Chuck Fletcher and Brent Flahr’s history of drafting first-round defensemen bodes well for Cam York and the Flyers

 

When the Philadelphia Flyers traded down from the No. 11 pick with a few big-name players on the draft board, some were confused about what they may be doing. However, as the higher names continued to fall, the logic behind Chuck Fletcher’s move to trade the 11th pick for the 14th pick and 45th pick made more sense. The Flyers would still have an opportunity to draft one of their three best options at No. 14 that were available at No. 11.

Many expected the Flyers to draft Cole Caufield, the high-scoring American winger, but Fletcher went a different route. The Flyers selected an American, but an American defenseman in Cam York from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.

York is a highly-skilled defenseman and was the top defenseman on a strong USNTDP squad. While Caufield or Alex Newhook or Peyton Krebs, the three forwards taken directly after the Flyers’ pick at 14, may have been flashier picks, Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr had their eyes on York.

“He’s a premier defenseman in this draft,” Flahr said via Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He’s an offensive guy, a terrific skater with a great pedigree. He had a very successful couple years with the U.S. program. Our guys felt when he needed to elevate his game he was extremely dynamic, and he has a chance to be a top-end NHL player.”

“All of our guys feel good about the package of skills and smarts. I was talking to [Flyers amateur scout] Rick Pracey about this: I don’t think I saw Cam have a single bad game in my viewings of him, and it was the same for Rick. York isn’t big or very physical but he checks all the other boxes. He’s got good feet, very good on retrievals and starting breakouts, sound defense, good stick, good gaps, jumps into the play well and he’s been able to play both ends of specialty teams,” Flahr said.

Looking back at the history of these two executives, they have a pretty strong track record of selecting defensemen in the first round.

Chuck Fletcher spent time in Florida, Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and a short stint in New Jersey before coming to Philadelphia.

 

 

Brent Flahr has a similar path, as he spent most of his career with Fletcher, with stops in Florida, Anaheim and Ottawa in various roles before joining forces again with Fletcher in Minnesota and now Philadelphia.

 

 

In those years of experience, these two combined to draft some pretty good defensemen in the first round. Let’s take a look.

 

2012 Minnesota Wild: Matt Dumba (7th overall pick)
GM: Chuck Fletcher
Assistant GM: Brent Flahr

With Fletcher as GM and Flahr as his assistant, the Wild selected Matt Dumba with the No. 7 pick. Dumba made his way to the NHL for 13 games in the 2013-14 season and 58 games in the 2014-15 season before coming a regular in 2015. He is now a top-pair defenseman for the Minnesota wild with a 50-point season in 2017-18.

Jacob Trouba was drafted two picks later by the Winnipeg Jets.


2011 Minnesota Wild: Jonas Brodin (10th overall pick)
GM: Chuck Fletcher
Assistant GM: Brent Flahr

After just one defenseman (Adam Larsson, 4th) was taken in the first eight picks, four in a row ran off the board. The Wild had the second of the four, selecting Jonas Brodin. Brodin made his NHL debut in the lockout-shortened 2013 season and has been a full-time NHLer ever since.

The other three defensemen taken were Dougie Hamilton (9th) before Brodin, with Duncan Siemens (11th) and Ryan Murphy (12th), as well as Jamie Oleksiak (14th), going after Brodin. It looks like Fletcher and Flahr did the best they could out of that group.


2009 Minnesota Wild: Nick Leddy (16th overall pick)
GM: Chuck Fletcher

A month before Flahr joined Fletcher in Minnesota, the Wild drafted Nick Leddy in the middle of the first round. Leddy eventually made his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010-11 season and has played nearly a full 82-game (or 48 in 2013) season in every year since.

Leddy hasn’t become a star by any means, but he’s definitely a solid NHL blueliner.

Defensemen drafted after Leddy include David Rundblad (17th), John Moore (21st) and Tim Erixon (23rd). Not a bad grab by Fletcher at 16.


2009 Ottawa Senators: Jared Cowen (9th overall pick)
Dir. of Hockey Ops.: Brent Flahr

In his final season in Ottawa, the Senators drafted a defenseman in the first round.

He made his NHL debut (one game) late in the 2009-10 season before playing a full 82 games in 2011-12. He totaled just 166 games after, however, and hasn’t played since 2017 after struggling with injuries. Cowen had potential, but ultimately bottomed out.

Cowen was more of a defensive defenseman, unlike York (and the man the Senators drafted a year earlier with Flahr), so while this isn’t a direct comparison, it’s worth looking at in their history.


2008 Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson (15th overall pick)
Dir. of Hockey Ops.: Brent Flahr

The defenseman that just signed a record deal to stay in San Jose was drafted by the Flyers’ very own Brent Flahr … well, he had a part in it, at least.

This is obviously one of the best-case scenarios for York, but Flahr has shown the ability to draft a top-tier defenseman in the middle of the first round before.

Defensemen taken after Karlsson in 2008 include Jake Gardiner (17th), Luca Sbisa (by the Flyers at No. 19), Michael Del Zotto (20th), Tyler Cuma (23rd) and John Carlson (27th).

These next few are a bit further back in history, but are still worth mentioning.


2002 Florida Panthers: Jay Bouwmeester (3rd overall pick)
Scout/Special Assistant to GM: Brent Flahr

This was a no-brainer for the Panthers.

Bouwmeester would be another type of best-case scenario for York. While Bouwmeester was drafted a lot higher and made his NHL debut that same year, York is a left-handed defenseman like the former third-overall pick and could very well become a staple on the blue line.

Bouwmeester was taken one pick before the Flyers drafted Joni Pitkanen at No. 4. Ryan Whitney (5th), Keith Ballard (11th), Steve Eminger (12th) and Denis Grebeshkov (18th) round out the defensemen in the top 20.


2001 Florida Panthers: Lukas Krajicek (24th overall pick)
Assistant GM: Chuck Fletcher
Scout: Brent Flahr

Lukas Krajicek isn’t necessarily a top defenseman, but he had a solid NHL career and was still playing professional hockey until last year.

He played five games in the 2001-02 season and 18 in the 2003-04 season before finally becoming a full-time NHLer in 2005 after the lockout. He spent time with three teams before ending his NHL career with the Flyers in 2009-10.

He then went to the Czech Extraliga for one season, then played seven seasons for Dinamo Minsk from 2011 to 2017 in the KHL before returning to HC Ocelari Trinec in the Czech Extraliga

Jeff Woywitka (27th) was drafted by the Flyers as the only defenseman taken after Krajicek in the first round.


1994 Florida Panthers: Ed Jovanovski (1st overall pick)
Assistant GM: Chuck Fletcher

This one is cheating a bit, as it was the first overall pick, but Ed Jovanovski deserved a mention.


So, with Fletcher and Flahr at the helm, history bodes well for Cam York and the Flyers. It also helps that the Flyers scouts that remain from the past several seasons also have a great track record of finding top defensemen in the first two rounds. In chronological order, Shayne Gostisbehere, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov, as well as the undrafted free agent Phil Myers, are all homegrown defensemen.

York also adds a top-tier defenseman into a prospect pool that is now lacking on the defensive side of things with all of the above names becoming NHLers. The Flyers’ prospect pool has shifted heavily toward forwards in recent years with Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee and Jay O’Brien all being drafted in the first round the past two years. Now, York balances that out a bit and they could easily add to that on Day 2 of the draft.

It’s frustrating when your team doesn’t make the flashy and exciting pick, but York is still a great selection and Fletcher added value with the second-rounder as well.

If history tells us anything, York is on track to become an NHL defenseman in a few years, and he could be a damn good one.

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