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).

NHL Playoffs: Penguins chase Holtby, beat Capitals to take 2-0 series lead

NHL Playoffs: Penguins chase Holtby, beat Capitals to take 2-0 series lead

WASHINGTON -- Phil Kessel scored twice, Sidney Crosby set up more goals and the Pittsburgh Penguins chased Braden Holtby on the way to a 6-2 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 2 Saturday night that gave them a commanding 2-0 lead in their second-round series.

Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant again in stopping 34 of the 36 shots he faced for Pittsburgh, which also got goals by Matt Cullen, Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins scored three goals on 14 shots on Holtby, who was pulled in favor of Philipp Grubauer after the second period.

Grubauer didn't fare much better, allowing two goals on nine shots. Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom scored for the Capitals, who outshot the Penguins 36-23 but still face an uphill task of trying to become just the 19th team to win a series after losing the first two games at home.

Guentzel added an empty-net goal to seal it for the Penguins, his playoff-best seventh (see full recap).

Pageau gets 4th goal in 2OT to lift Sens over Rangers
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Jean-Gabriel Pageau got his fourth goal of the game in the second overtime after scoring twice late in regulation, lifting the Ottawa Senators over the New York Rangers 6-5 Saturday in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Ottawa leads the series 2-0 despite trailing by two goals after Brady Skjei's score with 14:50 left in the third. Pageau cut it to 5-4 with 3:19 left in the period, then tied it with 1:02 remaining.

Pageau scored again 2:54 into the second OT, snapping in a shot during a 2-on-1 rush alongside Tommy Wingels. Pageau is the first Senator ever with four goals in a playoff game.

Marc Methot and Mark Stone also scored for Ottawa, and Craig Anderson had 43 saves.

Skjei had two goals for New York and Michael Grabner, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan also scored. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 28 shots.

The series heads to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday night (see full recap).

Ron Hextall on landing No. 2 overall pick: 'This is a big day for our franchise'

Ron Hextall on landing No. 2 overall pick: 'This is a big day for our franchise'

You remember the 2007 NHL draft?

The Flyers were robbed that year in the draft lottery and were forced to settle for the No. 2 overall pick later that June.

They chose James van Riemsdyk and the Chicago Blackhawks — drafting first — tabbed Patrick Kane.

Well, the Flyers got some needed payback Saturday night in Toronto at the 2017 draft lottery.
 
While the Flyers didn't win the top overall pick in this year's draft, they pretty much won the lottery just the same, moving from 13th overall to the No. 2 selection (see story).

"This is a big day for our franchise," said general manager Ron Hextall, who was an assistant general manager with Los Angeles in 2007 when it was Paul Holmgren's team in Philadelphia.

"When the 13th pick went by there and we knew we were one, two or three, that was a huge move for our franchise. We couldn't be more excited."

New Jersey will pick No. 1 and Dallas will pick third. Neither Colorado, the worst team in the NHL, nor Vegas, the newcomer to the NHL, made the top three.

The Flyers bucked enormous odds to advance from 13th to No. 2. They had a 2.4 percent chance of pulling it off. They were nearly 89 percent certain to remain at 13.

Maybe their luck is changing.

"We had a lot of bad luck this year," Hextall said. "I'm hoping this is a turning point for some of that to be turned around. This is a big point for our franchise. We're obviously going to get a very good player and hopefully in years, we'll look back on this as a turning point for us."

Depending on what the Devils do, the Flyers, who need offensive pop, are expected to select either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, both promising forwards who are considered impact players.

While this draft is nowhere near as deep as last year's with Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine, it still holds quality in the first round and the Flyers are guaranteed a player who should make a difference.

"This isn't as bad as a draft as people say it is," Hextall said. "We felt with the 13th pick, we would get a good player. It's probably an average draft.

"The last couple drafts have been bumper but this is a good draft. Obviously, moving up to No. 2, we're going to get an even better player."

Patrick, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, played for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League and was named the top skater by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau despite missing parts of the season with a lingering groin/abdominal injury.

The 6-foot-2, 198-pound center had 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games and still was a consensus No. 1 or 2 player by most scouts. His lineage is excellent, as his uncle, James Patrick, played 1,280 games.

Hischier is trying to become the highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history. Nino Niederreiter was taken fifth overall by the New York Islanders in 2010.

The 6-foot, 176-pound Hischier led the QMJHL rookie class with 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games this season.

Can either Patrick or Hischier play right now?

"I don't know who that player is going to be," Hextall said. "Any player, as you know from my history, they've got to come in and earn it.

"If we draft a player at No. 2 and he comes in and earns it, then he'll be on our team. If he needs more time, he needs more time."

That said, Hextall admitted his scouting staff had paid attention to pick anywhere from No. 1 to 13th or worse, especially after things started going south for the Flyers in late winter and the playoffs began slipping away.

Hextall would not compare this year's draft-eligible players, talk about them individually or indicate which player he felt might be available at No. 2.

For now, Hextall envisions keeping the second pick but wouldn't rule out trading down if the right offer was there.

"You can't say no to anything because you don't know what will come your way," Hextall said.

The Avalanche, who had the best shot at winning the No. 1 pick, will draft fourth. Vancouver is fifth and Vegas will pick sixth.

Hextall watched the draft lottery on TV after returning home from Finland.

"Sometimes you get some good luck and sometimes you get some bad luck," Hextall said. "This was a fortunate day for our franchise. This was a big one."