Brent Flahr is Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher’s right-hand man. He is to Fletcher what Chris Pryor was to Ron Hextall in the previous regime — the draft expert who scouts and studies the prospects and knows all their strengths, weaknesses, hobbies, and idiosyncrasies.
In a way, Flahr, like Pryor before him, is quietly the organization’s most important person. The draft was always crucial, of course, but its magnitude has increased dramatically since the salary cap was instituted in 2005-06, making it imperative that teams build with low-cost young players.
Hextall was a chief proponent of this method, but his young players didn’t produce quickly enough for the Big Cigars. That worked against him, as did his methodical approach in the trade market, and upper management’s perceived disconnect with the former GM.
All of which brings us back to Flahr and Fletcher and the June 21-22 draft in Vancouver. The Flyers’ recent eight-game losing streak knocked them out of the playoff picture but increased their odds of getting an outstanding player in the draft.
Maybe even a game-changing player.
Flahr left the Minnesota Wild and rejoined his former boss, Fletcher, as a Flyers assistant general manager Dec. 12. In addition, Flahr supervises all aspects of the Flyers' scouting department and oversees the development of the prospects.
He made it abundantly clear he and the staff do not want to be in the race for the No. 1 overall pick.
“You don’t ever want to draft high, but if you do, you’ll get a very good piece this year,” Flahr said before watching the Flyers edge Dallas, 2-1, on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Entering the weekend, the Flyers were 30th out of 31 NHL teams, ahead of only Los Angeles. At that point, the Kings had an 18.5 percent chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick, while the Flyers had a 13.5 percent chance, according to tankathon.com.
The Flyers also had pretty good odds to get either the second (13 percent), third (12.3 percent), fourth (33.3 percent), or fifth (27.9 percent) overall selection.
Moving from the Wild to the Flyers hasn’t changed Flahr’s draft perspective.
If the prospects are equal and play different positions, the Flyers will draft to fill a need. If the prospects aren’t equal, “you go for the best player – especially high in the first round,” Flahr said. “We’ll go for the best player. I know it’s cliché, but at the same time, it’s true.”
A lot of experts say the best three players in this draft are center Jack Hughe, and right wingers Kaapo Kakko and Vasili Podkolzin, not necessarily in that order. The latter two have played center in the past.
“They’re three guys that are trying to separate themselves,” Flahr said. “And the list of talent goes beyond that.”
Physically, the 6-foot-2, 194-pound Kakko is more advanced than Hughes, who is listed at 5-10, 160 pounds.
“Hughes is obviously smaller, but he’s got the dynamic skill,” said Flahr, who got an up-close look at the top prospects at the recent World Junior Championships in British Columbia. “Obviously in the grind of the NHL, it’s a challenge for guys to fight through it, but when you have that type of skill level and ability to skate and play at top speed, there aren’t many guys able to do that.”
Flahr, a former Princeton defenseman and captain, said Hughes reminds him of a combination of Clayton Keller and Patrick Kane.
“He’s a pretty unique player in the way he skates and the way he handles the puck and carries it through the middle of the rink and distributes it,” Flahr said. “This kid is talented, and it usually depends on what’s between the ears, as far as competing and grinding through. It’s a hard league for any player, but when you’re small, you really have to fight through it.”
South Jersey’s Johnny Gaudreau (5-9, 165), the Calgary superstar, is one of the league’s smallest players – and also one of its best. He is on pace for 47 goals and 120 points.
And, so, yes, with the NHL turning into a league that hardly has any hitting these days, someone like Hughes can become a marquee player.
“He’s never been big, so he’s fought through all these different levels, and he’s showed no signs of having an issue with it,” said Flahr, who believes Hughes has the skill level to play in the league right away.
Flahr, who said the 2019 draft is “a little deeper than I first thought,” likes the prospects in the Flyers system – sort of a gift from Hextall and Pryor – and thinks forwards Morgan Frost and Wade Allison will be among the players making a run at jobs in camp in September.
He knows the Flyers’ prospects from scouting them before they were drafted or, in the case of promising defenseman Phil Myers, before he was signed as a free agent.
“Sometimes you’re with an organization and you don’t have anything coming,” Flahr said. “They did a good job drafting and there’s some volume and it makes it exciting. Hopefully we can add some pieces and get things turned around.”