Our series on potential Flyers draft prospects continues as we review the sixth player in the series.
As the Flyers prepare to select seventh overall, there are several players who are expected to be in that slot that could immediately fill a team need. Headlining that group are wingers Mikko Rantanen and Lawson Crouse and defenseman Ivan Provorov. Additionally, the series has also featured Dylan Strome and Noah Hanifin, both likely Top-5 picks, but easily obtainable for the Flyers if they slip outside the Top 5.
Obviously, after Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel go 1-2 to open the draft, one of these five players will be left on the board at seven. But who can go against these five as an outside chance at being the Flyers pick. That is where we pick up.
Here's our next prospect profile, highlighting center Mathew Barzal.
Right away, you think two things about the Flyers and drafting a center. First, why a center when winger and defenseman are of greater need? And two, haven't the Flyers struggled to get centers into the proper role?
The answer to both questions is yes. You may remember how Sean Couturier was selected at eighth overall and has not really come around offensively the way that many had hoped. While he is a good third-line center, he's not scoring at the rate he should be by now.
You could also look at Scott Laughton, who the Flyers tried to use in that second-line roll, but couldn't seem to get going. Forwards can definitely be a work in progress, especially those like Laughton drafted in the lower portion of the first round.
Barzal could be the exception to the Flyers rule though on both accounts. At 17, he has a lot to learn, but a bright future in front of him. Playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL this past season, Barzal scored 12 goals and added 45 assists for 57 points in 44 games. Barzal was also a headliner for Canada's under-18 team at World Juniors, scoring three goals and adding nine assists for 12 points in the team's seven games.
The 6'0", 181-pound center plays bigger than his size suggests, and brings a strong presence to the ice.
What's interesting about Barzal is that he fits the bill of what Ron Hextall described was needed from Couturier's game. This is a 200-foot player that understands the two-way game very well.
He doesn't light up the score sheet with goals, which may be his one knock, considering his skating is superb and his vision and passing creativity are his signature skills.
Perhaps the area where Barzal is most NHL-ready is defensively. After the defensemen, the center is the first man back. Barzal certainly understands his role in that regard.
He's strong on the puck, attacks the puck carrier and uses an active stick to be the strong defender he needs to be in the right situations. He's an all-situation kind of player – power play, penalty kill – you name it, he can play it.
His scoring might need to develop and could take time to come around, but there's no reason he can't produce on a moderate level almost immediately.
The Flyers have a need for a winger, but they also spent years looking for someone to fill the gap between Claude Giroux and Couturier as that second-line center. Barzal could be the guy.
A broken kneecap kept him out of action for some time this season, otherwise, his scoring bursts would have more significant and he would possibly be a Top-5 talent. Instead, he sits just inside the Top-10 with a chance of slipping further.
As said many times before, it's a deep draft, so the Flyers are getting an excellent talent one way or the other.
Kevin Durso is managing editor for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.