The Story Behind the Rebuild
We keep hearing that the key to success in the “new” NHL is the draft. Whether referencing Pittsburgh’s knock-out run of top 2 picks (Fleury, Crosby and Malkin) or Washington’s jam-packed youth corps (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Green, Laich, Gordon, Fehr . . . plus the entire Hershey Bears squad) or Detroit’s miracle late-round success (Datsyuk anyone?), power house teams know how to leverage their draft choices to create solid lineups.
Which brings us to the Flyers. Journalists rave about Holmgren’s clever trades, attributing the entire revitalization to new acquisitions. And in a sense that’s all true. Kimmo Timonen provided the reliable defense missing since the retirement of Eric Desjardins. Scott Hartnell and Scottie Upshall brought gritty agitation to the forward lines, while Danny Briere added finesse and skill to the power play. Meanwhile, Marty Biron supplied the needed netminding.
But paying for players only works if the core is strong. The Flyers have spent the past 10 years drafting well, especially considering that they usually receive late first round picks because they are a consistently successful team. Let’s take a look at the list of Flyers’ draft picks who have made the NHL as regulars since the 1998 draft:
1998: Simon Gagne, Antero Niittymaki
2000: Justin Williams
2001: Patrick Sharp, Dennis Seidenberg
2002: Joni Pitkanen
2003: Jeff Carter, Mike Richards
There may not be a plethora of players there. But the ones that have made it in, have made it big. Simon Gagne scored 40-goals in back-to-back seasons, and he is just now hitting his prime. Justin Williams may be injured, but ask Carolina fans how they feel about his contributions to their team. Patrick Sharp is the third element on the Toews-Kane line that tore it up in Chicago last year. And need I even explain the quality play of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards?
As the 2008 training camp draws to a close, we see a few more Flyers picks poised to take their places in the NHL. Steve Downie (2005) could prove an integral part of the Flyers’ 4th line with Arron Asham and Riley Cote, nicknamed aptly “the Black and Blue” line. Claude Giroux (2006) may be down with the Phantoms to start the year, but the talent he displayed during his emergency call-up in February suggests that will not a longterm appointment. And Luca Sbisa (2008) could prove the offensive-defenseman the Orange and Black faithful have been waiting for.
It should prove a season worth watching!