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Clarke's Comments Bring About Another Revisit of 2017 Draft for Flyers

By Jeff Quake, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

In light of recent events with the groundbreaking comments made by Philadelphia Flyers legend Bobby Clarke and the comments he made on “The Cam and Strick Podcast” with former NHL enforcer Cam Janssen and NHL reporter Andy Strickland, it’s time to look back at the 2017 NHL Draft once more.

Clarke went on the podcast, and discussed that former GM Ron Hextall was the one who went against his own scouts’ advice to take defenseman Cale Makar or even Miro Heiskanen and instead selected Brandon Wheat Kings’ star forward Nolan Patrick. Not only are we reviewing the pick itself, but alongside the Brayden Schenn trade on the night of the 2017 NHL Draft, as well as who else the Flyers could have drafted. Back in January 2018, I revisited the Schenn trade, but it’s time to revisit it a little more since time has passed.

Let’s go back in time to June 23, 2017. The New Jersey Devils had the first overall pick, followed by Philadelphia second, and the Dallas Stars third. The top two prospects were Nico Hischier and Patrick. It was clear to a majority of the teams that whoever went first, the other was bound to go second that year. That's exactly what happened. Hischier went to New Jersey, followed by Patrick to Philadelphia.

There was no doubt that year if Patrick was completely healthy, he would have gone first overall to New Jersey, but a sports hernia injury changed things. The sports hernia was the reason he missed 35 games during his draft year. In the three seasons Patrick had played in the WHL, he scored 204 points, including 91 goals, in just 160 games.

NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr stated at the time, that Patrick had “more than proven over the last three years that he is the real deal and he will be an impact NHL player.” You could easily make the case that Patrick was a legitimate player during his time in the WHL, and was going to make a strong case to put up similar numbers in the NHL.

Patrick revealed during the NHL Scouting Combine that not only did he have surgery to repair one sports hernia, he realistically should have had two surgeries. "I had two at the same time, and they missed the one on the other side,” Patrick said. "I'm not disappointed. The doctor, he's trying to do the best job that he can. I don't think it's the worst thing for me. I think a little adversity for a young kid makes you stronger as a player. I didn't talk about it at all during the year in the media that I was misdiagnosed or anything like that. I just tried to focus on my game."

Of course, we know the rest now. After getting drafted to Philadelphia, Patrick only lasted three seasons, playing in 197 games and scoring 30 goals and 40 assists for 70 points. He missed so much time during those seasons due to a concussion, and more notably a migraine disorder which “runs in his family." In another article, I discussed Patrick's health vs. high expectations. The following excerpt sums up Patrick’s career with the Flyers:

“Despite making the team right out of camp, Patrick has only played 145 games out of a possible 233 NHL games. Due to injuries, and now his migraine disorder that was announced back in September, Patrick has only played in 62 percent of possible games with the Orange and Black.”

Patrick was then dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights in a three-team trade between the Flyers and the Nashville Predators during the offseason. Philadelphia traded Patrick and defenseman Phil Myers to the Predators for defenseman Ryan Ellis. Nashville then flipped Patrick to Vegas for center Cody Glass. Patrick has since only played in nine games and has one goal and three assists total.

Who could have the Orange and Black drafted instead of that night? Hypothetically, let's say Hextall did in fact listen to his scouts and draft young star defensemen Makar or Heiskanen, who the Stars ended up drafting.

In Makar, they would have received the Hobey Baker Award Winner who scored 12 goals and 38 assists for 50 points. Since then, Makar has won the Calder Trophy in 2020, been nominated for the Norris Trophy, and was named to the NHL All-Rookie team in 2020 and NHL All-Star team in 2021, with many more nominations coming. In his second year, which was a 56-game season for the NHL, Makar scored 8 goals and 36 assists for 44 points in 44 games, extremely good for a sophomore player. This season, Makar already has a set a career-high with 15 goals and added 16 assists for 31 points in 28 games played. Yeah, this one stings.

Onto Heiskanen, who went third in that year's draft. While he doesn't produce offensively at the rate that Makar does, he can and has still put up points. The 22 year-old has scored 32 goals and added 84 assists for 116 points in 236 games played. He's put up 30 or more points each season, excluding the shortened 2020-21 season, but still scored eight goals and 19 assists for 27 points in 55 games played.

It's even more impressive when Heiskanen's game is more so a two-way player style as a defenseman, and not an offensive mindset like Makar. Despite being a minus player the last three out of his four seasons, including this year, Heiskanen brings a lot to the table for Dallas. He is, without a doubt, a top-four defenseman, especially for the Stars whose defense core that includes John Klingberg (for now), Esa Lindell, and now Ryan Suter. He's currently paired with Lindell, who although a rising star himself, needs more time to fully develop his game to help Heiskanen more.

Elias Pettersson is the only forward that rightfully should have gone 2nd overall if it wasn't Patrick. The only other players that you could argue should have been selected although it would have been a big stretch (at the time) was Gabriel Villardi (11th overall), Martin Necas (12th overall),or Nick Suzuki (13th 0verall). 

So why a center over two defensemen who are a staple to both the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars' core? Looking back at the Flyers prior to the 2017 NHL Draft, they had the following defensive prospects: Phil MyersSam MorinMark Friedman, and Robert Hagg. Both Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, and Ivan Provorov are excluded from this list because they all had experience getting legitimate ice time in the NHL. Hextall was the one who drafted and signed each of these players and helped build that defensive core.

During that time in 2017, the Flyers best forward prospects were among the following: Scott LaughtonNicholas Aube-KubelJordan WealMike VecchioneGerman Rubtsov, Isaac RatcliffeOskar Lindblom, and Nick Cousins. With that in mind, it is pretty fair to say how highly Hextall thought of each player/prospect and where the organization was when it came to defenseman compared to centers. He had a very young Gostisbehere, Sanheim, and Provorov earning NHL minutes with more young reinforcements on the rise. There may have been more forward prospects, but it's likely he felt the defensive prospects were better. More of those players are wingers than centers, and Hextall felt Patrick could make the immediate jump from the WHL to the NHL as a top-9 center for the Flyers.

One logical answer would have been to be patient. Yes, he would have received a lot of backlash for it most likely, but he did the same thing for Provorov and Travis Konecny who went to their respected junior hockey team’s despite being 1st round picks in 2015. If Hextall did that, and Patrick didn't join the team until the 2018-19 season, he might still be on the team and part of the Flyers present and future.

Back to Clarke’s appearance on the podcast and another interesting aspect of the 2017 NHL Draft. He added a full oil drum to a bonfire by saying that Hextall made the decision to trade Schenn to the St. Louis Blues on his own, without any opinions from scouts or anybody else in the organization. 

It can certainly be perceived that Schenn’s time was potentially coming to an end in Philadelphia regardless of the trade, but at the time of the deal, they received the infamous Jori Lehtera, more of a salary cap dump than anything, and two first-round draft picks. That's was better than expected for most in a deal involving Schenn, but it would also depend on who the Flyers drafted with those picks. 

The first of the first-round draft picks in return happened to be that night, just minutes later at 27th overall. With it, the Flyers selected center Morgan Frost. Sure, Frost hasn't panned out exactly as planned due to injury and spending more time in the AHL to properly develop, but there is still plenty of time to give him a legitimate chance. Frost, like Morin, has been ridiculed for the amount of injuries he's sustained and just hasn't been able to get the ice time he deserves. Fortunately, due to injuries, the now 22 year-old is getting solid ice time in the NHL. There is still plenty of time for him to establish an NHL career.

The other first-round pick wasn't until a year later in the 2018 NHL Draft, and thankfully for the Flyers, they hit on this pick by selecting Joel Farabee at 14th overall. Yes, it might be too early to say whether or not Philadelphia did well with this pick, but if it's anything like what they've seen from the Syracuse, NY native, then they're in good shape. Farabee has 38 goals and 37 assists for 75 points in 135 career games, including a 20-goal campaign in the shortened 2020-21 season. He's already at 10 goals this season with plenty of games still ahead. 

In the meantime, Schenn had an incredible first season with the Blues, scoring 28 goals and 70 points in all 82 games. But in the seasons since, he’s returned to his usual 50-point pace. That was the scoring rate Schenn had been on when Philadelphia traded him. However, the main reason why Hextall gets so much hate about this trade is because Schenn happened to help St. Louis win the Stanley Cup in 2019 with five goals and 12 points in 26 playoff games, including a goal in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins to help his team win Lord Stanley.

This day in the world of hockey will forever be remembered even more now with this information out and the comments made by the Flyers' all-time franchise star, the decisions by a GM, and a trade that still has a chance for hope in the hearts of South Philly. Overall, in this day and age, what it all comes down to though is trusting your scouts and team as a whole.

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