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.

Flyers ramp up intensity, physicality on Day 2 of training camp

Flyers ramp up intensity, physicality on Day 2 of training camp

VOORHEES, N.J. — Radko Gudas was so hyped up, he was having great difficulty trying to communicate his excitement after having crunched two players during battle drills.
 
“This is the fun where it starts … where the fun starts?” he said with a laugh. “Everybody wants to get the feeling of game-like situations. Everybody is trying their hardest.”
 
After two days of mostly drills with gradually advancing intensity, the Flyers wrapped up Saturday’s training camp with two-on-two battle drills.
 
Two guys going to the net and shooting, getting the rebound, all the while fighting off another player.
 
Gudas wants to demonstrate he can still maim guys along the boards with a taped-up right wrist (stress fracture). And he did.
 
“I haven’t used the wrist for a couple weeks so it’s nice to get a touch with somebody else and get into the battle situation with someone else and know I can still do it,” he said.
 
“This is more for the older guys who weren’t here for the rookie [camp] to get in there, get a feel for it.”
 
All this aside, Gudas might not participate in Sunday’s full squad scrimmage only because he has not been cleared to shoot pucks yet.
 
“I have to stay as much as I can off the heavy slapper,” he said.
 
The Flyers have two split-squad games Monday — one in New Jersey, the other in Brooklyn.
 
“The guys are anxious to have a scrimmage,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Couple good, hard workdays and they handled it really well. It’s time to get into a scrimmage situation, which leads into a game the next day.”
 
Hence the battle drills to get players to take their energy to that next level.
 
“You got to slowly keep moving toward game readiness,” Hakstol said. “There’s a difference from practice to a full preseason game.
 
“Today was a little more battle in practice than yesterday but some subtle detail mixed into each of the drills.”

Broadcast notes
Monday's game in New Jersey will be broadcast on radio on 97.5 The Fanatic, while the Islanders' game is slated to be a video webcast on PhiladelphiaFlyers.com.

Tuesday's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center and Wednesday's game against the Devils in Allentown, Pennsylvania, will both air on TCN and 97.5.

Brayden Schenn motivated to build off career season in 2016-17

Brayden Schenn motivated to build off career season in 2016-17

VOORHEES, N.J. — What a difference for Brayden Schenn to walk into Flyers training camp and feel as if he’s arrived.
 
The forward is coming off a season in which he posted career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59), which earned him the team’s Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as the most improved Flyer. 
 
Best of all, he was rewarded with a four-year, $20.5 million contract in July.
 
“I feel good coming into this year,” Schenn said. “The Flyers showed some trust and confidence in me by signing me for four years. Coming in here, I’m excited to get the season going and build off last year.”
 
At least he won’t have to begin camp on the fifth line like he did last fall after general manager Ron Hextall had challenged him to take his game to another level and new head coach Dave Hakstol made him work to advance himself in the lineup.
 
“You hope it won’t be like that [fifth line], especially with [seven] guys gone,” Schenn said jokingly, meaning the Flyers playing in the World Cup of Hockey.
 
The big question for Schenn is whether he plays left wing on Claude Giroux’s line or plays wing on Sean Couturier's unit. He proved to everyone last season he can play all three forward spots now and be effective on the ice.
 
“I finished on the left,” he said. “I said forward or center but I played so much left wing, right wing a little center in the playoffs. So I feel comfortable now all over.
 
“Wherever the opportunity is to play with great players and make the most of the situation is where you want to be right now.”
 
These first two days of camp, Schenn has been very aggressive and motivated on the ice.
 
Schenn, Giroux and Wayne Simmonds represented the top line much of last season, especially in the second half. That was partly because Jakub Voracek had slumped so badly from his breakout season the year before and couldn’t hold his spot on the first line.
 
“It’s tough to say because lines change throughout the year,” Schenn said. “When you are trying to find chemistry and this and that. Wherever I start, I just have to make the most of every opportunity.
 
“We have a lot of top players around here to play with … to pencil my name into one spot is hard to say. Wherever they place me at the start, I’ll to try with it.”
 
It’s expected he’ll start the season again at left wing on Giroux’s line after he serves his three-game suspension for a hit against Capitals forward T.J. Oshie in the playoffs.
 
“It’s good to have guys who can move around because you never know what you are gonna need in a top six,” Hextall said. “You like a left-hand Brayden on the left side with skill.”
 
Hakstol said he wants guys “who fit well” together, so that may be the answer right there.
 
There was talk last season whether the Schenn Brothers were having negative impacts on each other. Luke Schenn, the veteran defenseman, came to camp and was demoted to eighth on the depth chart. He was angry from Day 1. Brayden Schenn was angry at the fifth line.
 
Both would huddle with each other every day. Both cared so deeply about the other, they acted as each’s confidante. Yet when Luke Schenn was traded, it seemed to benefit both players.
 
“Probably a better question for Brayden, but a lot of people have pointed to that,” Hextall said. “When Luke got traded, Brayden had played six or seven really good games ahead of that.
 
“Whether that was coincidence or not I don’t have an answer. I do think what he said there, there’s obvious reason based on personality and it probably could do you good or do you harm.”
 
Brayden Schenn said he always dreamed of playing with his brother, but it adds other pressures.
 
“When you come to the rink [as brothers], you are so tight and so close, you tend to worry about each other more than you have to, just because it’s family and he’s your brother,” he said.
 
“Now that Luke’s gone, he’s in a good situation in Arizona, I hope he gets a good opportunity. Now you tend to worry about yourself a little more. Come to the rink and focus on what you have to do and not to worry about Luke or vice-versa.”
 
Schenn said it’s obvious that the club has made a commitment to himself, Giroux, Simmonds, Couturier and Voracek with the long-term contracts handed out in recent years.
 
To that end, he said, the window of opportunity for some of these Flyers is fast approaching. Some are in their peak years now. Schenn, 25, and Couturier, 23, are the youngest among that group.
 
“They will challenge us again this year to get better,” Schenn said. “They have invested in us. We all got to step up. Parts on the back end like 'Ghost' [Shayne Gostisbehere] and Gudy [Radko Gudas]. Everyone has got to get better year by year.
 
“I hate to say it. We’re not old by any means, but our core group of guys are in their prime now and we have to try to make it happen.”
 
It starts in training camp.