Holmgren looking forward to his moment on stage

Posted: June 21, 2007

IN EIGHT SEASONS as the Flyers' assistant general manager, Paul Holmgren has seen a lot of NHL drafts.

He knows how intense they can be and he knows what kind of preparation goes into giving the general manager a list of quality choices. And he knows that strange and sometimes funny things can happen.

"It can be very intense," Holmgren said last week. "[Former general manager Bob Clarke] on draft day was pretty fired up. You get a lot of stuff thrown at you."

Of course, Holmgren has his share of stories. One of his favorites comes from last year in Nashville when the Flyers selected Claude Giroux with the 22nd pick.

Clarke got to the podium and stumbled on Giroux's name, turning to Holmgren to remind him. The way that moment was portrayed the day after was that the Flyers had wanted to pick South Jersey prospect Bobby Sanguinetti, but the Rangers grabbed him with the 21st pick and Clarke was unprepared.

"That's not true," Holmgren said. "We had Giroux higher. So we're walking up [to the podium] and he would always ask, 'What's this guy's name, where is he from?' You announce the name of the team, the league they're in, where they're from, and we're walking up and I'm telling him, 'From Gatineau in the Quebec League, Claude Giroux; Gatineau in the Quebec League, Claude Giroux.'

"So then he goes to the podium and I'm standing there with [NHL commissioner Gary] Bettman, and I said, 'I think he might screw this name up.'

"[Bettman] kind of laughed and said, 'Well, it's right in front of him. It's on the computer screen.' I didn't know that because I had never been on the podium and [Clarke] starts to make the pick and he turns around to me and says, 'What's his name?'

"He remembered it before I told him. I'm sure it was embarrassing, but it was funny and then when we were walking off the stage [Clarke] says to Claude Giroux, 'Sorry about that, kid.' And Giroux says, 'That's OK, Mr. Clarke. It's a tough name.' "

This year, Holmgren will be the guy who walks to the podium, striding the extra few feet to make the selection as the Flyers' general manager.

"I'm excited for it," he said. "I'll get the name right."

Bet on it.

No knock on Clarke, but this is a draft for which the Flyers will have a general manager who is unusually well prepared to make the right choice.

Holmgren, during his time as assistant GM, was in charge of the team of scouts who put together the draft list. He has seen all the players on the Flyers' list. He has watched each of them several times, some of them since they were 14 or 15 years old.

When he took over in October when Clarke resigned, Holmgren stayed on the road, focusing on what he has to do to rebuild the Flyers and bring them back from the basement of the NHL.

"I think we hit it just right with [Holmgren]," team president Peter Luukko said. "With Paul, we have the guy that's overseen the amateur end for us for all these years.

"So he has firsthand knowledge of all these players for all the years to come. I believe that [Holmgren] has a pretty distinct advantage as a GM right now. He sets up very, very well.

"One of [Holmgren's] great attributes is he's a team player who really builds consensus with his scouting staff. And he's really good at getting feedback and dissecting that feedback. I've seen it firsthand and it's quite a quality he has."

Holmgren would acknowledge that, but not without saying it's because he has the staff behind him.

This year he's added Don Luce, a former center who played for Buffalo and then turned into one of the architects of the Sabres team that has been so good over the past 2 seasons.

Luce was the Sabres' director of player personnel, and was hired by the Flyers in December; he now directs player development. While no longer out on the bus scouting, he knows the players in this - and the next few - drafts, and his opinion will be listened to.

And he will be backed up by a team of some 13 scouts , as well as director of player personnel Dave Brown and director of hockey operation Chris Pryor.

"[Luce] is at a bit of a disadvantage this year," Holmgren said. "Since he came on with us he's been in charge of player development. He has the knowledge of a lot of the guys we're talking about, but [Pryor] probably has more knowledge of the players overall. That's what he's been doing all year."

Scouts watch players all year, then form lists. As the draft approaches, they gather and finalize their list.

"I think our scouting staff puts us in a good position. Not only are they good workers but they're good communicators and they put together a good list. I've seen a lot of the players that we're talking about," Holmgren said, "but those are the guys that put together the list. We just had our meetings last week. Each guy has an area, but we have a lot of overlap. But in the top three rounds, I think all of our people have seen the players we're talking about.

"When you get to the draft, it doesn't change a whole lot. Usually, everybody's got the same players, maybe just in a slightly different order. That's when you have to group guys."

But it will be Holmgren's show this time. If there is a choice, it's his to finalize.

"In all the past years, [Clarke] had the final say on everything," Holmgren said. "I can only remember one time where we had a decision to make between two guys and he picked the other guy.

"This year, because I'm the manager, it's my final say. It's easy to say I was in charge of it, but in all those years Bob Clarke had the final say. Now I'm about to find out what that's like. I imagine it's going to be pretty intense." *

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