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Flyers could target defenseman with top pick

by Mike G. Morreale

It appears as though Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren would like to bring a little more "Bully" back to "Broad Street" at the 2013 NHL Draft.

With some forwards in the prospect pool prepared to challenge for full-time roles with the club, including centers Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, as well as left wing Tye McGinn, Holmgren and his scouting staff might seek that ornery-type defenseman the team has been missing since Chris Pronger left the lineup in 2011.

The type of defenseman that will make opposing forwards cringe at his very sight.

At a press conference Wednesday, Holmgren said he's content to stay at No. 11 in the first round, but that if a deal made sense, he certainly would look into it.

"I think you have to have an open mind," he said. "I think 11 is a good spot. If we can move up the food chain and get what we'd probably agree is a better prospect, we have to look at it if it's a deal that makes sense."

The draft is slated for Sunday at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN). Philadelphia currently has six picks, including one each in the opening three rounds, and one each in the fifth, sixth and seventh.

Holmgren said the organization will choose the best player available when the time to pick comes. Still, the fact prospects of different positions outside the top 10 may project similarly, no matter what position they play, may point to one thing -- drafting a defenseman might not be a bad idea for a franchise in need of one.

Holmgren was asked about two specific defense prospects Wednesday -- Rasmus Ristolainen of TPS in Finland and Ryan Pulock of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League.

Ristolainen, a 6-foot-4, 207-pound right-handed shot, is physical and skilled offensively. He logged between 25 and 30 minutes a game for TPS in Finland's top professional league in 2012-13 and is No. 4 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top draft-eligible European skaters.

"He plays that physical style and played big minutes with a team that that didn't do very well, and was the leading defenseman there," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told "He's a mobile, strong, offensive-minded defenseman with very good puck-handling and passing skills. He's young, but he knows how to use his size and strength. He's one of the best young defensemen in Europe in his age group. He's a leader on the ice and plays with confidence."

Holmgren went as far as to say that Ristolainen may be NHL-ready at this point in his career.

"He looks like a man right now compared to some of the kids you see," Holmgren said. "I would say of all the defensemen [outside No. 1-rated prospect Seth Jones], in my opinion, he's probably the most ready to jump right in. Offensively, he looks like a good, solid prospect with a big shot."

Ristolainen tested well during the fitness phase at the NHL Scouting Combine. His most noteworthy finish came in the VO2 Max test, in which he lasted 14 minutes on the grueling stationary bike test to place among the top five among the 101 prospects invited.

Holmgren also was impressed with Pulock. Both players might be available when it's the Flyers' turn to pick.

Despite missing considerable time in 2012-13 with a fractured orbital bone early in the season and then a broken wrist, Pulock impressed the scouts enough to be placed at No. 12 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.

In 2011-12, Pulock finished third among WHL defensemen with 60 points, while also finishing with a plus-43 rating, in 71 games. In 61 games in 2012-13, he had 14 goals (seven on the power play), 45 points and a minus-7 rating as one of the leaders on a relatively young Brandon squad.

"He was very good as an underager even though his team wasn't very good," Holmgren said. "He had some injuries, but he's really got a bomb on the power play. He's actually pretty physically developed, too."

Pulock was asked what qualities he feels an NHL defenseman needs to possess to remain consistently good in today's game.

"I think being tough in the defensive zone and tough on guys," he said. "Obviously being a defenseman, your own zone comes first, and the key area to protect is the net. It's important to move pucks efficiently up to the forwards and then, from there, jump into the play and help offensively."


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