The free agency market offered many options that would have improved the Philadelphia Flyers at a cap-friendly price. There are many stances for or against Johnny Gaudreau, most that expected the NHL superstar to be signed. Dave Scott pushed for an “aggressive retool,” and Chuck Fletcher cosigned. In January, mostly every fan hoped for a rebuild. Lacking a plan, Fletcher added an enforcer and a veteran defenseman from the 2021-2022 Flyers roster, neither rebuilding nor aggressively retooling.
Not in an ideal situation; the only light at the end of the tunnel is the development of draft picks.
The popular opinion is that Philadelphia isn’t able to develop prospects. There are many missing pieces on the ice, and off of it, the Flyers lack. Fletcher forced the hand; Philadelphia must draft well and evolve from within.
At least Fletcher hasn’t been a complete dud at the NHL Entry Draft. The forwards seem explosive, while Cam York and Ronnie Attard receive high praise at their age, learning on the fly with the big club.
Cutter Gauthier and York represent the top forward and defense prospects at the 2022 Flyers Development Camp. They share a common ground. Both were top prospects from the US NTDP. The US NTDP team is the most visited well by Fletcher, selecting five players from the USHL squad.
When you watch York move the puck, he is different than the rest of the Flyers’ defensemen. He doesn’t play another game, keeping true to his instincts: something he learned from Scott Neidermayer.
He began with the US NTDP program in 2017-2018. York paced better in the U18 program than he did in the U17. Totaling 7pts (3G, 4A) in thirteen games with the U18 program in 2017-2018, York jumped off the map with 33pts (7G, 26A) in 28 games the following season. With the fourteenth overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Philadelphia selected York.
York is refreshing to watch with the Flyers, but it is the first time he’s played on a poor team. He responds well to adversity, and his development tracks with his hockey career. In 2022-2023, York is in line to leap forward, securing his NHL role.
A more difficult read is Murchison. He moved to the US NTDP U18 team late in 2019-2020. Comparably, with the US NTDP U17 squad, Murchison totaled 8pts (2G, 6A) in 41 games. In 2020-2021, he tallied 15pts (7G, 8A) in 48 games with the US NTDP U18 group.
In the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Philadelphia chose Murchison in the fifth round. He spent the entirety of 2021-2022 with Arizona State University registering 7pts (4G, 3A) in 35 games, flexing his defensive skills.
Murchison was at the 2022 Flyers Development Camp. He dropped into the defensive zone against Alex Bump on a three-on-two entry drill where Bump got the best of the exchange. Murchison depends on his physicality and skating, but Bump was quick and elusive.
Admittedly, this one is a stretch. Nonetheless, McLaughlin played seven games with the US NTDP U18 team in 2020-2021 but spent most of the year with Mount St. Charles Academy.
A seventh round selection at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Fletcher was tipped off about McLaughlin. As recent as last month, he extended a bonafide offer to McLaughlin. In 2022-2023, McLaughlin will begin with the University of North Dakota. He spent 2021-2022 with the Sioux City Musketeers, taking on the US NTDP Juniors in the USHL.
He shot up the draft board. Fletcher decided to ride with the versatile forward, selecting him fifth overall in the first round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
A lot of weight is on Gauthier. A large chunk of that added weight is in part of Fletcher switching his “aggressive retool” method to acquire “high-end skill.” After being out on Gaudreau, Fletcher mentioned that he did get said “high-end skill” in Gauthier.
“Ideally, we [would] like to get more high-end skill, and I think starting the draft with Cutter Gauthier, he is a young man that can fill some holes for this organization down the road. I think first round picks are going to be a pretty important part of what we’re trying to do as well.”Chuck Fletcher; 7/13/2022
He had a solid camp. Gauthier is as advertised. He could play left wing or center, though it seems like there is a focus for Gauthier to occupy the middle of the ice. Gauthier will begin with Boston College in 2022-2023.
Gauthier averaged 1.2PPG for 65pts (34G, 31A) in 54 games with the US NTDP U18 team in 2021-2022.
Brent Flahr noted that Kaplan was a steal, still available with the 69th overall selection (third round) of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
“We didn’t expect to get Kaplan where we got him.”Brent Flahr; 7/8/2022
Gauthier and Kaplan have a great relationship, playing on the same US NTDP U18 team in 2021-2022. Getting these two in the same draft brings natural chemistry to the Flyers’ system. They’ll play head-to-head a few times in 2022-2023 when Boston University takes on Boston College.
Kaplan notched 38pts (13G, 25A) in 53 games. Interesting about Kaplan, his deceptive game deviates away from Philadelphia’s draw-and-dump, focusing on clean offensive zone entries.
Other Fletcher Draft Observations
Fletcher revisits the US NTDP program more than any other. The Omaha Lancers would be the second most visited well. Fletcher selected Bump in 2022 and Bryce Brodzinski in 2019. Both played more games at their respective high schools than the Lancers, similar to McLaughlin with the US NTDP and Mount St. Charles Academy.
Before Fletcher, Ron Hextall commanded five NHL Entry Drafts for the Flyers. Through his first four drafts, Hextall never selected a prospect from the US NTDP. He took three (Farabee, O’Brien, and Hain) in his last draft, the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. From 2014-2017, Hextall frequently fished with the Calgary Hitmen (Sanheim, Fazleev, Twarynski.)
Hextall leaned into the relationship with the US NTDP in his last year as Philadelphia’s general manager. Fletcher carried on with the US NTDP throughout his draft classes. To date, Fletcher hasn’t drafted poorly. These prospects from the US NTDP make up for a critical sect of the defensive and offensive future.
An eye is on the prospect pool and how they grow together. Despite the mood in the room about Fletcher, he and Brent Flahr understand the preferred synergy of drafting “high-end skill” from familiar sites.
(Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire)