VOORHEES, N.J. – To call this one of the most important Flyers’ drafts in recent memory would be an understatement.
Given all the enthusiasm about this “New Era of Orange” reconstruction of the Philadelphia hockey team, a lot of eyes will be on how new general manager Daniel Briere performs when the 2023 NHL Draft convenes in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena next Wednesday and Thursday.
Briere, along with assistant general manager Brent Flahr (who oversees the scouting department), will have 10 picks at his service, including two in the first round – Nos. 7 and 22 overall.
Even Briere himself admits this draft has special meaning because the Flyers are emphasizing a youth movement and want to get more quality players into their development system.
“The draft, for us, is going to be critical,” Briere said during a press conference on Thursday at the Flyers Training Center.
“It’s my first time It’s been exciting. There’s been a lot of activity. I’m excited and to have two first-round picks on top of it, I think it is good. You can kind of feel the energy from our staff.”
The Flyers really scored big with their first pick in last year’s draft at Montreal, securing talented forward Cutter Gauthier with the No. 5 overall pick. The 19-year-old went on to light up the World Junior Championships and also excelled for Boston College.
It’s safe to say the Flyers would like to secure another player of Gauthier’s talent level at No. 7 this year.
No one would be surprised if the Flyers are quite active in Nashville, be it an attempt to try to trade up for higher picks or secure a proven NHL talent. They have those 10 overall picks but none between No. 22 and No. 87.
“Honestly, everything is on the table,” Briere said. “We’ve had discussions in both directions (moving up or down). It (a trade) would have to make sense I guess for both sides, who’s ever involved. If something like that were to happen, it would probably be on the draft floor, depending how the board falls during that day. We would like to add in that gap between 22 and 87.”
Flahr added: “We have layers of players at certain levels. If a player has fallen to a level where you feel you have a chance to move up and you feel the price is worth it to move up, then we’ll try it.”
Experts say this is one of the most talented and deepest drafts in recent years, so it looks like the Flyers could add another “good bet” player or two to their system.
“It’s pretty well known at the top of the draft you have some pretty elite players,” Flahr said. “There are players who are potentially top-six forwards. It is a deep draft. We’re confident we’re going to get a good player at 22. If we add more picks, we’re confident we’re going to get some good players throughout the early rounds.
Here is a projected top 10 of potential picks:
>1. Connor Bedard, C, Regina Pats (WHL)
>2. Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan (NCAA).
>3. Will Smith, C, USNTDP.
>4. Leo Carlsson, C, Orebro (SHL).
>5. Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL).
>6. David Reinbacher, D, Kloten (Switzerland).
>7. Zachary Benson, LW, Winnipeg Ice (WHL).
>8. Ryan Leonard, RW, USNTDP.
>9. Colby Barlow, RW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL).
>10. Matthew Wood, RW, Uconn (Hockey East).
The Flyers could use another quality defenseman, especially since they traded away their top backliner, Ivan Provorov. That’s where the No. 22 pick might come in handy.
Michkov is likely to be off the board by then. He carries some intrigue because he hails from Russia. There are other Russian defensemen who have a decent amount of talent.
“We’re like every other team as far as the Russian players,” Flahr said. “Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to be there personally (because of the Russia-Ukraine war). It is a strong year in Russia. We will have to make decisions.”
The Flyers do have a Russian scout who was allowed to watch games live.
>Hayes still in limbo?
Although veteran Kevin Hayes was voted to the NHL All-Star Game last year, he wound up in coach John Tortorella’s doghouse, got moved off center, was benched at times and wound up the subject of trade rumors.
Hayes does have a no-movement clause with 12 teams but that’s not believed to be iron-clad.
Briere doesn’t sound like he’s ready to give up on Hayes just yet.
“Nothing has really changed on that (status),” Briere said. “We still value Kevin. We still think he can help. It’s tough to tell at this point. Big 6-foot-5 centermen are not easy to find. It’s not like free agency is really deep there with centermen.
“To replace him would be tough as well. Right now my stance hasn’t changed.”