The Philadelphia Flyers would have preferred a more successful season to having the seventh pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, but they are excited about the talent that will be available to them.
In addition to having their own pick in the first round, they also have the Tampa Bay Lightning's top pick, acquired for defenseman Braydon Coburn earlier this season. Philadelphia has five picks in the first three rounds and seven of the first 99 selections of the draft, which will be held in Sunrise, Fla., on June 26-27.
"I think we're really excited about the opportunity," Flyers director of scouting Chris Pryor said Wednesday. "It's something that Ron (Hextall, Flyers general manager) has spent a lot of time with, accumulating assets. It's a good year to have a lot of picks, as deep as it is. We're excited. Hopefully it enables us to fill some areas we need a little more of, and there's some quality guys available that we're hoping are still there when we pick."
Four of the Flyers' top prospects are defensemen, including 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin (No. 11) and 2014 first-round pick Travis Sanheim (No. 17). Adding an offensively gifted forward would fill an organizational need. Their top forward prospects, centers Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, don't project to be big point producers.
"I think it's fair to say in that group [of possibilities at No. 7] it probably favors the forwards," Pryor said. "... It's a pretty talented group, and there's a lot of really talented forwards in that group and there are a few defensemen. I would say it probably leans more toward a forward at this point."
One option could be left wing Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League. No. 5 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2015 draft, he has a good mix of size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and skill.
"I haven't seen a guy who physically dominates opponents like this since Eric Lindros," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He drops the shoulder and takes the puck to the net. And he takes it wherever he wants it."
Crouse helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships, but some expected more than the 29 goals he had this season. However, Pryor said there's more to evaluating a player like Crouse than offensive numbers.
"Lawson Crouse is a prototypical power-type guy," Pryor said. "He's an up-and-down, he skates, he's a good hockey player. I don't think they realize for a young kid to play on that World Junior team as he did, he took a pretty big role, as far as they depended on him to kill penalties and he did some other things without the puck that tell you what type of player he can be from the defensive side. His numbers don't speak the whole picture to the type of player he is."
Another option could be right wing Mikko Rantanen (6-4, 211), No. 1 on Central Scouting's final ranking of European skaters. He led all under-20 players in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, with 28 points in 56 games, and had four goals in five games for Finland at the WJC.
With the Flyers set at right wing for the next few seasons with Jakub Voracek, 25, and Wayne Simmonds, 26, Pryor said Rantanen is skilled enough to play left wing.
"The Europeans, a lot of those kids can play their off wing," he said. "This guy, he can play both. Our guys have seen him mostly on the right side, but they have seen him play left side, too. He's a big body, got a really good stick, good nose around the net, good on the wall. You look at his stats and the way he's handled himself with the men at that level, tells you a lot about the player. Not too many guys played as big a role as he has this year. He's an interesting guy."
Pryor said he expects to find another good player at No. 29 or No. 30. The pick will be No. 29 if the Lightning are defeated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, and No. 30 if they win it.
"There's some interesting names," Pryor said. "We've got a big group that we're talking about right now where we're picking in the late first. Unfortunately a lot of that is going to be in the hands of other teams. We're just going to have to wait and see what happens Friday night and see what the group that's still available when we're picking. When you have a big group like this, it does tell you about the quality of the draft itself."