Which draft was Paul Holmgren's best?

ap-paul-holmgren-flyers.jpg

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.

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers (28-24-7) vs. Capitals (39-12-7)
8 p.m. on NBCSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After finding some offense to finish up a 1-2-0 road trip, the Flyers return home for a not-so-glorious welcome when they host the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

We’ll get into that and more with five things to know:

1. Capping things off
What’s the Flyers’ reward for salvaging the final game of a road swing through Canada? A date with the Capitals, who are the NHL’s hottest team since New Year’s Eve, and by a landslide.

Just how dominant has Washington been?

Dating back to Dec. 31, the Capitals are 19-3-2 and have scored an incomprehensible 104 goals in those 24 games. That’s 4.33 goals per game, while yielding only 50 markers over that stretch.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have scored an NHL-low 40 goals since New Year’s Eve and allowed 62 for an Eastern Conference-worst goal differential of minus-22.

Washington, coming off its first back-to-back defeats since Dec. 27-29, has lost three straight games only once this season.

2. A Ghost sighting
On Sunday, for the first time in close to four months, we saw the Shayne Gostisbehere from the Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up season last year.

The sophomore blueliner delivered his first three-point game of his career to ignite the Flyers to a 3-2 win over the Canucks.

Although Gostisbehere has made it clear he’s focused on his defensive game, the Flyers are a different animal when he’s generating offensive chances at 5-on-5 and the power play.

“He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere’s performance Sunday.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbelievable skill. He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

3. Good cage match
This one makes for an intriguing goalie matchup between Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, who were once battling for the net in Washington.

Holtby is having another stud season after winning the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy (top goalie). Among all netminders, he is tied for first in goals-against average (2.01) and shutouts (seven), while he hasn’t been beaten in regulation since Dec. 27.

The 27-year-old blanked the Flyers twice in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and stopped 149 of 154 shots over the first-round series that the Capitals won in six games.

Neuvirth hasn’t been too shabby himself, starting eight of the Flyers’ last 10 games. Aside from a bad showing in a 6-3 loss to the Oilers, Neuvirth has not surrendered more than two goals in any other outing during that span.

A 2006 second-round pick of Washington, Neuvirth was brilliant last postseason against his former club, making 103 saves on 105 shots faced to get the Flyers two victories.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare can be crucial in these types of games. The fourth-line forward often sees work against the opposition’s top offensive threats and is the Flyers’ most important piece to the penalty kill. Bellemare has played 16-plus minutes in both meetings with the Capitals this season, while the PK is 15 for 17 in February and tied for the NHL’s third-fewest goals against this month.

Capitals: T.J. Oshie is such an underrated asset for Washington. The right winger, who played his college hockey at North Dakota under Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, leads the NHL with a 22.8 shooting percentage, a big reason why the Capitals are scoring 3.34 goals per game, good for second most in hockey. Oshie has 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in his past 22 games and is a plus-24 on the season.

5. This and that
• Neuvirth has just two career regular-season matchups against the Capitals, going 1-0-0 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

• Holtby is 6-4-7 with a 2.71 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 18 lifetime matchups with the Flyers.

• The Flyers are three points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, trailing the Panthers, Bruins and Islanders, all of whom have 66 points.

• Simmonds has four goals in his last five games.

• Claude Giroux has two points (one goal, one assist) in his previous 10 games.

• Washington ranks first in the NHL with a plus-69 goal differential.

• Jordan Weal (upper-body injury) is expected to miss his second straight game.

Best of NHL: Toews nets hat trick in Blackhawks' win over Wild

Best of NHL: Toews nets hat trick in Blackhawks' win over Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Jonathan Toews had three goals and two assists and the Chicago Blackhawks beat rival Minnesota 5-3 on Tuesday night for their second win over the Western Conference-leading Wild in less than two weeks.

Toews notched his fourth career hat trick on an empty-netter with 1:02 left to stave off a spirited rally by the Wild, who began a franchise-record eight-game homestand on Feb. 8 with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks. Toews had a goal and two assists in that one and has 37 points in 35 career games against Minnesota.

Chicago's captain has been chewing up almost everyone else, too, with 20 points in his last 12 games. Toews' wing men Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik had the other goals, giving the Blackhawks 34 goals in their last eight games. Their first line totaled nine points.

Mikael Granlund's second power-play goal for the Wild brought them within 4-3, before Ryan Suter hit the crossbar with a shot that nearly tied it (see full recap).

Islanders open 9-game road trip with win
DETROIT -- Calvin de Haan was credited with a go-ahead goal that caromed off an opponent late in the second period and the New York Islanders went on to beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 Tuesday night.

De Haan's shot from above the left circle was stopped by Petr Mrazek, but the rebound went off Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet and the back of the goaltender's left leg and into the net. John Tavares scored early in the third period to give the Islanders a two-goal lead and they coasted to the victory.

Josh Bailey had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Greiss stopped 26 shots for New York.

Henrik Zetterberg scored for Detroit and Mrazek finished with 19 saves.

The Islanders, in contention for a wild-card spot, began a stretch of nine straight road games by winning for the third time in four games and improved to 8-13-4 away from home (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins take care of Hurricanes
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sidney Crosby scored the go-ahead goal on a deflection in the second period, and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 on Tuesday night.

Evgeni Malkin and Scott Wilson also scored to help the reigning Stanley Cup champions bounce back from their only loss since the All-Star break. Pittsburgh moved three points behind East-leading Washington and is 7-1-3 since the break.

Jeff Skinner scored for the last-place Hurricanes, who have their second five-game losing streak in the past five weeks. They have been outscored 19-4 during the current slide.

Matt Murray made 29 saves for the Penguins while Cam Ward stopped 19 shots for Carolina (see full recap).