Holmgren talks three possible Flyers draft picks

062613holgrenslideshowap.jpg

Holmgren talks three possible Flyers draft picks

VOORHEES. N.J. - General manager Paul Holmgren has made no secret of the Flyers’ longstanding draft philosophy: Draft the best player available, no matter his position or the team’s specific needs.

But, he said in his pre-draft press conference Wednesday, if he saw both a defenseman and a forward available at pick No. 11 that were of equal talent, he knows which way the Flyers would likely go.

"Well, then we’d probably lean toward the defenseman," Holmgren said. "Just because of our needs."

So, which defensemen will be available with the 11th pick? It’s a tough call -- as Holmgren said, no matter how many mock drafts the Flyers put together, one team who selects before them on Sunday (the draft begins at 3 p.m.) will surely make a surprise pick that throws everything off track.

In CSNPhilly.com’s mock NHL draft, Russ Cohen predicted the Flyers would go after a towering defenseman with some familiar ties: Darnell Nurse, the nephew of former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb (see story).

By all accounts, Nurse is certainly a Flyers-type player. And, understandably, Holmgren likes what he’s seen from the 18-year-old Ontario native.

“I’ve seen Darnell play a few times,” Holmgren said. “He’s a hard-nosed kid. He’s like 6-4, I would venture to guess he weighs like 210 pounds (he’s listed as 6-5/192). He’s still, when you watch him play, a lot of elbows and knees, but he’s a rugged, hard-nosed player that can fight, pretty good with the puck, and he’ll continue to get better.

"But I have no idea if he’ll be there at our pick.”

Even if he isn’t, 2013’s draft class is a deep one -- especially on defense. Another good possibility to target at No. 11 is Finnish D-man Rasmus Ristolainen, a 6-foot-3, 207-pound 18-year-old who has been playing professional hockey in Finland since he was 16 years old.

“Physically, he looks like a man right now compared to some of the kids you see,” Holmgren said of Ristolainen. “He played in the men’s league in Finland. I would say of all the defensemen (with the exception of Seth Jones, the top defenseman in the draft), in my opinion, he’s probably the most ready to jump right in. Offensively, looks like a good prospect -- solid defensively with a big shot.”

Asked for an NHL comparison, Holmgren said Ristolainen reminded him of Adam Larsson, the defenseman selected by the New Jersey Devils fourth overall in 2011.

Ryan Pulock, the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) defenseman from Manitoba was the final prospect Holmgren commented on Wednesday. At 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds, the 18-year-old is well known primarily for one feature of his game.

"He’s really got a bomb for a power play," Holmgren said. "He’s actually pretty physically developed, too. There’s a lot of good prospects [this year]."

Holmgren added Pulock is "not as physical as Nurse," but that he's still certainly "a good solid prospect."

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello scored twice in the second period and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Derek Stepan also scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots to help New York get past the first round for the fifth time in six years. The Rangers won three straight after falling behind 2-1 to beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 postseason series.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Ottawa-Boston series, which the Senators lead 3-2.

Alexei Emelin scored for Montreal and Carey Price finished with 20 saves. The Canadiens, winners of the Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last year, were bounced from the postseason by the Rangers for the second time in four years. In 2014, it was in the conference finals (see full recap).

Paajarvi's OT goal gives Blues 4-3 win to oust Wild in 5
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Magnus Paajarvi scored at the 9:42 mark in overtime, giving the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday in Game 5 of their playoff series, eliminating the Wild.

The Blues advanced to play Nashville in the second round.

Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1 before a furious rally by the Wild to try to keep their season alive forced the extra frame.

Paajarvi's first career playoff goal gave Blues coach Mike Yeo the satisfaction of beating the team that fired him a little over a year ago.

Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker scored to bring the Wild back from their second two-goal hole, a deficit that held past the midpoint of the third period (see full recap).

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

As the Flyers packed up for the offseason much earlier than they had hoped, the focus started shifting to the outlook for 2017-18.

There was some optimism provided by Valtteri Filppula.

It wasn't anything he said. Instead, it was what he did in 20 games.

Make that a full sample size and the Flyers are excited about the possibilities.

Filppula, a well-rounded, 33-year-old center, was acquired at the March 1 trade deadline in the Mark Streit deal. He added five goals and three assists in his 20 games.

"I felt like later in the year, we had more bullets in our gun," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week as the team held exit interviews and cleanout day. "(Jordan) Weal comes in and does a good job. Filppula comes in and really gives us stability. Really upgraded our top nine. So when you're talking 5-on-5 play, just to depend on five or six guys, all of a sudden you have nine guys you can count on."

The Flyers were 27th in the NHL with 128 goals at 5-on-5 -- a significant factor in their postseason absence.

But Filppula should bring more than simply a 5-on-5 boost.

The Flyers desperately needed depth at the center position to relieve some pressure from Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. Filppula, who came from the Lightning and played seven seasons with the Red Wings -- winning a Stanley Cup in 2008 -- is a sound matchup center and plays on the penalty kill, too.

"I think with Fil coming in this year, it really helped our depth," Giroux said. "He brings a lot to the team. He kills penalties, power plays, very good defensively and he's a smart player. When you bring a guy in like that, you kind of get excited a little bit."

From Filppula's first game on March 2 to the end of the regular season, the Flyers scored 56 goals, 12th most in the NHL over that span and 2.80 per game -- both improvements from their ranking of 21th on the full season and 2.59 per game.

"Now that we feel like we have nine guys that are legit top-nine forwards," Hextall said, "we've got good balance."

Couturier saw immediate benefits when the Flyers acquired Filppula. Couturier started playing with Dale Weise and Brayden Schenn, which turned out to be the team's best line combination to finish the regular season.

"I think it just brought some depth to our lineup," Couturier said of Filppula acquisition. "I had the chance to play after that with Schenn and Weiser and we just found chemistry right away and things went really well."

It provided head coach Dave Hakstol greater flexibility.

"The addition of Val Filppula to our group up front made our group of forwards better," Hakstol said. "Not just his presence, which I think he's an outstanding hockey player, a good hockey player and a real good veteran, but it just allowed some of the others to come together. I think there's real substance there."

The Flyers hope it shows with a full season of Filppula.

"I think when Filppula came in, the balance that seemed to come with him entering our lineup helped us both with and without the puck," Hakstol said. "Will that cohesion help us generate more offensively on an 82-game basis, not just a short-term basis? I think the answers to those things are yes."