Inside the Flyers: Bright side for Flyers: They'll get a top draft pick

Posted: April 15, 2013

BUFFALO - There is a bright side to the Flyers' flop of a season: This is regarded as one of the best draft classes in recent years, and they figure to get an early selection June 30 in Newark.

The draft includes two big defensemen who are related to former pro athletes: Seth Jones, son of Popeye Jones, who played 10-plus NBA seasons, and Darnell Nurse, nephew of Donovan McNabb, whose career with the Eagles is well-documented in these parts.

Scouts call the 6-foot-3, 208-pound Jones the consensus No. 1 overall pick, while the 6-4, 190-pound Nurse is projected to be drafted as high as fifth and as low as 11th in the first round. Both are physical two-way players.

General manager Paul Holmgren says the Flyers will choose the best player available, regardless of position. Pressed on the issue, Holmgren conceded that if a forward and defenseman were equal, he'd probably pick the latter.

In past years, the Flyers have had little success drafting defensemen. Few have made an impact with their franchise. Oh, Dennis Seidenberg and Joni Pitkanen were drafted by the Flyers, but their best years have been with other teams.

The Flyers, who selected defenseman Luca Sbisa in the 2008 first round but sent him to Anaheim as part of the Chris Pronger trade the next year, haven't drafted a defenseman who became an all-star for them since Behn Wilson in 1981.

Jimmy Watson, a five-time all-star, was the best defenseman the Flyers ever drafted - and that was in 1972.

And, so, yeah, it's been a while since the Flyers have had a home-grown defenseman who has made an impact.

Forty-one years after Watson was chosen in the third round (39th overall), scouts say Jones is a can't-miss prospect who is a scorer and shutdown defenseman.

Playing in the OHL this season, Nurse had 41 points in 68 games for Sault Ste. Marie, where he was a teammate of Flyers prospect Nick Cousins, and he says he models his game after Pronger and Shea Weber.

Rasmus Ristolainen (6-3, 203), Ryan Pulock (6-0, 211), Nikita Zadorov (6-5, 230), Mirco Mueller (6-4, 185), and Joshua Morrissey (6-0, 175) are other top defensemen who figure to pique the Flyers' interest.

The draft lottery will be held April 29, and it will be the first time in NHL history that the 14 nonplayoff qualifiers will have a chance to win the first overall selection. Under the previous lottery system, only the five teams with the fewest points had the opportunity to get the No. 1 overall pick.

It will be a weighted lottery, with the worst team having a 25 percent chance at the first selection, and the 14th-worst team having a 0.5 percent chance.

Entering Saturday's game in Buffalo, the Flyers were the league's sixth-worst team, which would give them a 6.2 percent chance at the No. 1 pick.

The Flyers - who, barring a miracle finish, will miss the playoffs for just the second time in the last 18 seasons - have lots of offseason needs through trades or free agency: a big center, a high-scoring wing, and a stud defenseman should be at the top of their wish list.

Whatever they do, lots of changes are needed. The front office should not use injuries as an excuse for this year's major drop-off. Fact is, this team was floundering before it lost three of its top defensemen and some key forwards to injuries.

For whatever reason, the chemistry has not worked. Holmgren might fire coach Peter Laviolette and make personnel moves, or he might just do the latter.

The Flyers are buried in the Eastern Conference because several promising players have had disappointing sophomore seasons, because their defense is too slow, because many of their veterans, for one reason or another, didn't adjust to an abbreviated training camp and never got into a rhythm.

But, hey, at least there is a prize draft selection in the team's near future.

Contact Sam Carchidi at Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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