Bobby Clarke: The big draft risk that paid off

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Bobby Clarke: The big draft risk that paid off

To Ed Snider, one draft will stand apart from the rest.

It wasn't 1970, when the Flyers selected Bill Clement and Bob Kelly. It wasn't '72 either, when they picked Bill Barber, Tom Bladon and Jimmy Watson. Nor was it 1982, when the Flyers added Ron Sutter, Ron Hextall and Dave Brown.

1990 brought with it a talent-rich draft, which saw the Flyers pluck Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, Mikael Renberg, Chris Therien, and Tommy Soderstrom.

“Yeah, but we passed up on one guy and he’s still playing,” Snider said.

That would be Jaromir Jagr, who was selected fifth overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins -- right after the Flyers chose Ricci with No. 4. Back then, the Flyers had little faith in whether a Czech player would come to North America. Losing out on Jagr still burns.

In Snider’s mind, the draft that stands out is 1969, when the Flyers did what no other club was willing to do: take a chance on Bob Clarke.

There had already been two previous amateur drafts for the expansion clubs.

“I wasn’t even there in Montreal in 1967 when we got [Serge] Bernier,” Snider said. “The ’67 draft was meaningless. The 1968 draft was meaningless. The Original Six teams kept so many things to themselves, it wasn’t a universal draft. We were picking up scraps.

“The first universal NHL draft was 1969. That’s when we got Bob Clarke. I was at the draft, and I became the reason why we drafted him.”

The late Jerry Melnyk was the Flyers’ scout who discovered Clarke playing in Flin Flon, Manitoba. He was the one credited with bringing Clarke to the Flyers' attention, but it took Snider’s intervention at the draft table on June 11 in Montreal to make it happen.

“In those days, the original teams didn’t have a full-time western scout,” Snider said. “Don’t ask me why. Yet we did have one in Melnyk and the only reason we did was because Melnyk had a heart attack at training camp and when he recovered we made him a scout in the west.”

Melnyk lived in Edmonton. He not only scouted Clarke, but did his homework on finding out how Clarke’s diabetes would affect him if he had to endure the rigors of travel playing close to 80 games a season.

“Jerry had gone to the trouble to go to Clarke’s doctors to find out if he could play professionally even though he was a diabetic,” Snider said. “No one else did that. Everybody was afraid of him because he was a diabetic.”

The 1969 draft at the Queen Elizabeth hotel represented Snider’s first in-person appearance at a draft.

“This was my first draft experience … I didn’t know anything about anything,” Snider said. “Bud Poile was the GM and had a friend who recommended we draft Bob Currier, who no one really knew anything about.”

The Flyers chose Currier with the sixth pick.

“Everybody’s eyebrows went up at the table,” Snider said. “Everybody was going crazy. No one said anything. But I saw the atmosphere. No one could believe we took Currier. Jerry Melnyk looked like he was going to have another heart attack.”

Snider turned to his coach and future GM, Keith Allen, and whispered, 'Jerry looks like he is going nuts. Go talk to him and find out what this is all about.’”

Allen came back minutes later and told Snider that Melnyk felt strongly about a kid from Flin Flon named Bobby Clarke.

“Keith said to me, ‘Jerry thinks this kid will step in and be our best player,’” Snider said. “And we took Currier. I said, ‘Tell Bud about this and then I want you to check out this kid with your own sources.’”

Allen had played in the Western Hockey League years earlier and had good scouting sources scattered about Canada. Allen told Snider his sources said Clarke was “sensational,” but teams were leery of his illness.

“I told Keith, ‘Tell Poile to take him in the second round if he’s still available,’” Snider said.

That produced an argument at the draft table because Poile had already taken a center in Currier and didn’t want another centerman.

“Finally, I had to say, ‘You will pick Bob Clarke,'” Snider said. “I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t know anything, I was still a novice. Poile didn’t like me from that day on, but it worked out.”

Clarke, long since retired as the organization’s senior vice president, would become the greatest Flyer ever and deliver two Stanley Cups.

He still holds the club’s all-time marks in assists (852), points (1,210), games played (1,144) as well as shorthanded goals (32).

Not a rebuild: Flyers getting younger but how much of an impact will young players have?

Not a rebuild: Flyers getting younger but how much of an impact will young players have?

CHICAGO – Perhaps the Flyers' most perplexing takeaway from this weekend's NHL draft is what's going to happen to this roster next fall on the wing.

To that end, who exactly is going to make up for the 25 goals Brayden Schenn delivered last season?

Think 29-year-old Jori Lehtera is capable of that? The Finnish swing forward has never scored more than 14 goals in the NHL and never hit 20 in Europe, either.
 
Maybe if Flyers first-round pick Nolan Patrick makes the roster — scouts say he’s in — and maybe Swedish newcomer Oskar Lindblom can handle that chore (see Future Flyers Report). Maybe Travis Konecny quickly blossoms from 11 goals his rookie year to 20 this year.
 
Yet the potential loss of unrestricted free agent Jordan Weal, who remains unsigned and seems like a perfect fit for the direction the Flyers are headed, puts a damper on things.
 
Yes, the Flyers still got two first-rounders for Schenn, but those picks will not have an impact until several years down the line.
 
And it leaves this notion: Ron Hextall’s Flyers are caught between progressing toward the future at a deliberate pace slower than fans want while in a retool — if not a rebuild for 2017-18.
 
“Are we getting younger? Yes,” the team’s general manager said. “Rebuild? Absolutely not. We have young players and at some point here, we have to open up an opportunity for them to play.
 
“Unlike what people think of our philosophy, we do not want to hold players back. When they are ready to take that next step, we want to allow them to take that next step. In saying that, we feel we have young players, and if they are not ready, they are close.”
 
Hextall made no pretense the trade of Schenn to St. Louis for Lehtera and two first-rounds picks, one of which the Flyers used to take Morgan Frost, was something he wanted. He also said the Blues wanted to lose Lehtera’s $4.7 million cap hit the next two years.
 
That’s fewer dollars and term than what Schenn commanded ($5.125 million over the next three years). Hextall also acknowledged Lehtera needs to pick up his skating, which has declined and was partly responsible for a terrible 2016-17 season (22 points in 64 games).
 
He was even benched last season in St. Louis.
 
“Do we like the player? Yes,” Hextall said. “He’s a good player. We like his head, his hands. We like his two-way game. In saying that, he didn’t have a great year last year and he’s got to get himself in tip-top shape in training camp.”
 
Lehtera has a skating coach this summer for the first time in his career, so he’s taken notice of his shortcomings.
 
Hextall said Friday — and coach Dave Hakstol reiterated Saturday — there’s a good chance Lehtera will be moved to the wing (see story). There are simply too many centers on the Flyers’ projected roster right now.
 
His larger concern is where guys fit.
 
“Lehtera and … whether it is TK (Konecny) or whoever else is in there, we do the math, we’re going to get more production from them,” Hextall said. “The lines we get a lot more familiarity. We’ll see what happens with Jordan (Weal). So to sit and say we’re done, I don’t think we’re done.”
 
The Weal negotiations seem at a standstill with agent J.P. Barry. Free agency begins this coming Saturday.
 
“We’d like to sign him; I’m not sure how much clearer we can be,” Hextall said. “He’s a free agent. I can’t grab him by the throat and say, ‘Jordan let’s go’ and come back to Philadelphia.
 
“We believe we have a couple guys down below who can play. So if Jordan chooses to go somewhere else, we’ll figure it out.”

Future Flyers Report: 10 thoughts on the 2017 NHL draft

Future Flyers Report: 10 thoughts on the 2017 NHL draft

This weekend did not disappoint from both a Flyers and entertainment perspective.
 
The Flyers entered the weekend with the No. 2 overall pick, seven draft picks in the first four rounds and 11 picks overall. That was before another June 23 blockbuster happened.
 
They left Chicago with more hope and intrigue going forward. There is plenty to talk about so let’s dig in with 10 observations on the Flyers and the 2017 NHL draft.
 
1. Let’s dive right into the Brayden Schenn trade because I think it has implications for what we may see for the rest of the summer and offers some insight into the No. 2 pick.
 
The Flyers traded Schenn to the Blues for the 27th pick (Morgan Frost), center Jori Lehtera and a top-10 protected conditional 2018-first round pick. So, it’s essentially Lehtera and two first-rounders for Schenn with the possibility of adding a third-rounder too.
 
Does losing Schenn hurt? Yes. He’s a 20-goal scorer and was a staple on the power play. His 17 power-play markers were tied for the NHL lead. His 25 goals were second on the Flyers.
 
But Schenn had his shortcomings here too. Most of his goals come on the man advantage. The team would have benefitted more if he added 5-on-5 scoring as well. There’s also the positional fit. He never really found a consistent position and that bled into last year too.

He wasn’t exactly untouchable and I would guess trading him became a realistic option when the Flyers landed the No. 2 pick in the draft lottery.
 
It’s hard to look at the value and be disappointed. In fact, I never would have guessed Schenn would net the Flyers two first-round picks and a player. It’s an excellent return.
 
2. One of the first thoughts that came into my mind when the Schenn trade came across was how did the No. 2 pick factor into moving Schenn? Do they trade Schenn without it?
 
We’ll never know the answer but trading Schenn isn’t a decision made on a whim. This has to be something they were thinking about for a bit. Montreal was reportedly interested too.
 
Hextall said he wasn’t shopping Schenn but I find that hard to believe. This seems like a decision that was talked about potentially happening. Perhaps the Flyers weren’t looking to unload Schenn, but that conversation had to have happened prior to draft night.
 
What I think it suggests is Hextall believes Nolan Patrick is NHL ready (see Flyers' youth movement). I also would theorize he believed Nico Hischier was ready too, and therefore the groundwork for trading Schenn was laid.
 
I thought Patrick was already going to be here before they moved Schenn, but now, I just can’t imagine a scenario without injury where Patrick isn’t on the Flyers on Oct. 4.
 
3. Now let’s finally talk about Patrick, who became just the second player drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in franchise history. (James van Riemsdyk in 2007 was the other.)
 
It would have been really difficult for Hextall to mess this up. It was a no-brainer. Devils GM Ray Shero opted for Hischier at No. 1, leaving Patrick for the Flyers. Hextall didn’t overthink it.
 
We’ll talk plenty about Patrick but Hextall did the right thing. That deserves acknowledging. He didn’t trade the pick and wasn’t scared off by Patrick’s injury history.
 
Patrick is a Flyer and now the question turns to whether he’ll break camp with the team. He won’t be handed a spot but will have to earn it and he will. That seems to be the consensus.
 
Sure, we can look at how Hextall has handled prospects in years past but Patrick’s a different breed. As long as he stays healthy, he will wear orange and black in 2017-18.
 
4. The focus now turns to where does Patrick fit into the lineup? He’s a big, two-way natural center who would be a natural fit on the third line as a 19-year-old to start out.
 
With Lehtera and Patrick in the mix, the Flyers will have seven centers at training camp: Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Mike Vecchione and Scott Laughton.
 
On Friday, Hextall said, “Someone has to play wing.” Filppula, Lehtera and Laughton can all play the wing — and there’s no guarantee Laughton will be on the team. I’d guess not.
 
It’s way too early to draw up potential lines but I think we’ll see some variation of Giroux-Couturier-Patrick-Vecchione/Lehtera as the centers with Filppula shifting to wing.
 
Factor winger Oskar Lindblom into the equation and suddenly, the Flyers’ forward group has a lot of intrigue to it. It’ll be one of the most interesting storylines in training camp.
 
5. I did not foresee Morgan Frost being the player the Flyers were going to draft with the 27th pick from St. Louis, especially with Eeli Tolvanen and Klim Kostin available.
 
Frost, a 5-foot-11 center who also plays wing, was a projected second-rounder but the Flyers “really liked the guy,” according to Hextall, and there’s one area they liked in particular: his hockey IQ.
 
“He’s an extremely intelligent player — his No. 1 asset,” Hextall said. “We believe he is a kid with a lot of upside. Good speed, but he dissects the game better than most players.”
 
We won’t see Frost in a Flyers uniform for a few years but he’s the fourth forward drafted in the last three first rounds and sixth forward in the first two rounds of the last two drafts.
 
Don’t look now but the forward future looks dramatically brighter than it did previously.

6. By many accounts, it appears Frost has been trending up in his draft year. Sound familiar? In Hextall’s first draft as GM, he took Travis Sanheim at No. 17. Sanheim also wasn’t projected to go as high as he did but has turned into one of the Flyers’ top prospects. Time will tell if they identified another riser in Frost, who is the second forward Hextall has traded back into the first round to select in the last three drafts (Travis Konecny).
 
7. Hextall isn’t one to trade draft picks but he’s shown he’ll pull the trigger to move up for a player he really likes and he did so again Saturday to draft Guelph LW Isaac Ratcliffe. The Flyers traded pick Nos. 44, 75 and 108 for the 35th pick. That’s a lot of value to move up nine spots in the second round, but Ratcliffe was projected by many to be a first-round talent. Trading up for Ratcliffe says the Flyers are confident his raw skill will develop (see story).
 
Ratcliffe isn’t the best skater but that can be improved. He’s a huge body at 6-foot-6 and has a good shot. There’s plenty to like but there’s also a reason he fell into the second.
 
8. Matthew Strome is a great value pick in the fourth round. He’s smart, he’s big, he can score, has a lot of tools, but watching him skate is painful. As a buddy of mine said, “It's like trying to watch Pat Burrell run the bases.” If he can learn to skate, this could be a home run.
 
9. There was a lot of chatter about Vegas trying to move up into the top three Friday, but it made the right move. Trading assets — which for Vegas right now is draft picks — to move up for one player didn’t yell genius to me. Instead, Vegas stayed put and comes away with centers Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki and defenseman Erik Brannstrom in the first round. It’s a good start.
 
10. The Flyers didn’t get a veteran goalie at the draft. That’s OK. If they really believe Michal Neuvirth is their starter for next season, it makes no sense to give up assets to sign a backup goalie. Wait until July 1 and sign a free agent. Simple as that. Hey, Steve Mason is still out there.

Loose pucks

From the L.A. Times: Jaret Anderson-Dolan is one of the best stories of the draft. The Kings' second-round pick was raised by two moms and once had WHL teams tell him they'd pass on him in the bantam draft because of it. Major props to the Kings' Mark Yannetti for this: "If anybody had a problem with his family situation, they should go screw themselves."

• How the Brayden Schenn trade is being received from a Blues' perspective: St. Louis Game Time's Dan Buffa and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeff Gordon.

Via the AP's Stephen Whyno: "In 2000, Rod Brind'Amour and Keith Primeau were traded for each other. (Saturday) their sons, Skyler Brind'Amour and Cayden Primeau, got drafted."

• It was a great draft for the USHL: The 40 players drafted set a new league record. In total, there were 48 players drafted with ties to the USHL, including Primeau.