Flyers still targeting defensemen in draft

Rasmus Ristolainen , a 6-foot-2 defenseman, has been playing in Finland. BRUCE BENNETT / Getty Images
Rasmus Ristolainen , a 6-foot-2 defenseman, has been playing in Finland. BRUCE BENNETT / Getty Images
Posted: June 26, 2013

The closer it gets to Sunday's NHL draft in Newark, N.J., the more it looks like a defensemen with ties to a famous former Philadelphia athlete will not be available when the Flyers select 11th in the first round.

Darnell Nurse's stock is on the rise, and it appears the only way the Flyers will get him is if they trade up in the draft.

Nurse, the nephew of former Eagle Donovan McNabb and the son of a former wide receiver from the Canadian Football League, is listed anywhere from No. 5 to 11 in most mock drafts. Few have him lasting to No. 11. Most have him in the top seven.

"He's a big, strong kid who plays a physical game," said Chris Pryor, the Flyers' director of hockey operations. "He moves well and is a real solid, character kid. He'll do whatever it takes to win."

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Nurse says he has modeled his game after Chris Pronger and Shea Weber, two players with a mean streak.

In other words, he'd be the perfect fit for the Flyers.

"He has a good understanding of the physical part of game, and you don't see a lot of those guys around anymore that play that hard game," Pryor said. "From a defensive side, he has a big upside."

Pryor doesn't envision Nurse stepping right into the NHL, but points out he can't speak for how other teams feel.

"I think it's hard for young guys, especially defensemen, to make that jump. He's a good-sized kid, but he has a lot of room for growth, so I don't think [he'd play in the NHL this season], but who knows? I think there's a few kids that will be able to make that jump."

One of those players is defenseman Seth Jones, who seemed like a lock to be drafted No. 1 overall until Colorado dropped broad hints it would select a forward - or deal the pick - a few days ago. Jones is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones.

"From a physical standpoint, maybe he's ahead of some of the other guys," Pryor said. "He has a big, rangy stick and he does a lot of things real good. I think he has a chance to step right in."

There are a host of players the Flyers are considering at No. 11, including defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen (6-foot-2, 189 pounds), Ryan Pulock (6-1, 211) and Nikita Zadorov (6-5, 228).

Ristolainen "has played with the men the last couple years in Finland, so his learning curve, from playing with an older group, isn't as long maybe as some other kids who have been playing in juniors,"Pryor said. "But still, there's a little bit of a learning curve to come over and learn the North American game, but he's probably close, too."

Pulock suffered through some injuries last season, and didn't reach expectations. "But he's still a good player," Pryor said. "He's got a real good stick and has some size to him."

Pryor calls Zadorov "an intriguing guy." The big Russian excelled last season for the London Knights of the OHL.

"He came over here and adapted not only to the North American game but to the culture, the language," Pryor said. "He's an impressive young kid. Really confident and outgoing. And he's big and mobile; he can be physical.

"He has a lot of things going for him."

The Flyers are also high on Frederik Gauthier, a 6-4, 219-pound center, who is regarded as a strong, cerebral two-way player.

"Everybody talks about defensemen, defensemen, defensemen, but those big center men are attractive because they're hard to find," said Pryor, who is also high on QMJHL goalie Zack Fucale. "You can probably make an argument that centers are just as hard to find. He's got that going for him. He thinks the game and he is really responsible defensively. A lot of things are really attractive."

The last time the Flyers selected at No. 11 was in 2003, when they chose Jeff Carter, who averaged 38 goals per season in his last three years with the Flyers before being dealt to Columbus.

The Flyers have six picks in the seven rounds; they dealt their fourth-rounder to Los Angeles last season for Simon Gagne. The pick would have been a third-rounder if the Flyers made the playoffs.


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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