Flyers: Briere’s First Draft Rich with Upside and Potential
The Flyers introduced the “New Era of Orange” on May 12, seven weeks ago Friday. On that day, they fully embraced a rebuild with their words, on the grand stage of a Wells Fargo Center press conference filled with the pomp and circumstance of yesteryear.
But it was going to take more than a grandiose press conference and words of rebuilding and doing things the right way to prove the Flyers were serious about the rebuild. It was going to take action.
The actions that followed were a trade of veteran defenseman Ivan Provorov, still just 26, to get back into the first round of the draft. It was a housecleaning of player development roles, bringing in former Flyers Patrick Sharp and John LeClair as Special Advisors as part of those changes. It was being willing to listen on anyone currently on the roster in trade negotiations to start building for the future. And it was especially evident in their first selection of 10 picks at the 2023 NHL Draft.
While trade rumors were swirling, the Flyers were secretly at work winning over their newest prospect. Matvei Michkov was in Voorhees for a visit with Flyers brass. The two sides met again in Nashville prior to the draft. Michkov won everyone over. He became the primary target.
The Flyers didn’t have to do a thing on draft night other than wait. They were able to stay at seventh overall and watched as Michkov fell into their lap. The choice was obvious. And the Flyers took their swing for the fences.
But that theme stayed with Briere and the Flyers throughout the remainder of the draft. No, there were not going to be any further swings as big as the one they took with Michkov. But the clear focus was on the big picture, on drafting for upside.
Oliver Bonk, who already has a steady game defensively, could only be scratching the surface. Carson Bjarnason was ranked the top goalie prospect in North America. The Flyers traded up to get him in hopes that his climb from last season only continues with development.
They made value plays with Egor Zavragin in goal, Denver Barkey, and Alex Ciernik at forward, and Carter Sotheran on defense. Each player was an upside play, raw talent that with the right development could easily be on a path to becoming a reliable NHL player.
They also took a flier on a few prospects. Cole Knuble, son of Mike Knuble, used to be around the Flyers locker room as a kid. An overage pick undrafted last year, Knuble was a solid selection in the middle rounds.
Similarly, with their final two picks, the Flyers took a chance on Ryan MacPherson and Matteo Mann to see if they can elevate their games to reach the next level. Those are also chances worth taking on late picks.
There is a common theme to all of these selections. The upside felt worth it, especially considering the timeline.
The Michkov selection truly set the tone for this. With anticipation that he will honor his contract fully with SKA St. Petersburg and spend the next three seasons in the KHL, the Flyers know they have time. They regularly acknowledged it.
That’s what made Briere’s approach in his first draft so successful. While the results of these picks are always an unknown, Briere could have come in and played things safe. He could have focused on building the most successful team as soon as possible, and tried to fast-track the rebuild in some way, or at least clouded the rebuilding message. Instead, he only further reassured the Flyers commitment to rebuilding.
For many of these selections, it is also upside that is rooted in the foundational elements of today’s game. For goaltending, it’s having depth and giving yourself multiple chances to find the franchise netminder who can lead you to the promised land. For defensemen, it’s steady defensive zone play combined with mobility to be a puck-mover. For forwards, it’s speed and skill and a high-energy within the game that makes you tougher to play against, not matter the size.
The Flyers got all of that in the NHL Draft. They have the next several years to shift focus to the upside and try to develop players to reach their ceiling.
No team wins the Stanley Cup with superstars alone. It’s not always a first overall pick that proves to be the big star on a winning team. You need to find a few diamonds in the rough that grow, develop, and mold into winning players with successful careers in the NHL.
The selections the Flyers made beyond Michkov certainly provide that opportunity. Now the real work begins. It’s up to the Flyers new player development team to make the most of this time unlocking the fullest potential of the newest prospects in the system.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.
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