For the second year in a row, the Flyers have selected a defenseman with their first pick in the NHL draft.
With the draft at the Wells Fargo Center for the first time, new general manager Ron Hextall made 18-year-old defenseman Travis Sanheim the 17th overall pick Friday night.
The draft will conclude Saturday with Rounds 2-7. Last year, the Flyers chose blueliner Sam Morin with the 11th pick of the first round.
Sanheim was considered a late riser. Playing for Calgary of the Western Hockey League, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound defenseman had five goals and 24 assists in 67 games and a plus-25 rating.
In his first 31 games, he was a plus-6, and in the last 36 games, a plus-19. He had a simple explanation for the change.
"Just confidence," Sanheim said. "I started to play with more confidence and do more things with the puck.
Sanheim was ranked 53d among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. He said he helped himself with his play for Team Canada in the under-18 World Junior Championships in Finland.
"My U-18s were where my stock rose, and that was after Scouting came out with their rankings," Sanheim said. "I had a feeling I was going to be higher than what they had me."
Hextall said that Sanheim's improvement over the second half of his season impressed the Flyers.
"You look at him, he is a young boy with a lot of upside who will fill out a lot bigger, and we felt at that point we couldn't [let him] get by," Hextall said.
Sanheim was greeted enthusiastically by Flyers fans at the Wells Fargo Center.
"The fans were crazy, and you could see the passion," he said. "That's a hockey city, and I'm happy to be here. To have the fan support right away, that's good."
Sanheim says his best attribute is his skating, and then he listed some other assets.
"I see the ice really well," he said. "I think I make a good first pass, can jump up in a rush."
He said he had a good feeling about the Flyers after interviewing with the team on Thursday.
There were rumblings that the team was trying to move up and trade with the Florida Panthers for the first pick. The Panthers selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad first overall.
Hextall wouldn't get into specifics, but he did say the Flyers were active in trade talks.
"We tried a number of things over the past few days, and nothing came to fruition," he said.
Selecting Sanheim was surely not a quick-fix move for the Flyers. Hextall was candid about the defenseman's immediate future.
"It's time for Travis to take the next step and work hard and eat right and develop his body and develop himself mentally and become a more impact player," Hextall said. "There is a growth player here.
"He is a long way from playing in the NHL."