By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
For 216 prospects with hopes of one day playing in the NHL, Tuesday and Wednesday were still life-changing days, even if the scene wasn’t Bell Centre in Montreal and the 31 NHL teams were all gathered on the floor to make their selections.
It was certainly a historic and memorable draft, even in a virtual setting. For five of those 216 that heard their name called, the Flyers were the team on the other end of the announcement. Each of them expressed what it means to be selected by the Flyers organization and described both their emotions and their excitement for what lies ahead.
Tyson Foerster was the Flyers’ first-round pick on Tuesday night, and he admitted that he had a feeling the Flyers might come calling.
“I was relieved to finally hear my name called. It’s obviously a dream come true. I had a couple talks with the Flyers and they were really good. I felt good about them. I was just waiting for them to pick really,” Foerster said. “I’ve actually been to a Flyers game before. My parents took me on a trip when I was younger. I don’t remember much about it. I was pretty young. The Flyers, I know they are a gritty team. Like to go against Pittsburgh. That’s pretty much it. I’m pretty excited to get to know more about them.”
The offensive playmaker and shooter for the Barrie Colts also spoke about the last few months of his training away from game action during the pandemic and discussed how his coaches at Barrie, including Hockey Hall-of-Famer and former Flyer the late Dale Hawerchuk, got him to this point.
“Barrie is only 30 minutes from where I am. It’s obvious Barrie has been huge to me, especially Dale Hawerchuk and Todd Miller,” Foerster said. “They helped me a lot through my career. It’s been an amazing journey and I’m still looking forward to it.
“I started working out with my trainer, Aaron Downey, at least six months ago. Right when this all started, he took me in right away. I feel like that helped me a lot, getting stronger and faster. I needed to work on my skating and my speed. That really helped me a lot with my quick feet. I also started right away with my skating coach, Paul Matheson. It’s been a long six months, but it’s been worth it all. I feel I improved a lot.”
On Day 2, the Flyers focused on talent that was started to fall in their favor. In the second round, they took defenseman Emil Andrae, an undersized player that is very determined to not let his size define him.
“I’m a two-way defenseman that likes to play with the puck. My strength is to play the puck to my teammates and get them in great situations,” Andrae said. “I’m also very competitive. I like to win. I am really patient with my game. I’m truly self-aware. I like to play with confidence on my game, truly on the blue line and also on the power play to get my teammates in great situations.
“They tell me I’m way too short to be a sure pick, I think they said it like that. I hear that and I know it’s not an issue for me. As long as you can move the puck very great, play great offense and defense, great puck and stickhandling, it’s not going to be an issue for me.”
Perhaps the best story of the draft was the first pick of the fourth round. The Flyers traded their original fourth-round pick and their fifth-round pick and moved up to 94th overall to select forward Zayde Wisdom.
Wisdom talked about his journey, especially the last year where he saw a 49-point increase in point production with Kingston in the OHL, and how he plans to continue to improve his game and prove people wrong along the way.
“I always knew Philly was in consideration. I play their type of hockey. Big body, kind of gritty hockey,” Wisdom said. “They’re always there for me in my mind. I was like maybe these guys. It was never strong or anything like that. I had no clue who I was going to in the draft. Super excited to hear my name by the Broad Street Bullies for sure.
“It definitely means a lot for an organization like that to trade up and pick me up in a spot like that. As I said, I have no clue where I was going. As the picks went by, I felt more and more nervous. I felt good to hear my name. And just the point increase, obviously feels amazing. I know I worked for it. I plan on that not being it. I plan on there being many more seasons like that. Feels good in the moment. Hopefully I can achieve better feelings in the future.”
Wisdom also has a relationship with former Flyer Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds presented Wisdom with the E.J. McGuire Award for Excellence and has stayed in touch with the prospect since.
“Having a guy like that who’s played in the league for that long and who’s still playing in the league is amazing,” Wisdom said. “He’s obviously a veteran guy, a grizzled guy. He’s been through some stuff. He’s been through most of the stuff that the league has to offer. Having a guy like that in your corner where he’s giving you advice and letting you know what your best decision would be and advising you helps a ton.
“He didn’t say much about Philly or any of the teams he’s played on. It’s more just the journey about getting to a team in the first place. I’m sure I’ll call him after this and he’ll have tons of advice and great stories from Philly. I’m excited to go.”
There was another trade up in the fifth round for the Flyers, as they moved back up to take winger Elliot Desnoyers.
“It’s great. I think I had some really good interviews with them,” Desnoyers said. “I can see my kind of play with that kind of organization. Since I had that interview with them, I wanted to be a Flyer. I think it’s a great organization and so much history for the town.”
Desnoyers described his playing style, his motivation to have a more productive season with Halifax in the QMJHL and what he wants to improve on most in the coming months.
“I’m a big two-way player. I think both offense and defense is a big part of my game. I’m a guy that can compete everywhere and give it all on the ice every day,” Desnoyers said. “I think my role changed a lot. Last year, I had such a great team. We were going for the Cup and I learned a lot from it. This year with Halifax, it’s a new opportunity for me. Just being a part of the leader group. For sure, it’s going to be different in a good way for me.
“I think speed is such a big part of the game. I’m pretty sure I want to improve on everything on my game, but I’d say that speed is the most important thing now. I just got to keep working hard and competing every day when I go on the ice.”
Lastly, the Flyers selected winger Connor McClennon in the sixth round. Currently playing with the Winnipeg Ice in the WHL, ironically where current Flyer Nolan Patrick’s uncle James is the head coach, McClennon was on his way back from a collarbone injury when the league shut down for the season amid the pandemic.
“I was put in good situations by my coaching staff. Being able to wear “A” in Winnipeg is a huge honor. Having James Patrick as my coach and having a good relationship, him trusting me to lead our group, is a huge honor,” McClennon said.
“I think coming back and training as hard as I did to get it healed up and come back for the playoffs. Having that cut short due to COVID-19 was definitely tough on the mental side of things. To be rewarded and picked by the Philadelphia Flyers is definitely a huge relief. Just to know I can be there and push for the next step.”