Philadelphia Flyers

Which draft was Paul Holmgren's best?

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Which draft was Paul Holmgren's best?

Paul Holmgren has spent 12 years in the Flyers’ front office in many capacities. His first love always was -- and remains -- scouting amateur players who will make up tomorrow’s NHL.

Even when Bob Clarke was general manager, Holmgren was the voice at the Flyers' draft table. He was the one making the critical calls.

Clarke always had the final say, but traditionally deferred to Holmgren, who had a “hands-on” feel for players Clarke never saw play.

The Flyers will host this summer’s NHL draft Friday and Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.

Holmgren was named director of player personnel in August 1997 and later moved to assistant general manager in 1999. Beginning with the 1998 draft through the 2006 draft, Holmgren was the man responsible for the players the Flyers were drafting as the guy doing much of the legwork.

When Holmgren moved to full-time GM in November 2006 after taking over for Clarke, he remained a force at the draft table. But by then, he had an army of people helping him, including his right-hand man Chris Pryor, whom he appointed director of scouting the second he took the GM reigns from Clarke.

In judging Holmgren’s draft lineage, you need to really go back to the 1998 draft and move forward from there.

Keep in mind that because of the Flyers’ success in winning games, making the playoffs, plus finishing high in the standings, they were never picking in the top 10. That can’t be understated.

They had to make tough decisions from the bottom third of the first round in most years.

To that end, Holmgren had several outstanding late first-round picks, beginning in his first draft of ’98 with center Simon Gagne (first round, 22nd overall).

Others: Justin Williams (first round, 28th overall) in 2000; Jeff Carter (first round, 11th overall) and Mike Richards (first round, 24th) in 2003; Claude Giroux (first round, 22nd) in 2006; and finally, Scott Laughton (first round, 20th overall) in 2012. The assumption now is that defenseman Samuel Morin (first round, 11th overall in 2013) will also pan out as a top first-round pick.

Among all those forwards, with the exception of Williams -- a right wing -- every player was a center.

Those players represent the best first-round picks under Holmgren when he was not choosing among the top 10.

The biggest obstacle to the Flyers' draft success over the last several generations has been their inability to identify, retain and develop a franchise defenseman.

Finding and securing an impact franchise defenseman is the hardest task in hockey.

“You could argue that,” Holmgren said in May when Hextall succeeded him as GM. “That's one of things, it has been a franchise goalie, a franchise centerman ... there's a lot of different things that you need to be a good team, and I believe that we have a lot of good pieces in place.

“Are there areas where we need to get better? Sure, but I think most teams would say the same thing. Nobody around here is allergic to hard work and we're going to continue to get better and win.”

Holmgren’s hard luck pick came at the 2007 draft -- his first draft wearing the GM title -- when the Flyers finished with their worst record (22-48-12) in club history, yet were cursed again by losing the draft lottery to Chicago.

The Blackhawks chose Patrick Kane first overall, while the Flyers tabbed winger James van Riemsdyk with the second overall pick. JVR would eventually be traded to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn.

Defensively-speaking, the Flyers have had disastrous drafts in that department since the beginning of the current decade in terms of developing a home-grown blueliner.

They remain the only NHL club that doesn’t have a single drafted and developed defenseman playing regular minutes for them over that span, which is astonishing.

That Chris Therien (drafted in 1990) remains the last such player of any longevity and ilk is embarrassing.

The Flyers had two defensemen playing significant minutes elsewhere this season -- Dennis Seidenberg and Luca Sbisa -- but they were part of trades to other clubs.

Holmgren, however, may yet have an impact on the Flyers' future even though he no longer is controlling the draft.

The organization actually appears on the verge of turning things around, provided it doesn’t fork over any more D-men via trade.

From the last two drafts, Holmgren pinpointed quality defensemen in Shayne Gostisbehere (third round, 78th overall) and Fredric Larsson (fourth round, 111th overall) in 2012; and Morin (first round, 11th overall) and Robert Hagg (second round, 41st overall) at last summer’s draft in New Jersey.

Larsson, however, was not signed this summer and will be going back into the current draft.

If you had to pick the single best draft under Holmgren’s guidance in terms of future potential, it would be the NHL’s 50th draft in 2012.

That day in Pittsburgh, the Flyers tabbed center Scott Laughton (first round, 20th overall); goalie Anthony Stolarz (second round, 45th overall); Gostisbehere; and forward Taylor Leier (fourth round, 117th overall).

And while he’s had just a small taste of the NHL, defenseman Oliver Lauridsen, who was chosen in the seventh round (196th overall) in 2009, could still end up being an NHL defenseman as a dark-horse pick.

One of these prospects has to become the organization’s stud No. 1, like so many other clubs already have.

“Probably the only way to get that guy is to draft him,” Holmgren said. “Maybe we have. Maybe Sam Morin or Robert Hagg or Shayne Gostisbehere. Who knows?

"Games change. There’s young players every year in somebody’s lineup. Do we have a couple next year? We’ll see. You never know.”

Over the past seven drafts (2007-13), Holmgren’s best impact player has been two-way center Sean Couturier, taken in 2011 (first round, eighth overall), as part of the Carter deal with Columbus that also saw the Flyers acquire Jakub Voracek.

Holmgren had no first-round picks in the 2009 and 2010 drafts because of the Chris Pronger deal with Anaheim.

His worst draft was 2004 in Carolina, when Clarke was still GM. That summer, the Flyers didn’t draft until the third round.

Not a single player from among the 11 the Flyers took in what was then a nine-round event ever made their roster.

Chris Pryor talks Nolan Patrick, Brian Elliott, young defense and more

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Chris Pryor talks Nolan Patrick, Brian Elliott, young defense and more

Is it October yet?

Well, it's almost September, which means Flyers training camp is not far off in the distance. Last season, rookie camp opened Sept. 19, while big camp started Sept. 23. 

Dates for 2017-18 should be coming soon. While we wait in anticipation, Flyers assistant general manager and director of player personnel Chris Pryor joined the SiriusXM NHL Network on Wednesday night to discuss a variety of topics.

Here's what he had to say:

On winning No. 2 pick in lottery, drafting Nolan Patrick
"We thought it was a tremendous day in the organization's standpoint. We were very fortunate, very lucky, as we all know, to land that spot that we did. The kid as a player — we think highly of the kid. Obviously last year he had to battle through some injuries, but overall, he's a really good hockey player and we were happy to welcome him to the Philadelphia Flyers."

On addition of Brian Elliott, expectations for the goalie
"I think Brian just needs to be Brian. He's a quality goaltender, he's proved that year in and year out. He's just got to come in and do what he's done his whole career, and that's be a good, solid goaltender. We think he's capable of doing that. There's no reason why he's not going to bring that same quality and experience to us, and we're happy to have him."

On last season's 10-game winning streak, inconsistency
"You're going to have those 10-game streaks, a lot of things go your way, some bounces happen to go your way, just as if you go on a 10-game losing streak, there's a lot of things that don't go your way. We'd like to even that out. We think we've got a good hockey club, we had some ups and downs last year. We hope to rectify some of those [downs], some of our guys maybe didn't have the season they wanted. Coming in this year, everybody's expectations are to get back to form and make a push for the playoffs."

Why so much success on power play, not at even strength?
"The NHL is a pretty tough league. You can't take a night off, and I'm not saying any of our guys did. Sometimes you've got to give credit where credit is due to the opposition. Just one of those years. I think you're going to have some years where guys are going to maybe not play to their capabilities, or what they deem are their capabilities. We had a couple rough spots there and I think we rectified that. I think guys are really focused and determined to get back on track to where they were maybe a couple years ago, and I think you're going to see that this year."

On young defense, how many prospects make the jump?
"I think it's going to depend on the kid, first and foremost. Opportunities are going to present itself, guys are going to come to camp and fight for jobs, but we're excited with the young D that we have not only on the club now, but the few kids that we had in the American League last year that deem themselves ready to push for a spot, and it's going to be an exciting training camp to see how this plays out."

On Valtteri Filppula, his impact moving forward
"First and foremost, he's a quality, quality veteran player. He comes from a really good organization, he knows how to win, he knows what it takes to prepare yourself game in and game out. He plays the game the right way, which is 200 feet. His attention to detail, he's good for our younger players to look at and watch how he plays the game, and he's a good hockey player. He's a really good fit for us and we're happy to have him."

End to End: Jaromir Jagr is still available … Flyers?

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End to End: Jaromir Jagr is still available … Flyers?

Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: Jaromir Jagr is still available … Flyers?

Boruk
It’s extremely rare for Philadelphia to have this endearing loyalty to any athlete following a one-year love affair, but from Day 1, Jagr connected with hockey fans on South Broad. He had the hair, the smile, the occasional salute, his tireless dedication to his craft, but there was more to it than that.

Understand one of the biggest reasons Jagr is so revered in Philadelphia was his decision to spurn the Penguins at the last minute to sign with the Flyers. He rejected old friend and former teammate Mario Lemieux so he could join their most heated rival. You just can’t buy that level of respect and admiration!

Playing on a line with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell for much of that 2011-12 season, Jagr turned in a respectable 54-point season. That trio clicked for the first three months of the season, but Jagr started to fade after December as he re-acclimated his body and conditioning to the NHL’s 82-game schedule, which came four years after his last season in the NHL with the Rangers. He also struggled to contribute in the playoffs with one goal in the Flyers' 11 postseason games.

Since that season, Jagr has bounced around the league, playing for four different teams since 2012 — the Stars, Bruins, Devils and Panthers. His act would play perfectly on the Vegas strip, and Jagr has proven he can still contribute into his mid-40s. He’s recorded 30 assists in each of the past four seasons — a total that only 35 other players have achieved.

At the very least, Jagr deserves to outlast the NHL career of Chris Chelios, who played seven games for the Atlanta Thrashers at the age of 48.

If this Flyers team needs Jaromir Jagr to reach the playoffs again, then it's in some serious trouble. After further thought, why not bring Jagr in on a training camp invite, if anything, to make training camp fun again? He could fill our smartphones and tape recorders with quotes for half a season. He could mentor the prospects and put a smile on Little Mario (his nickname for Giroux). In fact, I could probably sway Jagr to return with little more than a gift card to Costco. He took $2 million for one year to join the Devils and then proceeded to score 24 goals and 67 points in 2014. If Ron Hextall was so inclined, he could sign Jagr at a 50 percent discount. One million dollars for one season would get it done.

Dougherty 
Flyers GM Hextall vehemently downplayed the idea of signing Jagr, or any other veteran free agent that would block the youth movement, on July 2. “Not the direction we're going in,” he said then. But as we enter the dog days of the NHL summer, Jagr remains without an NHL contract.

I don’t believe signing Jagr would fit into the Flyers’ plans. It doesn’t align with how Hextall runs his operations, and Hextall is on the record saying Jagr isn’t where he’s headed. But. How Jagr still doesn’t have a contract baffles me. He’s still productive and would improve any team that signs him. He would be an instant upgrade to the Flyers. There’s no doubt.
 
Perhaps the biggest roadblock as to why Jagr remains unsigned is the role he wants and the role NHL teams believe he’s capable of handling as he turns 46 in February. Last season, Jagr scored 16 goals and 46 points for the Florida Panthers, who have moved on from the future Hall of Famer. Those 46 points would have ranked sixth on the Flyers, and his 16 goals would have ranked fourth on the team — ahead of team captain Giroux’s 14.

Jagr remains in phenomenal shape. His workout regimen is one of legend. But as he approaches 50 years old, there’s no denying he wears down as the season goes on. That’s been the story the last few seasons in Florida, where he’s been ever so productive but has worn down. Perhaps Jagr realizes this, perhaps NHL teams realize this too.

Perhaps we’re making too much of the fact that Jagr remains unsigned. Could he decide to head back to the KHL, where he could be guaranteed a large role? I think that is very much a realistic possibility at this point in time. But I also believe teams could prefer waiting to sign Jagr, rather than bringing him in for the start of the season. I could see teams waiting out as long as possible before offering Jagr a contract enticing enough for him to sign.

And perhaps Jagr is OK with this too. It is astonishing to see him unsigned — I still think he belongs in the NHL and that he can still play, and play at a high level too. In the end, I do think we’ll see Jagr in the NHL again this season — when and where is the question.

I don’t think it will be the Flyers. But the obvious answer is: Yes, Hextall and the Flyers should consider Jagr. Every NHL team should. Because at 45 years old, Jaromir Jagr is still a very productive player and he will make an impact anywhere he goes.

Hall
Albeit an interesting thought and a bit more intriguing now with Jagr still out there, my answer is the same as when we discussed a possible Hartnell reunion.

No.

Jagr can still play — maybe he could help the Flyers in a few areas, both tangibly and intangibly.

But this season should be about taking a step forward by injecting more youth into the equation. The Flyers finally have some opportunity for prospects to make the jump and start their NHL development. And the kids are expected to make an impact, too. 

Last season, we saw the positives of having youngsters in Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. This season, it's time for many more. Hextall even acknowledged that just four days after the 2016-17 regular season ended.

"Our young players, they've done enough," he said. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."

If the Flyers wanted to sign Jagr, it would obviously be for one season. Still, that's one season of blockading a forward prospect from being here or playing meaningful minutes — someone like Mike Vecchione or Scott Laughton (yes, he's still a prospect and worth watching). Or, it could even change a lot for the likes of Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick.

As fun as it would be to see Jagr back in Philadelphia, the answer here is an easy no.

Paone
With all due respect to Jagr (and he's an absolute legend who's due a lot of it), that ship has sailed here in Philadelphia.

Let's weigh this out here: What could a soon-to-be 46-year-old Jagr bring to this group of Flyers?

Sure, he could bring that invaluable leadership and example to the Flyers that was so important during the 2011-12 season. Remember the effect he had that year alongside Giroux, who ran wild across the league with a career-high 93 points? A handful goals and points here and there from Jagr would always be helpful, too.

But no way does that stuff outweigh eating up a roster space for a young player who's ready for a taste of the NHL level and using any precious cap space on the oldest player in the league rather than keeping more of the already slim flexibility the Flyers have.

Hextall's vision is all about the youth and development from within. That's the focus of the club from top to bottom right now. Needless to say, Jagr doesn't come anywhere close to fitting that vision or focus. I doubt Jagr has ever even popped up on Hextall's radar this summer. Want proof? During a conference call earlier in the summer, Hextall was asked about Jagr and emphatically slammed the door shut on that idea in not so many words, as Tom mentioned above.

The fact of the matter here is the Flyers just don't have a spot on the roster or a role for him — Jagr never has been and never will be a fourth-line player. Why even consider him if there's no roster spot, no role, he doesn't fit the vision the team has molded for itself and if cap space is at a premium? Why even waste the energy or breath?

Do I feel Jagr will get picked up before the season starts? Yeah, I do, by a team closer to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender that's looking for some veteran punch. And he'll make an impact because that's just what a legend like him does.

That team just isn't the Flyers.

Sorry to burst your bubble.