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Deep Dive into Flyers’ Drafting of D-men

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Keith Jones, Oliver Bonk, Daniel Briere
Oliver Bonk with Keith Jones and Daniel Briere at June's NHL Draft

With first-round pick Oliver Bonk signed and delivered, the Philadelphia Flyers can look ahead, maybe with some trepidation, about their future defensive corps.

Maybe Bonk will become what many first-rounders become — an outstanding player worthy of his 22nd pick status. Maybe Bonk will become that Flyers’ drafted defenseman who makes an impact in the league.

“He [Bonk] is a great young man,” Flyers president Keith Jones told Philly Hockey Now the other day. “He is going to be a very solid National Hockey League defenseman.”

As you look at the current Philadelphia Flyers’ roster, defense is a weakness. There’s no getting around that.

As you look at the potential Flyers’ roster three years from now — with all of inherent uncertainties into such a practice — defense still might need the most shoring up.

A nucleus of young defensemen could lead the team’s resurgence. The Flyers have at least nine young d-men. All nine won’t be stars; all nine won’t be busts.

But the group could include Bonk, Cam York, Emil Andrae, Egor Zamula, Ronnie Attard, Adam Ginning, Hunter McDonald, Helge Grans, Ethan Sansom.

There are miles to skate before they get there, but you can see the potential and promise of these young players. What we don’t know: Can they play and compete in the NHL?

Another One in Next Draft?

The 2024 NHL Draft reportedly is going to have several outstanding defensemen. And the Flyers probably will be in a draft position to land one.

Mark Howe, Brad McCrimmon, Eric Desjardins, Chris Pronger, Petr Svoboda and Kimmo Timonen are among the Flyers’ best defensemen. None was a Flyers’ draft pick.

Is that an organization flaw? Just bad luck? Lack of an organizational commitment to defense?

Jones told The Daily Faceoff this spring: “The blue line, to me is the most important thing. We want to have a really advanced back end.”

The Numbers

Since 2014, the Flyers have made 75 draft picks. Twenty of the picks have been defensemen.

Eight of the defensemen drafted since 2014 were chosen in the top 100. Here’s their status:

2023: Oliver Bonk (22nd overall) — Signed entry-level contract. Will play on his junior team, the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

2020: Emil Andrae (54th) — Serious contender to be on the Flyers’ opening night roster in October.

2019: Cam York (14th) — Should be a top-four defenseman on Flyers this season.

2019: Ronnie Attard (72nd) — Could make a run at Flyers’ defensive corps. The Flyers would love to see that happen. In an interview last week, Jones expressed confidence in Attard’s development.

2018: Adam Ginning (50th) — Prospect who could be on cusp of making the Flyers.

2015: Ivan Provorov (7th) — Traded as part of three-way deal with Columbus and Los Angeles. The Blue Jackets are counting on Provorov to log big minutes — just as the Flyers did.

2014: Travis Sanheim (17th) — In second year of eight-year, $50 million contract. Sanheim had an up-and-down season last year. He’s only 27 and could be an important player moving forward. He might be under the most pressure of any player this season.

2014: Mark Friedman (86th) — Played 11 games over three seasons with Flyers. Was placed on waivers in 2021, where he was claimed by Pittsburgh. Has played 54 games over three seasons for the Penguins.

So, for the eight defensemen drafted in the top 100, two are on the Flyers (York, Sanheim), one soon will be (Andrae), three are prospects (Attard, Ginning, Bonk), Provorov was traded and Friedman was waived. So only one of eight hasn’t worked out so far. The jury remains out on most of them.

What’s that tell you? When the Flyers invest in defensemen in the draft they give themselves an opportunity for success. What they need to turn their roster around is actual success on defense, young players who consistently play well.

Drafts are a crap shoot. The best scouting, pre-draft interviews and hours of video on a player does not guarantee success.

Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour was on SiriusXM the other day. He was asked about the large number of prospects and draft picks the Hurricanes have.

Brind’Amour said, basically, the more players in the system, the better chance a team has to hit on one or more of them.

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