By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
The NHL Draft begins on Tuesday night and 31 prospects will be selected in the first round.
The Flyers hold the 23rd overall pick in the draft and this weekend, we are looking at some prospects that could be on the Flyers radar in the first round.
We close out our profiles on prospects in the NHL Draft with a look at some defensemen in the draft.
Defensemen with mobility have really taken over the game, and Justin Barron has it with a smooth stride and great puck-handling ability. He’s strong at protecting the puck and makes it difficult to get it away from him when he has control.
While he doesn’t light things up offensively, he has impressive defensive zone awareness, closing gaps effectively and shutting down rushes. His positioning is typically solid and he has good smarts that help him get into passing and shooting lanes and make things difficult on the opponent.
Unfortunately, injuries could factor into where Barron goes in the draft. He suffered from a blood clot last season that caused him to miss months and is out indefinitely as the 2020-21 season begins in the QMJHL following a medical procedure at the end of September. Whether that hurts his stock or not remains to be seen, but when he is on the ice, he’s a poised defenseman. The risk from injury could leave him around beyond the first round though.
A great skater with a strong stride, Lukas Cormier always has his feet moving and can showcase a lot as a defenseman with constant controlled zone exits and great acceleration. His speed gets him through the neutral zone quickly and he’s got some offensive touch, scoring six goals and posting 36 points in 44 games with Charlottetown in the QMJHL.
His defensive play could use some work, but he has some solid skills such as his gap control and his agility when moving backwards and staying with the player on the rush. He also showcases an active stick that can disrupt the attack.
He’s got a lot of good offensive qualities, including good vision and passing and a quick wrist shot, he’s certainly going to need to add some size and strength and hone his skills more before he has a real impact at the next level.
At 6’2”, 186 pounds, you certainly expect a player who is able to be a physical presence. But you may not expect the best skater. Kaiden Guhle is very impressive on his feet though, with long strides and strong edges that make his motion on the ice look effortless and explosive.
His physical stature helps defensively, cutting off the rush in the neutral zone or applying pressure that can lead to giveaways. He’s an aggressive defender, but it often works for him as he tends to swallow up the play and look to start a rush the other way.
Offensively, he’s got good hands and has the potential to make a few plays, but isn’t going to be overly flashy doing so. Overall, he’s got a lot of upside, but needs to play with a little more discipline and smarts and add some consistency to his game to reach the next level.
Another mobile defenseman that is good at moving the puck, Samuel Johannesson was one of the top defensemen in Swedish juniors before going pro. He’s got the smarts and he’s got the mobility and this time won’t be passed over like he was a year ago in the draft.
That said, he’s not going to go near the top, even in a draft that doesn’t feature as much defensive talent at the top as in others. He’s going to be a work in progress, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some first-round potential here. He’s got a lot of great offensive features and his skating is superb, and that makes him a valuable commodity.
There isn’t much that needs work from a skating and physicality standpoint and if many of the other skills both offensively and defensively can be further developed, he’s going to have a shot to make it sooner rather than later.
A good skater with a smooth stride, effective edge work and excellent size, Tyler Kleven stands at 6’4” and 200 pounds, certainly already physically developed for the NHL. He still needs work adjusting to the speed the professional game will bring, but the tools are there.
He’s got a good stick in the defensive zone and works well under pressure. His size gives him long reach and makes him a physical presence when attacking opposing forwards. His positioning is sound and helps him both break up plays and create transition opportunities.
His offensive abilities are growing too, with an arsenal of different shots and an ability to read the zone and select his shot based on what’s available. He doesn’t light things up with offensive numbers, but his overall game is pretty good nonetheless and he’ll be very likely to go early on Day 2 of the draft.
A strong ability to carry the puck and make plays is a big reason why Mitchell Miller had so much offensive success in the USHL. He posted 33 points in 44 games in Tri-City and has a lot of offensive instincts that teams look for in prospects on the blue line in today’s NHL.
He’s certainly going to need to add size and for all the talent he has offensively, his play away from the puck leaves something to be desired. He’ll need work, but with college in his sights, he should get a chance to mold the skills he has and further develop some others to continue growing.
This young Finnish defenseman has a lot of raw talent. Topi Niemela is an offensive-minded defenseman who jumps up in the play and is willing to go deep into the zone to make a play. He’s got good transition speed, but his stride could use work.
He’s got some flash to his game and for as much as he focuses on offense is responsible in the other zones as well. His 5’11”, 156-pound frame may need some bulking up, but he doesn’t shy away from physical play and brings an element of it to his defensive style.
He’s going to be a bit of a project in the sense that he’s so small and is still trying to adjust to the professional game in the Finnish leagues, but he’s also got upside and should be a quality pick for a team somewhere in the middle of the second round.
For a lot of defensive prospects, skating is the key attribute, and Ryan O’Rourke has above average skating ability and is constantly engaged in the play. His acceleration from a standstill needs improvement, but he’s not slow on plays and will win races to pucks.
He uses his body well and adds a physical element to the game, but has the smarts to know when he can fully engage and when to avoid taking the chance. He doesn’t get muscled out of position and does a good job getting to the right spot and establishing his presence.
He has some offensive upside to his game, though it is not the staple, but he will give you flashes of offense and contribute. Overall, he’s a poised player that could continue to rise as the years pass and he fully develops. For now, he’ll likely be an early Day 2 pick.
Standing at 6’4”, 191 pounds, William Wallinder has a large frame but is good on his feet with agility in his skating. He’s not the best at accelerating, but looks smooth once he gets going and can effectively move and change directions without the puck.
He plays a simple game offensively, but it proves to be effective when he uses it. He has a good work ethic and compete level that keeps him engaged and he’s effective in his work along the boards and ability to break up plays with his long reach. He’s not much of a risk-taker defensively, but knows when to step up and stand his ground and uses his size to win those battles.
He’s not going to be flashy, but he doesn’t need to be to be effective. He’s going to be a defenseman that is able to do the job and play a strong defensive game on many nights.