There’s a lot to dive into here. Free agency starts in a couple of days, but both the Expansion Draft and Entry Draft happened the last couple of days. We’ll start with the who Vegas took from the Flyers and move on to who Philly added.
I wrote that Michael Raffl or Michal Neuvirth would be the two most likely candidates Vegas would take from the Flyers lineup. So I was a little surprise when they actually chose Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare.
Bellemare was a fourth-line player that saw most of his minutes on the penalty kill. He was a guy that broke into the league as a 29-year-old, worked his tail off and his one of only a handful of French-born players to play in the NHL. You have to give him credit for the path he took and the hard work he put in. But losing him to the Golden Knights is far from detrimental to the team.
Bellemare earned the “A” when Mark Streit was traded at the deadline. Leadership is an important quality and is always needed and welcome in a locker room, probably part of the reason Bellemare was taken by Vegas. But outside of his leadership, Bellemare’s skills are replaceable. As I mentioned, he played mostly shorthanded, a job many in the league handle just as well. He only managed four goals and eight points in a full 82-game slate. He won just 48.3 percent of faceoffs and added 70 blocked shots.
But none of that makes him an asset that Hextall and company are weeping about losing. I wish Bellemare luck in Vegas, he’s a heck of a guy to root for, just not one you need on your team above all else.
We’ll do this pick by pick. So first, with the second overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Level Draft….
Round 1, Pick 2
Honestly, a part of me wanted Nico Hischier. The Flyers need offensive skill and they need it in the worst way. But the Devils took Hischier which left Patrick. That sounds like Patrick wasn’t worth taking when I say it like that, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Patrick had 46 points in just 33 games this past season with the Brandon Wheat Kings (Hextall’s team when he played in the juniors) but was supposed to be the number one pick since last season. Injuries hampered his undoubted first selection and let him slip just that single spot to the Flyers. He’s a center that plays both sides of the puck, a dream for Hextall and much needed to ease some of the defensive responsibilities off of Sean Couturier. My biggest fear is his offensive side suffers the way Couturier’s did. But even still, he’s expected to be one hell of a player and I’m excited to see him in Orange and Black.
Round 1, Pick 27
In a bit of a surprising move, the Flyers moved back into the first round Friday to take Morgan Frost. To gain the pick, the Flyers traded away Brayden Schenn, whom the Flyers gained six years ago when they traded Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings. The Flyers also added Jori Lehtera and another conditional first round pick next year in the trade.
Before we get to Frost, I’m a fan of the trade. Schenn has grown a lot with the Flyers, but his biggest knock was his effectiveness even strength. He finished last season with 25 goals and 55 points. But 17 of those goals came on the power play as well as 28 points. Schenn is a decent player, but when he was touted as the best player not in the NHL when the Flyers acquired him, I expected more. That’s not his fault, but he’s been good, not great, and gaining two first round picks and a player for him is a hell of a trade.
The Flyers traded back into the first round and Eeli Tolvanen was still on the board. He’s a Finnish winger, one I wanted badly, the Hextall passed on him for a second center, Frost. He played for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL, finishing with 62 points in 67 games. One of the things I heard about him was he has speed, which means I like the pick. The Flyers lack a player with breakaway speed and the game today is faster. He will likely need more time before jumping up with the big club, but if his talents continue to grow, it will be a fine selection (though I still want Tolvanen).
Round 2, Pick 35
Another trade, this time with Arizona to move up. They gave up three picks to move up nine slots to take Ratcliffe and the first thing you notice about him is his size. At six-foot-six, he’s an intimidating force and on the wing, that could prove useful. He needs to fill out more, still, which is the case with most young players, but if he can add a little muscle and refine his skills, look out.
Round 3, Pick 80
First off, that’s a hell of a hockey name. The Flyers have some goalie prospects in their ranks, but it never hurts to have more. Ustimenko played in the MHL for MHK Dynamo St. Petersburg last year, posting a 1.74 GAA and .938 save percentage in 27 games. Draft site calls hims a “terrific athlete” and a “sleeper pick if there ever was one.” He’s got his work cut out for him if he wants to move up the depth chart, but his numbers show he’s got a lot going for him.
Matthew Strome and Maksim Sushko
Round 4, Pick 106 and 107
Strome has two older brothers, both top five picks in their respective drafts. Matthew lasted all the way until the fourth round. He’s not supposed to be the strongest skater and is much more physical than his brothers.
He’s still a prospect, a lot can go right and a lot can go wrong. But it’s not a bad choice.
Sushko was the second Belarusian the Flyers drafted this year. He’s supposed to have great hands and quick moves. Late picks aren’t often known, but can make a name for themselves. Sushko is the type of guy you expect to succeed down the road. In his first season of North American hockey, he racked up 32 regular season points, adding another 11 in 17 playoff games. He’s seen as a versatile player and you can never have enough of them.
Round 5, Pick 137
Another winger, I’m happy. Cates is committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, a fantastic collegiate hockey program, where he should grow. He’s six-foot-one and just 170 pounds, so he needs to add a little weight and if he does, he could be on his way up. It’s the fifth round, it’s tougher to judge the caliber of these players and they typically need more time, but Cates has clear talent, he just needs to see some stiffer competition.
Round 6, Pick 168
A little undersized at 5’10” and 163 pounds, the Swedish center is said to be skilled and competitive. There’s not a huge amount of info on him, but we do know he split between Linköping’s J18 and J20 teams. He’ll definitely need time to develop, but if his competitiveness is anything as reported, he should be fine.
Round 7, Pick 196
The final choice of the Flyers this year and the only defenseman they took. Described as a puck-moving defenseman, he’s going to Wisconsin next year. He finished with just 31 points in 60 USHL games last season, but as a defenseman, that’s not too shabby. Good size at 6’1″ and 174 pounds. Adding some muscle onto his frame should help him as he tries to make his way up.