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."

Pressing too hard? Claude Giroux realizes less can be more

Pressing too hard? Claude Giroux realizes less can be more

NEW YORK — Ron Hextall admitted there’s a bit of a double-edged sword to Claude Giroux.
 
“I think he’s pressing too hard,” Hextall said before Sunday night’s game. “It’s what you like about him; there’s a few guys like that. You like that [competitiveness] about them, but sometimes you become your own worst enemy because they beat themselves up.”
 
The captain was entering the day with a goal drought of 12 games, his longest since Oct. 2-Nov. 7, 2013, when he opened the season goalless in 15 contests.
 
“G wants to be successful at everything,” the general manager said. “Hopefully something good happens for him and he gets rolling. He’s too good of a player to play like this.”
 
Hextall got his wish.
 
Nearly four hours later, Giroux buried the game-winning goal of the Flyers’ 3-2 overtime win against the Islanders at the Barclays Center (see game story). Not only did it relieve Giroux of his funk, but it also did the same for the Flyers, who had lost three straight and 12 of their last 15.
 
"It's been tough the last couple of weeks,” Giroux said. “We know we're a better team. 
 
“Obviously we can still be better but we needed this win tonight.”
 
And Giroux needed that goal. Over the previous 12 games, the Flyers’ second-leading scorer was a minus-13 with seven assists and just one even-strength point. It’s no coincidence the Flyers went 2-8-2 in those 12 games.
 
Giroux didn’t disagree with his boss.
 
“You want to succeed and you want to play the best you can,” he said. “Sometimes you push it a little too much. When you sit back and kind of look at the big picture, sometimes I think that's when you kind of realize you need to relax and just go out there and play.”
 
Before the game, head coach Dave Hakstol made a change that reaped the rewards. He decided to put Jakub Voracek back on the top line with Giroux and Michael Raffl. Giroux finished with six shots, his most since Dec. 21, while Voracek put up four and assisted the overtime winner.
 
“Well, I mean there are a lot of things that go into that,” Hakstol said of the move. “Those guys have success together, but more importantly, you look at some of the combinations as you go through the year when you’ve had success. Sometimes one change gives you a little bit of a jump-start. Those guys did a good job.”
 
Giroux’s goal was emblematic in a way that he simply planted himself in front of the net and tapped in Shayne Gostisbehere’s wraparound pass. There was no highlight-reel deke or miraculous shot.
 
Keeping it simple — as players often say — did the trick.
 
"Sometimes you don't need to try so hard,” Giroux said. “You need to go about your job and make sure you do the right things out there. Make sure you help your teammates and linemates. Just go out there and play hockey. We're supposed to have fun doing it, right? So sometimes you need to relax and kind of look at how you can get better.”
 
Sunday was a start.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

There wasn't any Flyers hockey to talk about during the bye week, but this past weekend’s back-to-back set still left us with plenty of material.

It was an up-and-down weekend for the Flyers. They fell at home, 4-1, to the Devils during an ugly showing on Saturday but rebounded with an exciting 3-2 OT victory over the Islanders Sunday in Brooklyn thanks to Claude Giroux’s game-winning tally that snapped a 13-game goalless drought.

Let’s take a look back at the weekend that was for the Flyers:

• That showing against Jersey on Saturday night? Let’s just say that’s not the way one hoped the Flyers would look coming off an extended break. The Flyers were outplayed again by the Devils, just like they were during a 4-0 loss to New Jersey in late December. I get the theory that they needed to knock the rust off after such a long break. But you also wanted to see some energy and it just wasn’t there. Give the Devils some credit, too, as they played well. Of course, there was that terrible call against Radko Gudas that really shifted the game in the Devils’ favor (more on that in a bit). But still, it wasn’t an inspiring performance overall and still had more of the same defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Flyers in recent weeks.

• That said, the Flyers had a great bounce-back effort Sunday night against an Isles team that has been revived after head coach Jack Capuano was fired and came into the contest on a three-game win streak. The Flyers fell down 2-0 and were victims of another questionable call during a pile-up at the front of the Isles’ net when the puck crossed the line but no goal was rewarded, but they showed something they haven’t shown over the past few weeks: resiliency. Over the last few weeks, when something has gone wrong for the Flyers, it’s all gone wrong for the Flyers. It’s been a troubling snowball effect. But that trend came to a halt on Sunday and the Flyers earned two much-needed points. It was encouraging, to say the least. The goal now is to find that kind of consistency again. Easier said than done.

• What a spectacular play by Ivan Provorov on the Flyers’ tying goal Sunday night. He took a pass at the Isles’ blue line, weaved his way around a defender to create space and then sent a centering pass to the crease area. Sure, there was some puck luck involved as it hit a defender’s skate and went in the net, but sometimes a player gets rewarded like that when making a great play. It was the kind of play that a lot of veterans wouldn’t have the poise to make, let alone a rookie who just turned 20 a few weeks ago. The kid is so impressive and he’s just going to keep getting better.

• Alright, alright, alright ... let’s discuss the Gudas clipping penalty against the Devils on Saturday. First off, it shouldn’t have been a penalty. It was a classic, hard hip check and a good, physical hockey play. Is Gudas not given the benefit of the doubt sometimes because of his reputation and suspension history? Probably so. But there was no gray area to discuss on this hit. It was a clean hockey play. And then if we’re to believe Wayne Simmonds, his unsportsmanlike call to give the Devils a full 5-on-3 advantage was for protesting a lack of explanation for the call. If true, that’s pretty weak from the official. Like we discussed earlier, it was one of the things that didn’t go the Flyers’ way and sent everything else crumbling down afterward. The Devils scored on the ensuing power play to take a 2-1 lead and it was game, set, match.

• Notice Dave Hakstol's finally using Travis Konecny during a 3-on-3 overtime on Sunday night? That’s a good thing to see. I get that a big part of the 3-on-3 OT is defensive responsibility and that Konency is still working to complete that part of his game. But sometimes when the game is on the line, you have to take the good with the bad. Konecny’s got the offensive arsenal to win a game in the blink of an eye. He should get more chances in OT as the season goes on. Nick Cousins saw the ice during Sunday’s OT, too. Good for him. Having more fresh legs and energy out there during those frantic overtimes never hurts.

• You guys peek at the Eastern Conference standings lately? If not, here’s a spoiler: The standings are a jumbled mess where parity is king. As of Monday morning, the Capitals, Blue Jackets, Penguins and Rangers are ahead of the field. But after those teams, it’s anyone’s ballgame. Heading into Monday night’s action, the Flyers hold the last wild-card spot with 52 points. The eight teams behind them are all within five points them, with last-place Tampa Bay (!) bringing up the rear with 47 points. So that’s 12 teams fighting for four playoff spots. It’s further proof that there are no nights off or easy games in the NHL. Every point matters. It should be a hell of a playoff race over the next few months.

Coming up this week: Wednesday at NY Rangers (8 p.m./NBCSN), Thursday vs. Toronto (7 p.m./CSN), Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles (3:30 p.m./NBC)