Drafting has been one of the Flyers’ strong suits over the years. In the last five drafts, the team has had some hit & miss picks, so I decided to team up with Alexander Appleyard from The Athletic to revisit these picks. We will discuss if they were the right choice at the time and if those picks still hold up in 2020.
2015 Draft: Ivan Provorov (7th overall)
Brandon: The 2015 draft class could go down in history as one of the best ever, accompanied by the 2003 draft that produced a high amount of elite NHL talent. The Flyers were fortunate enough to have the 7th overall pick and with it, they selected Ivan Provorov. At the time I was hoping they would take him, Zach Werenski or Mikko Rantanen, so I was delighted when all three were available.
Since entering the league in 2016-17, Provorov leads Flyers defensemen in goals, even strength goals, even strength points, even strength time on ice, game winning goals, penalty kill time on ice, takeaways & blocked shots. His role on the team is pretty evident at this point, but there are still some little things he will need to round out before becoming one of the elite defensemen around the league.
Rantanen is without a doubt a high end player, but the Flyers had enough punch up front that they didn’t desperately need to draft a winger, although it still would have helped out tremendously. I think looking back on it now, the Flyers would be in trouble if they didn’t have Provorov back there. Werenski would have been a solid pick as well, as he has proven to be able to find the back of the net and can also face off against tougher competition. But in terms of overall play, I think Provorov is a tad better defensively and will eventually be the more complete player of the two.
Alex: When the Flyers took Ivan Provorov seventh overall in the 2015 NHL draft it was hoped that the young Russian blue-liner could be a corner-piece for the franchise for years to come. It is not even five years since Ron Hextall stepped onto the stage in Sunrise, Florida to announce the pick and that has already come to fruition. Provorov has been the Flyers number one defenceman since he made the team out of camp at 19 years old in 2016-17. One season later and he led all NHL defencemen in goals – with 17 – while facing some of the toughest match-ups in the league. It has not all been smooth sailing, Provorov struggled in the 2018-19 season for example, but at just 23 years old the Yaroslavl native an adopted Pennsylvanian is already a legitimate first pairing defenceman, and the envy of many teams around the league. He will only get better going forward, and is already one of the best in the league at getting to the danger areas in the offensive zone, as well as defending his own blue-line.
I would argue that the only “clearly” more valuable players taken behind Provorov in the entire 2015 draft were Thomas Chabot (#18) and Sebastian Aho (#35). A fantastic pick and a player already cementing himself as one of the better Flyers defencemen in franchise history.
2015 Draft: Travis Konecny (24th overall)
Alex: The intense yet undersized winger was one of my favourite players in the 2015 draft, and at the time it was shocking to me that he fell past even pick 15. An electric skill-set was always there, and were it not for his size the Flyers would have had no chance to get him. As it was when he started to fall Hextall and his staff saw an opportunity to get one of the most talented players in a stacked draft, and moved up from pick 29 to 24 to snatch Konecny up. It was a shrewd move, and since making his Flyers debut Konecny has not only became a fan favourite in Philly, but also one of the best 5v5 scorers in the entire NHL. Yes, in his rookie season as a 19-year-old Konecny struggled at times, and overall played like a decent third liner. But since then he has put up three 24 goal seasons in a row, and in 2019-20 had erupted – with the help of more power-play time – into a bona fide first line player who was pacing for 76 points before the season was interrupted. Konecny looks like a Flyers fixture for years to come, and is the most talented winger the Flyers have drafted since van Riemsdyk in 2007.
The only player taken after Konecny in the 2015 draft who has more value to his team in the present day is Finnish pivot Sebastian Aho. The 2015 first round was something special for the Flyers, and Konecny was the cherry on top after also acquiring Provorov earlier in the round.
Brandon: When people will look back at this draft, they will see that Sebastian Aho, Anthony Cirelli and Travis Konecny were absolute steals. Most experts had him pegged between 10th and 15th overall, so you can imagine the delight for some teams when he slipped down to the mid 20’s. In my opinion, it wasn’t crazy to see why he dropped. He was considered undersized and had concussion problems in the past, some red flags for most general managers. Ron Hextall instead got on the phone and dealt a pair of picks to move up and acquire Konecny, a phenomenal trade when you look at back it.
”TK” is now one game away from 300 and has four seasons under his belt, including his first 60+ point campaign that is still ongoing and three consecutive 24 goal seasons. The speed, skill and energy his brings to the ice are among the things that now make him a favourite for the Orange & Black.
The pair of picks that were dealt were turned into Travis Dermott and Jeremy Bracco. Dermott has established himself as a regular in the Leafs lineup, whereas Bracco has yet to play a single NHL game.
I would say that Aho is the only better player in the draft selected after Konecny at #35.
2016 Draft: German Rubtsov (22nd overall)
Brandon: If I am being totally honest, I was on the Sam Steel bandwagon when the 2016 draft rolled around, but the Rubtsov pick did make sense, as he was projected fairly high. After seemingly never touching the ice in the KHL in his Draft+1 year, he came over to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the QMJHL and demonstrated the offensive upside that makes him a threat in the offensive zone.
Unfortunately, that was one of the few instances where he showcased that talent. Rubtsov had a solid start to his AHL career, notching six goals and four assists in 14 games, but his season was cut short due to injury. One positive thing going for Rubtsov is his strong two-way play. He will likely be a staple on the penalty kill down the road, he just needs to prove he can hang with NHL caliber players. I have no doubt that he’ll be a regular NHLer one day, but I think he will be limited to bottom-six minutes and PK duties primarily.
Looking back at the draft, it was an interesting one. A lot of high end players in the first half of the first round, but a significant drop in the bottom half. I would even argue that the 2nd round has more NHL talent than the second half of the first. After Rubtsov was selected, there were a lot of quality players that fell, like Sam Steel, Alex DeBrincat, Jordan Kyrou, Samuel Girard, Carter Hart (heard of him?), Dillon Dube and others.
Alex: In the 2016 draft the two-way Russian forward was a faller in the first round. Expected to go between picks 10-15 the Flyers scooped him up at 22nd. Since then it has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. A fantastic introduction to North American hockey in 2016-17 for Chicoutimi Sagueneens was followed by a disappointing 2017-18 season where Rubtsov showed very little of the offensive talent he possesses – aside from a solid WJC and flashes here and there.
Making his AHL debut in 2018-19 he looked like one of the best Phantoms through 14 games, before being ruled out for a year with a shoulder injury. Then in 2019-20 he started strong, was afforded his NHL debut, and then was disappointing once back in the AHL. Rubtsov will be an NHL player. He is already ahead of his years defensively and a good penalty killer. The real question is will he be able to unlock the offensive talent that he has within and be able to be more than just a bottom six NHL forward in the future? 2020-21 will be a big year for the Russian centre-come-winger. He will turn 22 this summer, and next year should really be knocking on the door of being a full-time NHL player. While disappointing since his draft, there are some reasons for optimism going forward, and we can only hope he puts it all together.
The top 16 of the 2016 draft is looking pretty strong four years later. But from that point onwards Alex DeBrincat (#37), Samuel Girard (#47), Adam Fox (#66) and the Flyers own Carter Hart (#48) are the only players who look “high-end” right now. If Rubtsov can become a solid third liner the pick will look fine down the line.
2017 Draft: Nolan Patrick (2nd overall)
Alex: When the Flyers won the lottery there were celebrations amongst the team fan-base not seen since they reached the Cup Final in 2010. Nolan Patrick was the “no-brainer” pick once Nico Hischier went first overall. People expecting an immediate saviour were always going to be disappointed, the 2017 draft had no obvious Matthews, McDavid or Eichel like the two years before… but since then there is an understandable apathy towards Patrick from the Flyers fanbase. In both his teenage seasons he showed his talent, playing like a second liner in the back-half of each, however, that was in contrast to his first halves, where he was at fourth line level. He has shown a great skill-set over that time, outproducing Simmonds as a rookie when afforded his PP1 spot, and scoring at low-end 2nd line level at 5v5 overall with good defence, but has been very inconsistent. However, his offensive output as a teenager was better than Couturier at the same age, and we all know what Couturier has grown into. The re-emergence of serious migraine issues that Patrick had not suffered from since he was around 14 years old wiped off his entire 2019-20 campaign, and has caused serious concern for his potential and career overall. Patrick is close to playing again, and when he does surely has a floor that will result in him being a solid 2C at worst down the line, with 70 point upside still there.
In hindsight the three players taken immediately after Patrick are looking like being the three best players in the draft in Elias Pettersson (#5), Cale Makar (#4) and Miro Heiskanen (#3). However, aside from them it seems plausible Patrick still has a good chance to be a top five player from his draft, he just needs to get healthy and prove it going forward.
Brandon: This was a spicy draft, and I will start off by saying this: Nolan Patrick was the obvious 2nd overall pick at the time. When you look at it now, players like Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar and Elias Pettersson have clearly had bigger impacts on their team, but Patrick was not a prospect who was going to blow the hinges off and have a 70 point rookie season. He was recovering from injuries, but still produced at a fine pace and earned some time on the power play in his first season. Production isn’t the biggest issue, because we’ve seen Sean Couturier be a 30-40 point player for six years before emerging as an elite player.
Like Alex said, a big problem has been consistency. Patrick has the ability to really ”Wow” fans with his soft hands and quick shot, but there are also games where he doesn’t appear to be involved at all. I think this will come over time, and he will be a spectacular player for the team, but he first needs to get back to 100%. When he does, he will need to prove why he was the 2nd overall pick, and the Flyers will need him to be a key piece in the future if they want to remain competitive.
As stated earlier, it’s fair to say that the three picks following Patrick have been better, but time will tell where he really ranks in that draft.
2017 Draft: Morgan Frost (27th overall)
Brandon: In the next years, my hope is to be able to look back at this draft and say ”Morgan Frost was an absolute steal”. It’s shaping up that way, but it is way too early to have anything set in stone. There was an outrage when the Flyers passed on the pure shooter Eeli Tolvanen to grab Frost (who was considered a reach), but after a few years, it looks like Hextall may have made the right call.
Frost only has 20 NHL games to his name, however, his junior resume was very impressive, notching back-to-back 100+ point seasons and representing Canada at the World Juniors. In his first season as a pro (so far), he has proven to be able to play at an NHL pace, but as a center, he is often mismatched and as result, loses key battles. During his NHL stint, he looked great on a line with Giroux and Konecny. He has incredible vision and a surprisingly quick snapshot. Down the road, even if he doesn’t establish himself as a dominant 5v5 player, he is going to do some damage on the power play and I can see a lot of his future teammates thanking him for tap-in goals.
He may not have been the best pick at the time, but he’s kept some critics quiet and at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a better pick after him.
Alex: With major faller Eeli Tolvanen still on the board at #27 when the Flyers came to their second pick of the 2017 first round there was some disappointment when Hextall announced speedy centre Morgan Frost with the pick. Frost was a consensus second rounder at the time, and some believed the Flyers reached to get him. In the three years since the 2017 draft Frost has put all of those concerns to bed. Two fantastic seasons in the OHL, where he put himself in contention for being the best forward in the entire CHL, whetted Flyers fans appetite, and his debut pro season – while not without its bumps – showed just how talented the pivot from the Toronto suburbs is.
Frost was the Phantoms best player over the season, and in his 20 game NHL stint produced at second line level per minute at 5v5, while giving a glimpse of his speed, smarts and passing ability at the highest level. Yes, his defensive game needs work for him to excel at the highest level, but he has always been a strong two-way forward at lower levels, and with added strength and maturity it will come. Frost should be a top nine forward full-time next season, and given his skill-set likely has 70 point upside down the line.
Aside from fellow draft faller Maxime Comtois (#50) there has really not been a player taken lower than Frost who has shown themselves to have serious high-end upside since draft day. The Flyers have had great historic success with late first round picks, and Frost looks to be the next in line to add to that rich history.
2018 Draft: Joel Farabee (14th overall)
Alex: Going into the draft Farabee looked like a top ten pick. A top ten pick with Philly roots and who is a massive Eagles fan. It seemed like the draft would have to fall perfectly for the Flyers to have a shot at the prolific winger. The gods of fate smiled kindly on the franchise that day, and at #14 overall the team got undoubtedly one of the ten most talented players in the draft. The Cicero, New York, native went about proving wrong the teams who passed on him in 2018-19. In his only NCAA season, he put up 36 points in 37 games, was one of the most dangerous short-handed threats in college hockey, and showed his talent on the big stage at the WJC as well.
Then after turning pro he surprised many by being the last cut at camp, looking too good for the AHL in a five-game stint, and in turn got a chance to show his wares in the NHL, and never looked back. Now, the season was not at all “easy” for Farabee. He suffered an awful stretch of luck where it seemed he either hit iron, or had every goal he scored disallowed, and also had periods where he looked slightly out of his depth at the highest level. However, over the season he applied himself well, and played at a solid third line level – not dissimilar to Travis Konecny as a rookie. Farabee has obvious first line upside, and given his skill-set has the chance to be the Flyers best two-way winger since Simon Gagne.
Right now there is not a single player taken after Farabee in the 2018 draft looking like they have a good chance to be better than he is. It was an obvious pick at the time, but a great one.
Brandon: If there is one thing you should never doubt about Joel Farabee, it’s his commitment level. When the Flyers landed him at #14, I was quite surprised. Farabee was arguably one of the most talented wingers in the draft. Most experts had him pegged around 10, 11 or 12, so it’s not like he dropped significantly, but it was still odd.
After being drafted, Farabee lit up the NCAA, winning Rookie of the Year honors, then focused his energy on making the NHL as a 19-year-old. He played his way onto the team after being the last cut from camp and returned to the Phantoms. The AHL proved to be a little too easy for him and after a handful of games, he was called up. The rest is history.
Like any rookie, Farabee had his ups and downs during the season. On most nights, he appeared to be a solid NHL player, but sometimes he was a little lost, which is normal when you look at the speed of the game and the level at which it is played. He bounced from line to line, getting some time on the first power play unit, then the second and doing a fairly decent job. On most nights, he was getting scoring chances or setting teammates up, but a lot of bad puck luck undermined what he did. He only saw 14 minutes on the PK, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to imagine him being a regular on the first PK unit and causing some havoc in a few years.
I don’t think there was a better pick at #14 than Joel Farabee.
2018 Draft: Jay O’Brien (19th overall)
Brandon: I think most people, including myself, considered O’Brien a reach at #19. The definition of ”high risk, high reward”. O’Brien’s path as a prospect is currently a confusing and disappointing one in my opinion. Not that it’s all his fault, he struggled with injuries in his first NCAA season with Providence and never really adapted to the leap between high school and college hockey. He then chose to go to the BCHL, where he put up solid numbers (66 points in 44 games), but nothing mesmerizing. For comparison, here are some former BCHL players: Tyson Jost (104 pts in 48 games), Alex Newhook (102 pts in 53 games) and Dante Fabbro (67 points in 44 games).
Hopefully O’Brien’s game takes a step forward in 2020-21 with Boston University, because he does have high end skill and good speed, traits that really dazzle in today’s NHL. Perhaps a big season could put him back on track as a prospect? Even if he doesn’t reach the NHL, at the time of the 2018 draft, the Flyers had enough forward prospect depth to afford a risky pick like this one.
If we look past O’Brien at #19, there were some solid candidates I was hoping the Flyers would land. K’Andre Miller, Joe Veleno, Rasmus Kupari and Rasmus Sandin are some that come to mind and would have been better selections at the moment.
Alex: With their second pick in the 2018 first round the Flyers elected to select a relatively unknown forward out of US High School hockey. While O’Brien had some buzz due to his fantastic skill-set and his flashes of ability in a seven-game stint with the U.S. National Development Programme U-18 team, he was generally seen as a second-round talent, and a bit of a reach at nineteen overall. Since being drafted he has done nothing to allay any concerns. His draft+1 season for Providence was arguably the worst this century for a first-round pick in the NCAA, and resulted in him leaving for the BCHL in 2019-20 so that he could still play meaningful hockey before transferring to Boston University in 2020-21.
O’Brien was solid if unexceptional in the BCHL, producing around 1.43 P/GP, yet while points are not everything the majority of players who went on to be top six NHLers produced at 1.75+ at a younger age. But don’t give up on O’Brien just yet. His skill-set it not in question, with great skating complimented by good hands, a nice cycle game and a solid shot. Next year will be the real measure of him, and it would be no surprise if down the line O’Brien develops into a solid middle-sixer.
More “conventional” picks taken after him such as Rasmus Kupari (#20), K’Andre Miller (#22), Isac Lundeström (#23) and Rasmus Sandin (#29) are looking like better selections with more upside right now. But it will not be the end of the world if O’Brien does not pan out given the Flyers depth up front.
2019 Draft: Cam York (14th overall)
Alex: With a cupboard of prospects fit to burst the Flyers went with a defenceman at the top of the 2019 draft. While many fans were calling for the diminutive but talented Cole Caufield at #14 overall the Flyers took his national team team-mate Cam York. Since then York has gone a long way to proving to everyone that he was a good pick at that point in the draft. Despite suffering a high ankle sprain in his first game of the season, and a shoulder injury late in 2019, the Californian puck-mover had a great year in the NCAA on a Michigan team that lacked real firepower. It is no exaggeration to say that he was the team’s best player, and the best 18-year-old defenceman in the entire NCAA. His World Juniors was damaged by injury, as he was used just as a power-play quarter-back and extra defenceman, but anyone who watched him at the college level knows that the Flyers have a great blue-line prospect in York. It is easy to see the potential he has to be a fantastic second pairing defenseman or even a good, two-way #2. His game is already extremely well-polished with no holes. Look for him to compete for a spot on the Flyers as soon as 2021-22.
Each of the three players taken immediately after York – Cole Caufield (#15), Alex Newhook (#16) and Peyton Krebs (#17) – had good draft+1 years as well. But of all defencemen drafted in 2019 York has a good claim to having the best season of all.
Brandon: I was one of the people who wanted Cole Caufield to be the pick when he fell to #14, but once I reflected on it, it did make sense to choose a defenseman. The Flyers had Provorov, Gostisbehere, Sanheim, Myers and Hagg in the NHL, who was left? With this selection, the Flyers just restocked the system with a potential elite puck-moving defenseman who could end up being the go-to guy on the power play in the near future.
York has great vision, hands and elite skating. These are the characteristics that make a solid puck-mover and it’s why I think York will eventually make it to the NHL. He had a great campaign at the University of Michigan, putting up 16 points in 30 games. He was also rewarded with a trip to the World Juniors, although he usage was very questionable. It will be interesting to see how York progresses through the system. Will he, like Farabee, make some noise at camp next year? We’ll find out soon enough.
I personally was a big fan of Caufield, Krebs and Newhook, each selected immediately after York. It’s still too early to tell if this pick will pan out versus the ones I previously mentioned, but I like York’s upside and his style is very well suited for the NHL today.
The last five drafts have been fruitful for the Flyers in general. Many players are on the current roster now and making an impact. Will the future wave of prospects be as good and will the Flyers have the same type of success in the later portions of the rounds? This remains to be seen.