Why Flyers Picked Forsberg No. 1

Posted: June 24, 1991

BUFFALO — Sometime in the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Flyers decided they wanted Swedish center Peter Forsberg in the first round of the NHL entry

draft. That determined, they had to decide if they needed to take him with the sixth pick overall or if they could take one of several offers to move down and gamble that they still could get him.

In the end, they stayed at No. 6 and bypassed several better-known prospects to take the one player with whom Flyers general manager Russ Farwell said none of his scouts could find fault.

"We tried very hard to talk ourselves out of (taking Forsberg)," Farwell said. "Every time it came up, we stated the other guys who were available. We kept coming back to, 'Geez, he's from Sweden.' But we didn't have one guy who had a negative thing to say about him. Finally it just came down to, 'What are we doing? We clearly covet this guy and think he's the best player, and yet

because of the surprise part of it . . . ' We were very, very confident that the guy would help us."

Forsberg, whose trip to the draft was his first visit to the United States, certainly was surprised to be standing at the podium slipping on a Flyers jersey and cap so early in the proceedings. He said he expected to go near the end of the first round, which was where some scouting services had him rated.

Saturday morning, the Flyers talked to several teams - Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo, Montreal - about trading down. But as the final minutes before the

draft ticked by, they became concerned that Forsberg might not be available much later than sixth.

"We didn't feel we could go down past (the ninth pick overall) and still get him," Farwell said.

The ninth pick belonged to Hartford, which ended up taking Patrick Poulin, a winger from Quebec whom the Flyers had considered taking sixth. Afterward, Hartford GM Eddie Johnston said the Whalers had Forsberg rated as the eighth- best player available in the draft, and would have taken him if Poulin and defenseman Richard Matvichuk (taken eighth, by Minnesota) had been gone when Hartford picked.

But there was another possible reason why the Flyers were afraid to move down. Vancouver Canucks assistant GM Brian Burke said word leaked out before the draft that the Flyers coveted Forsberg. Burke said the Canucks told the Flyers they would take Forsberg with their first-round pick, seventh overall, if the Flyers moved down.

"We would have taken him," Burke said. "I don't think they could have gotten away with that."

Flyers scout Kevin Maxwell confirmed that Vancouver told the Flyers it would pick Forsberg seventh. Farwell said the Flyers didn't believe the Canucks, who ended up taking two-fisted left wing Alex Stojanov, a 6-4, 220- pounder.

"We don't feel that was a possibility," Farwell said. "They said they had him there, but they wanted a bigger guy. Chances were, we didn't think they would do that."

All this intrigue is interesting only in that it sets up how the Flyers came to make the first surprise move of the first round of the draft. Forsberg is, by all accounts, a smooth-skating, poised, hard-working center who won't be 18 until next month and who estimates he is "two or three years" away

from being able to play in the NHL.

Ratings on Forsberg varied. Some teams had him going in the Top 10. Others didn't even have him as the top European. Forsberg said he was surprised to be picked ahead of Swedish MoDo teammate Markus Naslund, a high-scoring right wing whom Pittsburgh took 16th overall.

Farwell said the Flyers like Forsberg's work ethic and his intensity. He scored 45 goals and added 74 assists playing in 62 games for three different Swedish teams last season. The Flyers placed a big emphasis on European scouting this year - in addition to scout Inge Hammarstrom, who is based in Sweden, chief scout Jerry Melnyk and scouts Bill Dineen and Simon Nolet all

went over and saw Forsberg.

Farwell said Forsberg (6-foot, 181) was rated toward the end of the first round only by people who traditionally downgrade Europeans in favor of prospects from Canada and the United States. Clearly, the Flyers aren't the only team that seems to be looking harder at Europe these days. Forsberg was the first of a record five Europeans picked in the first round. The New York Rangers became the first team ever to draft a Soviet in the first round when they took winger Alexi Kovalev with the 15th pick overall.

"I just don't think it's relevant anymore where the guy's from," Farwell said. "I think the world's getting smaller. This guy's here. He's intense, he's dreaming of playing in the National League and he wants to be a player."

Hammarstrom said he has watched Forsberg for several years and thinks he will mature into a top-notch NHL playmaker.

"His working habits are very, very high," said Hammarstrom, who was among the first wave of Europeans to play in the NHL in the '70s. "On a scale of one to 10, he's a 10. He works like Bobby Clarke or Ulf Nilsson . . . He never gives the puck up. He's a very, very good playmaker. Unbelievably good hands. His improvement over the last two years has been incredible."

Forsberg said some of the teams that interviewed him "didn't take it so serious, but the Flyers did."

Forsberg said he has one more year of school left, then a possible one-year military commitment. Hammarstrom said the military commitment probably can be waived. Both Hammarstrom and Farwell raised the possibility that Forsberg could challenge for a spot with the Flyers in the 1992 training camp if he plays well this season.

After picking Forsberg, the Flyers were considerably less busy than they were in 1990, when they had eight of the first 52 selections. This time, they had no second-round pick - they traded it to Montreal for Mark Pederson in March - so they didn't get back on the board until the third round, 50th overall, when they took Yanic Dupre, a 6-foot, 189-pound left wing from Drummondville, Quebec. Dupre, like nearly all of the Flyers' 11 selections, is described in scouting reports as a strong skater.

"That was a big consideration," Melnyk said. "We all know the game's changing."

The Flyers drafted two Soviets - defenseman Dimitri Yushkevich, with their second pick of the sixth round, 122nd overall, and 27-year-old winger Andrei Lomakin, in the seventh round, 138th overall. Given Lomakin's age, it would seem possible that the Flyers expect to be able to sign him relatively soon.

None of the Flyers draftees is expected to turn pro this fall. Farwell still must turn to trades or free agents to complete the roster restructuring he started last month, when a three-team, nine-player trade left the Flyers with no proven NHL-caliber right wings other than Rick Tocchet.

FLYERS' SELECTIONS

RD. (NO.) PLAYER, POS., TEAM (LEAGUE)

1 (6), Peter Forsberg, c, MoDo (Sweden)

3 (50), Yanic Dupre, lw, Drummondville (QMJHL)

4 (86), Aris Brimanis, d, Bowling Green State (CCHA)

5 (94), Yanick Degrace, g, Trois-Rivieres (QMJHL)

6 (116), Clayton Norris, rw, Medicine Hat (WHL)

6 (122), Dimitri Yushkevich, d, Torpedo Jaroslav (USSR)

7 (138), Andrei Lomakin, rw, Moscow Dynamo (USSR)

9 (182), James Bode, rw, Armstrong (Minn.) High School

10 (204), Josh Bartell, d, Rome Free Academy (N.Y.)

11 (226), Neil Little, g, RPI (ECAC)

12 (248), John Porco, c, Belleville (OHL)

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