of the internal (and the majority of external) scouting reports. Several have been captains or alternates for their teams, and all have made good use of their time during the pandemic to work on things they'll need to improve post-Draft to someday maximize their chances of playing in the NHL.

According to both Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr (who directs the organization's scouting operations) and general manager Chuck Fletcher, that commonality was not coincidence; it reflected something specific that was being prioritized.

"Those are two of the biggest things we look at: their hockey sense and that compete, that motor. Having high energy and players that love to play the game. Just from my experience, players that love to play hockey put more time into and tend to love coming to the rink. They get better as a result. Hockey sense is just something that you can't teach. We feel all these players have a high hockey sense and have a high motor and obviously are skilled as well. Those are intangibles that we do focus on," Fletcher said.

Added Flahr, "I'm a big hockey sense guy. I think first and foremost, obviously you want the biggest, strongest, fastest player, but if you don't have hockey sense, it doesn't matter. All these players we feel have a really good head for the game. With their competitiveness and skillset, it will give them a chance. We need to help them along. At the same time, we feel like they have the character and the drive to make themselves players and valuable assets to our organization."

Here's an in-depth, player-by-player look at who these kids are, why they were selected and what ultimately may get them to Philadelphia:

TYSON FOERSTER (RW)
DRAFTED: 1st Round/23rd overall (2020)
TEAM/LEAGUE: Barrie Colts/ OHL
AGE: 18 (1-20-2002)
BORN: Alliston, Ontario
VITALS: 6'2", 195 pounds 

WHY THE FLYERS LIKE HIM

One of the best pure shooters in the 2020 Draft, possesses a booming right-handed one-timer. Foerster can also score by other means. He has a deft touch near the net. and can hit the mark from sharp angles. 

Although better known as a goal scorer nowadays, he is a slick passer as well. He has strong offensive instincts. He led his team in both goals and assists in 2019-20.

Foerster has excellent training habits and he's been working for six months with a personal skating coach while also putting in time in the gym. 

STRENGTHS

1) Explosive shot: Many scouts consider him one of the three best shooters in the Draft and some even ranked him in the top two. He scored 18 power play goals last season. 
2) High offensive hockey IQ with a shoot-first mentality but also solid passing skills to find an open teammate.
3) Self-aware young player: He understands where he needs to improve and has had one of the most productive off-seasons in the 2020 Draft class along with fellow Flyers draftee Emil Andrae. Has already seen improvement in his skating 
4) Good size: He is projected to play at about 205 to 210 pounds at the NHL level.
5) Displayed game-to-game in his Draft-eligible season.

DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS

1) Skating: Scouts rate various attributes on a 1 to 9 skate. In his draft year, Foerster's skating was often rated in the 5 or 6 range. Both his speed and technique were panned. This is the primary reason Foerster was available in the latter one-third of the first round and some projections were in the early second-round range. The Flyers believe that he's already on the right track toward correcting his stride and that, as he continues to add strength, explosiveness and power could compensate for average speed.
2) Two-way game: As with many junior-level offense-oriented wingers, Foerster needs work on his play without the puck and effectiveness in the defensive zone. Once over the attacking blueline, he is quite good for a player his age.
3) 50-50 battles: It is not that Foerster lacks competitiveness in puck battles on the walls but he is a work in progress in turning size and added strength to his advantage when it comes to fighting for puck possession. 
4) Foerster has an opportunity for developmental improvement in his transitional play.

QUOTABLE

CHUCK FLETCHER: "When we met with him, he expressed [a desire to be a complete player] a lot. Playing under Dale Hawerchuk, I think Dale was very influential in Tyson's career. Tyson obviously has a lot of offensive gifts. He can shoot the puck tremendously well. Goal scorer. Playmaker. Great hockey sense. Really good size. He's got a lot of attributes. Dale pushed him. Working on his skating. Working on his play away from the puck, which is not unusual for a junior player. I think the good thing about Tyson was very good with self-awareness, of his strengths and the areas that he needs to improve. He's worked very hard on those areas during the pause. We expect he'll continue to develop into a pretty good player."

TYSON FOERSTER: "I've working on [my skating] a lot for the last six months. I feel it's improved a lot. I feel like I'm that much closer to the next level and playing with the Flyers.... I feel like I can play a similar game to T.J. Oshie. I feel like I can be out there in any situation and score some goals, too. So he's a good player I can compare myself to.''

 
EMIL ANDRAE (D)
DRAFTED: 2nd Round/54th overall (2020)
TEAM/LEAGUE: HV71/ SHL
AGE: 18 (2-23-2002)
BORN: Västervik, Sweden
VITALS: 5'9", 183 pounds 

WHY THE FLYERS LIKE HIM

Andrae has always moved up from the Swedish junior level to the country's top professional level, and has shown an above-upside both as a puck-mover on breakouts from the defensive zone and, up-ice, as an offensive-minded defenseman with power play upside.

A hard-working player with leadership upside, Andrae has captained the Swedish national under-18 team and been an alternate in other age-group categories. Although quite small height wise, he plays a fearless brand of hockey.

Andrae has a low center of gravity with a thick frame. He had an outstanding off-season conditioning wise, using the early stoppage of the 2019-20 season as a head start to cut his body fat percentage from 15 percent to 10 percent. He has seen significant improvements in his skating -- which was one of the main knocks on him last season as a smaller player -- and projects to continue improving.

STRENGTHS

1) High IQ offensive player who can make plays and get pucks on the net. Also good at triggering rushes.
2) Extremely competitive player; eagerly does battle with bigger players and has no quit in his game. A coach's favorite, he is already pulling down nearly 16 minutes of ice time per game this season in the SHL despite his tender age.
3) Work ethic: As with Foerster, Andrae knows what he needs to work on and had a very productive offseason to get a jump on those areas even ahead of the rescheduled 2020 Draft.
4) Has been a very effective power play presence at both the Swedish junior and under-18 international level.  
5) He is capable of and comfortable with playing either his natural or off side on defense; that opens up more possibilities than with a D who is "locked" to one side.

DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS

1) Skating: The combination of being undersized and an average skater in his Draft year is what knocked him out of the top 50 selections. He's already made significant progress in improving his skating -- it's not really a detriment, despite what some publications wrote -- but there is still room for improvement.
2) Defense in the trenches: Andrae has the competitive drive, the fireplug frame and the raw materials in his game to avoid getting manhandled at the pro level but it's an area he is still learning to adapt to at the SHL level. He will then have to adapt it to the NHL rink and style. It's doable for a small defenseman (longtime Flyer Kimmo Timonen was a gold standard two-way small defenseman) but it will take time and patience both from the player and his coaches. Andrae is determined to become such a player.
3) Andrae's offensive prowess has been more readily on display at the junior level against players in his age category than it has been thus far at the pro level. This is mainly a function of gaining experience and opportunities. 

QUOTABLE

BRENT FLAHR: "We like his skating. We think his speed is pretty good. As he leans out, I think it will get better. We think he's very agile. Has the ability to create separation with his quickness and agility. We don't see that as issue. Defensively, we think he's good. He's competitive. He has a good stick and he has a high-end hockey sense. There's not much you can do about the height, but there have been other players with his type of build that have succeeded. Typically those players are again that high-end hockey sense and high-end compete and a lot of skill. He fits the bill. He was in our opinion clearly the highest skilled player on the board at the time. As I mentioned to you going into the draft, we're certainly looking to add skill."

EMIL ANDRAE: "I'm a two-way defenseman that likes to play with the puck. My strength is to play the puck to my teammates and get them in great situations. I'm also very competitive. I like to win. I am really patient with my game. I'm truly self-aware. I like to play with confidence on my game, truly on the blue line and also on the power play to get my teammates in great situations. .... [Some scouts] tell me I'm way too short to be a sure pick; I think they said it like that. In my opinion, from Day 1, I hear that and I know it's not an issue for me. As long as you can move the puck very well, play great offense and defense, great puck and stickhandling, it's not going to be an issue for me."

ZAYDE WISDOM (RW)
DRAFTED: 4th Round/94th overall (2020)
TEAM/LEAGUE: Kingston/ OHL
AGE: 18 (7-7-2002)
BORN: Toronto, Ontario
VITALS: 5'10", 201 pounds 

WHY THE FLYERS LIKE HIM

It's not quite rare for Draft candidates outside the realm of 1st- or 2nd-round projections to finish near the top of scouts' Draft class rankings in a particular attribute, but it also isn't common.

In the case of 2020 E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence winner Zayde Wisdom, that trait is sheer competitiveness. He's not the biggest, the fastest, the most naturally gifted with the puck but he is one of the most tenacious. one of the physically strongest and one of the hardest to play against to be found in this year's Draft. 

Wisdom is almost always compared to longtime Flyers right winger Wayne Simmonds; both because the youngster participated in the Wayne's Warriors program and idolizes the hard-nosed NHLer and also because there are some familiar elements in their games.

Wisdom, who has a powerful, fireplug build, plays a power forward style. He digs for pucks on the boards. He crashes the net. He takes the body. He makes second-effort and third-effort plays. He's not someone many opposing players are eager to tangle with, because he's a tough kid. He'll also play with a lot of emotion and do battle on behalf of any teammate.

Above all, Wisdom is a fine complementary player to a high-skill linemate. He'll do the unglamorous work, and if they can then get to the puck to him near the net, he'll find a way to get it over the goal line. He is also more skilled than some believe; if he has space to make a play, he can burn an opponent. 

STRENGTHS

1) Wisdom is a player with the potential to play in different spots in a lineup as he moves up the ladder. Put him in the bottom six, and he'll bring energy and physicality. Put him higher in the lineup with the right linemates, and he'll score goals on top of the other traits.
2) Creates room for linemates and can also take advantage of situations where he finds open room for himself.
2) Continuous improvement: Wisdom may not be quite as refined a player as the top prospects in his age group but almost no one outworks or outcompetes him. Whether as a complementary player or not, he's already producing more than some of the more highly touted, earlier-drafted players in his Draft class. As Wisdom moves forward, he potentially could end up being a better pro with a longer career than players who had a head-start on him. 
3) Forechecking prowess; Wisdom wins a lot of puck battles and forces turnovers. He also has a heavy stick and is hard to budge. The lack of height is much less important than his pound-for-pound strength.

DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS

1) Skill refinement: Wisdom projects as a no-frills complementary player. However, Flyers scouts believe that Wisdom can be the type of player whose all-around game gets better and better after turning pro through non-stop work. He'll always be a north-south player, however. He's not likely going to dazzle with stickhandling, east-west dekes or effortless-looking skating.
2) Two-way game: This is another area where Wisdom is working to improve over time.
3) Has underrated ability to read plays, which enables him to work well with skilled linemates at the OHL level, but there's room to improve to be able to do the same in the pro game.

QUOTABLE

BRENT FLAHR: "Wisdom is another guy we had rated highly. He's a different type of player. You guys have probably read up on the history of the young man. Really impressive, impressive kid. Extremely driven. He plays with [top 2022 Draft prospect Shane] Wright, who's a special exemption player in the OHL. He's two drafts away. Very special player. He's going to be on one of the top junior lines in Canada for the next couple years. Just playing with a player like that and with his tremendous work ethic, we feel Zayne is just going to get better and better. If and when he does make it, he's a player that our fans are going to love just with the heart and passion that he plays with."

ZAYDE WISDOM: "My goal is to reach the NHL as fast as possible. I'm going to be working night and day to try to get better and improve my skills. I know I'm not good enough right now to be playing in the league, but I plan on getting there very soon. ...I would say more than 90% is work ethic and perseverance. I've worked hard and grinded my whole life to get to this moment right now. It feels amazing to be here finally. I would say most of my game would be just my hard work and perseverance and my willingness to go to the dirty areas."


ELLIOT DESNOYERS (C/LW)
DRAFTED: 5th Round/135th overall (2020)
TEAM/LEAGUE: Halifax/ QMJHL
AGE: 18 (1-2-2002)
BORN: Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec
VITALS: 5'11", 182 pounds 

WHY THE FLYERS LIKE HIM

A solid two-way swingman who is particularly sound defensively for a player his age, Desnoyers was a bottom-six forward in his first two seasons in the QMJHL with Moncton. He's with a new team this season, the Halifax Mooseheads, and is seeing an expanded role. 

Desnoyers is a hard-working, bright player with good mobility that should get even better as he adds strength. He takes good routes to the puck on the forecheck and takes pride in his attention to detail in the defensive zone. He supports the play well, covering high as needed, not making panicky decisions and keeping his feet moving. 

The Flyers believe he has some nascent offensive ability as well. He is capable of making plays, and has shown promise of increasing his offensive production in his Draft-plus-one season.

STRENGTHS

1) Two-way hockey sense: Desnoyers makes good reads, especially off the puck, and goes to the right places. Defensive reliability is advanced for a player his age.
2) Coach's favorite: Players like Desnoyers tend to earn trust from their coaches because they make the right plays at the right times and only need to be told things once. 
3) Work ethic: Desnoyers has a high "compete level", and has good practice habits.
4) Underrated skill: While he's unlikely to post eye-catching offensive numbers, Desnoyers has know-how and a game plan when the puck is on his stick.

DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS

1) Added strength: Adding some muscle and explosiveness would bolster Desnoyer's skating and also help him in puck battles if he earns a spot at the pro level.c 
2) Offensive opportunities: Relative to where he's played in the lineup in his junior career before this season, Desnoyers has shown hints that he can be more than strictly a defensive forward. While he does not project as a power play performer in the NHL, he has the upside to be able to chip in some points as well as playing solid defense and killing penalties.
3) Desnoyers is capable of playing center or on a wing. This versatility boosts his potential usages. Right now, it remains to be seen which position would be his primary fit if he reaches the pros.

QUOTABLE

BRENT FLAHR: "He's a guy that our guys in the Quebec league were high on. He played on a very good Moncton team last year. Didn't have a huge role, but got better and better throughout the year. This year, he's moved to Halifax and has a big role on the team. He's had a real good start. He's a real hardworking, energy two-way center and wing. He's playing center right now. He's a real smart player, real detailed player. A player all coaches like. Our guys just think he's going to get better and better there so we stepped up on him."

ELLIOT DESNOYERS: "I think I'm a big complement player. I'm the kind of guy that's not going to be the most flashy and on the first line. I'll help everywhere else. I'll be able to compete every night and make the players around me better. Talking about lineup, wherever coaches will want me, I will do my job. I will work hard and compete every day.....This year with Halifax, it's a new opportunity for me. Just being a part of the leader group. For sure, it's going to be different in a good way for me."

CONNOR MCCLENNON (RW)
DRAFTED: 6th Round/178th overall (2020)
TEAM/LEAGUE: Winnipeg/ WHL
AGE: 18 (6-25-2002)
BORN: Wainwright, Alberta
VITALS: 5'8", 168 pounds 

WHY THE FLYERS LIKE HIM

A high-motor, motivated forward, the pint-sized McClennon has been a dominating goal scorer within his age group on his path up to the major junior ranks. He loves to shoot the puck and isn't shy about being a shoot-first player when he sees an opportunity.

At the 2018-19 Under-17 championships, McClennon racked up 8 goals in just five games; a feat duplicated only by American forward Cole Caufield in recent tournaments. A prolific goal scorer in minor hockey and a top pick in the WHL Draft, McClennon averaged north of a point-per-game (21 goals and 49 points in 42 games) in his 2020 NHL Draft season.

The Flyers had a bit of an inside tip-off on getting a head start in scouting McClennon. He is close friends with Ridley Greig (whose dad, Mark, is the Flyers' primary western Canada scout). Additionally, he is coached by former NHL player, James Patrick (who is Flyers center Nolan Patrick's uncle).

STRENGTHS

1) Possesses an excellent shot and good offensive instincts. He is good at finding lanes.
2) McClennon plays with a lot of energy and competitive drive. As with most small players who find success, he doesn't let himself get pushed around.
3) He is an above-average skater, although he is not world-class in that category.

DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS

1) Strength and two-way game: Being as small as he is, McClennon can sometimes get overmatched. He works hard at improving his play without the puck, but there is still a lot of work to do before he can hold his own against NHLers. McClennon has added some strength over the pandemic -- 168 is an updated weight, and he hopes to start the 2020-21 season at 170 pounds but there is a few years of work to go before he'd be considered physically ready for the pros.
2) Natural offensive progression: McClennon scored 21 goals and set up teammates for 28 others in his Draft year. That's pretty solid. But he's capable of even more, and will have to continue builiding his productivity in his Draft-plus-one and Draft-plus-two years. Scoring will be his ticket to a pro career.
3) Staying healthy: A collarbone injury set back McLennon. He is healthy now, but the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled the remainder of the 2019-20 season.


QUOTABLE

BRENT FLAHR: "His competitiveness is very strong, very good motor. Very good shot and loves to shoot. Players his size need that. He has to get stronger, obviously, and he is working on that."

CONNOR MCCLENNON: "I model my game after Alex DeBrincat, being a shooter. I think that's more of my style.... [The collarbone injury] was really tough, especially mentally. I think coming back and training as hard as I did to get it healed up and come back for playoffs. Having that cut short due to COVID-19 was definitely tough on the mental side of things. To be rewarded and picked by the Philadelphia Flyers is definitely a huge relief. Just to know I can be there and push for the next step."

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