Philadelphia Flyers director of scouting Chris Pryor said the high level of skill available has him feeling positive about where the Flyers stand entering the 2016 NHL Draft.
They have 10 picks in the draft, to be held at First Niagara Center in Buffalo on June 24-25. They have five selections in the first three rounds, including the No. 18 pick in the first round and two picks in each of the second and third rounds.
"We're feeling pretty comfortable where we are at [in the draft]," Pryor said. "We think there's a group of players that we've watched that we think we could select."
Pryor said the difference in talent level among the top players is so slight, a team could draft based on need rather than simply taking the best player available through the first round.
Video: Ron Hextall speaks about the upcoming Draft
"There are interchangeable pieces depending on need, so it is something that's probably going to be debated among those teams picking after the top three," Pryor said during a conference call Friday. "If you do view everything equal, there are players there that can be interchanged, so it's fair to say that a team could draft based on a positional need."
The Flyers have had success finding players in the second half of the first round of the draft, including captain Claude Giroux (2006, No. 22), Mike Richards (2003, No. 24), Justin Williams (2000, No. 28) and Simon Gagne (1998, No. 22). Pryor is confident that will be the case again this year.
"Maybe we need to get a little bigger, a little faster, but we're aware of our needs," he said. "It comes down to evaluating and taking the best player available, so size, skill and speed all matter. Those are all intangibles that this staff has earmarked."
Many expect center Auston Matthews of Zurich in Switzerland and Finnish right wings Patrik Laine of Tappara and Jesse Puljujarvi of Karpat to be the first three players selected, by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively.
But after the top three choices, it's anyone's guess how the draft will unfold.
Video: Flyers GM speaks about Draft strategy
"I think this year's forward class is good and the top end is obviously very good," Pryor said. "So when the top end is as good as it is, it has a trickle-down effect. I would give this forward class a grade of A-minus or B-plus if I had to. With the top end this good, maybe some players will be pushed down a little bit, so we're hoping we should see some players we really like."
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said earlier this week there may be an emphasis on size and skill in this draft.
"That's going to be a little bit of our focus," he said.
A few highly touted players with size and speed that may be available at No. 18 are right wing Julien Gauthier of Val-d'Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, left wing Max Jones of London of the Ontario Hockey League, center Luke Kunin of the University of Wisconsin of the Big Ten, left wing Kieffer Bellows of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team, and left wing Riley Tufte of Blaine (Minn.) High School.
Here's what Pryor had to say about the players who could be available at No. 18:
Julien Gauthier: "You like his size (6-foot-3, 231 pounds) and skill package. He's that north/south type of guy, and when he plays with a complementary center, he finds the lane and gets to the opening. When he gets the puck, he's dangerous with that size, skating and physicality."
Max Jones: "He's a little different than Gauthier in that he can get under the skin of the opposition. Gauthier has more of a scoring touch. Jones adds that element of being a little more physical, but he has the same attributes as Gauthier with his size and skating."
Luke Kunin: "As a true freshman he played really well. He's versatile, can play wing or center and is very competitive. He makes plays and is another one from this draft class who came through USA Hockey. He's an interesting guy."
Kieffer Bellows: "All he does is score goals. He can get in the seams, find the holes and put the puck in the back of the net. He's pretty remarkable with what he's done. He played with a really good player in Clayton Keller [at the NTDP], but you have to get open and put the puck in and he did that, so credit to him."
Riley Tufte: "It's tough to evaluate players in high school because it's not on the same level as college and junior hockey. But the comparisons to Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets) and Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) are there if you look at his numbers. He's a big kid (6-5, 211) who moves extremely well and knows how to get to the net, what to do with the puck. He may need a little more development just because of the level he played, but in fairness to him he did what he was supposed to do at that level. A team drafting him may just need to show a little more patience."