Entering this weekend’s NHL draft in Dallas, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has a dilemma: Does he trade up and try to get a better pick, or does he stay put and make the 14th and 19th selections in the first round?
Craig Button, the former Calgary general manager who is a draft analyst for The Sports Network in Canada, says Hextall should stick with the picks.
If the Flyers move up to get a player, “there may be a little bit more projection and a little bit more potential,” Button said last week, “but, to me, to get two players over one in this draft, that’s where I’d take my chances.”
The first round will be held Friday, with Rounds Two though Seven on Saturday. The Flyers have two first-round picks because the 14th-overall selection was part of the trade that sent Brayden Schenn to St. Louis last year.
There are rumblings that Vancouver (No. 7) and Chicago (No. 8) are dangling their first-round picks. If the Flyers moved up via a trade, they might have a chance to grab a highly regarded center (Barrett Hayton? Jesperi Kotkaniemi?) or a righthanded defenseman (Noah Dobson? Evan Bouchard? Adam Boqvist?) who probably won’t be available when they pick at 14.
Bouchard and Boqvist are projected as highly skilled offensive defensemen, while Dobson is more well-rounded, in the mold of St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo, Button said
If the Flyers stand pat, Button projects that they will select 6-foot-5, 204-pound right winger Serron Noel at 14 and righthanded defenseman Bode Wilde at 19.
Noel, who won’t turn 18 until Aug. 8, had 28 goals and 53 points in 62 games last season for Oshawa in the Ontario Hockey League.
“He’s improved tremendously over the last two years,” Button said. “He’s big, skilled, smart, hard-edged. I think he plays the game like Blake Wheeler.”
The 6-5, 225-pound Wheeler, a first-round pick in 2004 (fifth overall), had 23 goals and a career-best 91 points for Winnipeg last season. He has averaged 26 goals over his last five seasons.
Wilde is the son of professional skiers, and Button speaks glowingly about his potential.
“He reminds me of Brent Seabrook,” he said, referring to a defenseman who has helped Chicago win three Stanley Cups. “He can skate. He can shoot the puck. He’s physical. I think Bode has a lot of potential. Brett Seabrook went 14th in his draft [in 2003]. [Former Flyer] Braydon Coburn went eighth [to Atlanta], and it’s not even close who the better player was.”
Wilde, a University of Michigan recruit, is a smooth skater and a physical presence at 6-foot-2 1/2, 198 pounds. He collected 41 points (12 goals, 29 assists) and had a plus-35 rating in 61 games for the U.S. national under-18 team this season.
Hextall is high on centers in the draft, and he might opt for speedy Isac Lundestrom if he is available at 14. The 6-foot, 183-pound Lundestrom held his own in the Swedish Elite League.
“He’s a good player, a very versatile player,” Button said. “I don’t think he’s going to stand out in any single area, but he’s going be a real good, all-round player. He can play the wing; he can play center ice. He’s smart; he’s got weight; he’s got skill. I don’t think he’ll be there at 19, so if they want him, I think they’ll have to step up for him at 14.”
Button said there’s “no hope in hell” that 6-1, 190-pound center Hayton will still be on the board at 14. If that’s the case, the Flyers would need to make a deal to move up and select him.
At Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario Hockey League, Hayton was a teammate of Flyers prospect Morgan Frost. Hayton had 21 goals and 60 points in 63 games. (Defenseman Rasmus Sandin, another Sault Ste. Marie player, is also on the Flyers’ radar at 19.)
Center Joe Veleno could be available at 14 and 19. He was once believed to be a top-10 pick, but his stock has dropped in the last year. “He might be like a Lars Eller [of Washington] or a Patrik Berglund” of St. Louis, Button said. “I don’t see elite skill.”
Mattias Samuelsson, a Voorhees native, will fall to the 25-to-40-range in the draft, according to Button. The 6-4, 218-pound defenseman is the son of former Flyer Kjell Samuelsson, now the team’s player-development coach.
The younger Samuelsson is strong, a good skater, and “very competitive defensively,” Button said. “He does a lot of things really well. He reminds me of [Edmonton’s] Darnell Nurse, and those type of defensemen are really valuable.”
After the first round, the Flyers won’t select until 50th overall, in the second round. By then, Samuelsson is expected to be taken.
Hextall said Samuelsson is a “different player” from his father, who spent 14 seasons in the NHL. “He’s not as mean as big Sammy, which I say as a compliment to big Sammy.”
The GM called the younger Samuelsson “more skilled than his dad.”