Flyers let prospects walk

By JAY BOEHMER
Senior Hockey Insider — jboehmer@highhopesblog.com
_______

Mike Richards, drafted in the first round along with Jeff Carter in 2003, is a testament to the kind of talent the Flyers are missing without draft picks. (Courtesy Philly.com)

Having traded away so many draft picks, the Flyers need to manage their prospect pool carefully.

This week, they failed to resign – and lost the rights to – four prospects.

Among those were 20-year-old defenseman Simon Bertilsson, currently playing in Sweden, and 21-year-old center David Labrecque, who posted 27 goals and 48 assists in his last season with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The worst losses, however, came at the goaltending position – where the Flyers are already scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for talent.

It was first reported that they had lost the rights to Joacim Eriksson, one of the organization’s top prospects. It’s just now coming out that they’ve also failed to resign Nic Riopel. Riopel played last season in the AHL and ECHL, for the Adirondack Phantoms and Greenville Road Warriors, respectively.

Eriksson, drafted in the 7th round in 2008, currently plays in the Elitserien, or the Swedish Elite League. With another year left on his contract there, the 21-year-old would wait before making the leap to North American hockey and the Flyers’ organization, but all signs pointed to that move coming soon – within the next two years.

Eriksson is one of Sweden’s top goaltending prospects, and the Flyers had him all to themselves. Now, he’s out there for the taking.

With those losses, the Flyers goaltending pool is in shambles. Bobrovsky, Leighton, Johan Backlund, and the recently signed Niko Hovinen are the only ones under contract.

It’s jaw-dropping that they would let two key prospects at the position simply walk away for nothing.

There is absolutely no explanation for it.

The Flyers haven’t held on to a first round draft pick since 2007, when they drafted James van Riemsdyk. They drafted Luca Sbisa in the first round of 2008, but traded him along with 2009 and 2010’s first round picks for Chris Pronger.

This year, the Flyers sold their first round pick (and their third round pick) for Kris Versteeg.

With this kind of strategy in place for so many years, the Flyers’ have been forced to look high and low for undrafted talent to sign. This paid off in Sergei Bobrovsky, but they can’t let that fool them – it’s no way to build a perennial playoff team.

In the salary cap era, you need a constant stream of young talent with cheap contracts. Once they’ve played a few years and proven their worth, they’ll surely come looking for more money (see: Ville Leino).

When you run out of young talent and have a team full of veterans on their second or third contracts, some of them have to go, and you need to find cheap youth to replace them with. Unless you’ve drafted high, your organization won’t have much of this lying around.

The Flyers are facing that crisis now.

Paul Holmgren has pulled this team up from its boot straps before. Now he just needs to keep them from falling back down.

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