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Flyers Need Defensemen, Prospects Like Carter Yakemchuk

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Some of you might recall an article I wrote a few weeks ago, where I said the Philadelphia Flyers should avoid choosing Carter Yakemchuk with the 12th pick in the 2024 NHL Draft. But, there are two sides to every coin. As long as there’s a sufficient basis for an argument, I can take to either side. That’s what I’m doing here.

For those who don’t know of or anything about Yakemchuk, he’s a 6-foot-3 right-shot defenseman who just led all WHL defensemen in goals with 30. The 18-year-old was second in goals on his team, the Calgary Hitmen, and also finished second in assists (41) and points (71).

Oh, and Yakemchuk isn’t afraid to stick his nose in extracurriculars; he finished the season with a whopping 120 penalty minutes after having only 31 in 67 games last year.

The Flyers spent much of the last year addressing the right defense position, adding Oliver Bonk in the 2023 NHL Draft and acquiring Jamie Drysdale from the Anaheim Ducks in the Cutter Gauthier trade back in January. Outside of those two, though, the Flyers don’t have a lot at the position going forward.

Rasmus Ristolainen will turn 30 on Oct. 27 and is recovering from a season-ending triceps injury and subsequent surgery. Ronnie Attard is already 25 years old and has yet to appear in 20 NHL games for the Flyers in any given season. That leaves Helge Grans and Ethan Samson as the only two remaining projectable defensemen. While solid prospects, they are far from guaranteed to make the NHL in the future, let alone become impact players.

Adding Yakemchuk would allow the Flyers to add something to their defense that nobody else has, and that’s game-breaking offensive skill. Drysdale is more of a puck mover with elite skating ability, while Bonk is the jack-of-all-trades, master of none, high-floor defenseman.

And banking on Drysdale, who is developing an injury-prone reputation, to lead the charge would be a risky business practice. The Flyers need to continue to take these kinds of risks, though. Developing players with high upside is one of many ways to build a Stanley Cup contender, and that goes for all their prospects, not just defensemen.

Yakemchuk has the shot, the passing, and the physicality, but his defending could use some work, just like Drysdale. For the Flyers, that should be no real issue; associate coach Brad Shaw has turned water into wine with a lot of the Flyers’ current defensemen. After spending parts of the last few seasons in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Cam York came in, made the Flyers out of training camp, and played in all 82 regular season games. And he did so at an extremely high level.

Travis Sanheim, York’s defense partner, played almost exclusively on the right side of the defense and enjoyed a career year after a dismal 2022-23 season. Nick Seeler, who was out of hockey entirely only three years ago, parlayed his resurgence into a four-year contract extension. Even the controversial Ristolainen managed to turn his career around, developing into a reliable, physical bottom-four defender for the Flyers.

If Yakemchuk is indeed selected by the Flyers in the 2024 NHL Draft, there’s no reason the team shouldn’t be able to coax him into a superstar.

When I think of a hulking defenseman with a blistering shot and loads of offensive ability, I think of Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. That’s a franchise player. That’s what Yakemchuk could, in theory, become at the NHL level for the Flyers.

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