With slim odds, the Flyers didn’t strike gold in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes.
But they will have a chance to bring in some needed high-end talent near the top of the 2023 NHL draft.
“We’re fortunate it’s a good year,” Flyers general manager Danny Briere said of the draft crop in April. “We have quite a few picks and we have a high one.
“You have to go through a lot of bad times to get there unfortunately, but it’s exciting when you’re at the draft table and you get to pick such a high pick. It’s going to be a critical pick for the organization moving forward, there’s no doubt about it.”
After selecting Cutter Gauthier fifth overall last summer, the Flyers are slotted at No. 7 for this year’s draft, which will be held June 28-29 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. With the Ivan Provorov trade, the Flyers acquired the 22nd overall pick, giving them two first-rounders and 10 total selections in the draft. The first round kicks off at 7 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Rounds 2-7 follow Thursday starting at 11 a.m. ET.
Leading up to the draft, we’re breaking down targets for the Flyers at No. 7.
Axel Sandin Pellikka
With a push-the-envelope style, Sandin Pellikka is an elusive defenseman who can put up points and dictate a game in all three zones.
Constantly on the move and making smart decisions, the skilled Swede has the ability to dart along the blue line for sustained possession in the offensive zone. He’s also adept at transitioning the puck out of the defensive zone with his legs and vision.
“He sits in the category as one of the dynamic defensemen,” Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, said June 1 in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. “He’s a go-getter, he’s a go-to guy. He contributes two ways, he’s a good two-way defenseman out there.
“But he’s the guy that can take the puck and control the play and control the ice. He has a really smart game controlling the play at the offensive blue line, he sees plays well, knows how to position himself, knows how to get open and get shots through to the net.”
Sandin Pellikka picked apart the junior level in his home country, putting up 16 goals, 20 assists and a plus-15 rating over 31 games for Skelleftea’s under-20 team. Against men in the SHL, Sweden’s top pro league, he had five points (two goals, three assists) and a plus-2 mark through 22 games with Skelleftea.
At the 2023 IIHF U-18 World Junior Championship during late April, Sandin Pellikka was second among all defensemen in the tournament with 11 points (two goals, nine assists) over seven games. He helped lead Sweden to a silver-medal finish.
Some experts believe the top defenseman in the draft is either David Reinbacher or Sandin Pellikka.
NHL Central Scouting has Sandin Pellikka as the seventh-ranked European skater, a few spots back of Reinbacher. TSN’s Craig Button pegged Sandin Pellikka as the fifth-best player in the draft and the No. 1 blueliner. In EliteProspects.com’s updated rankings, Sandin Pellikka is the 15th-rated overall player, while The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler has him at No. 16 and as the second-best defenseman, behind only Reinbacher.
Similar to many smaller blueliners, the questions with Sandin Pellikka are his strength and defensive game. Essentially, are the puck-moving qualities elite enough to make up for what he lacks in size?
“He’s responsible in his own end to where he has good coverage and positioning in his own D-zone,” Marr said. “And he knows how to move the puck. The NHL clubs are looking for players that understand the defenseman’s main job is to make sure you get the puck out of the zone. He’s not the biggest guy, but when you play the game with your smarts, you don’t have to rely on size.”
Fit with Flyers
There’s no doubt the rebuilding Flyers need answers in their defensive picture. They have struggled mightily to find long-term stability on the back end. They have also used a first-round pick on a blueliner just once over the last seven drafts (Cam York in 2019).
The 2023 draft crop is top-heavy with forwards, so the Flyers could have a shot at taking whoever they view as the best defenseman in this class.
One would think a righty-shot, point-producing prospect like Sandin Pellikka will intrigue the Flyers. But it’s fair to wonder if the Swedish blueliner would be a reach at No. 7 overall.
If the Flyers like Sandin Pellikka and gather a sense that he’ll slide a bit, it could give Briere an opportunity to trade back and potentially gain a second-round pick. The Flyers don’t have a selection in the second round because of the Rasmus Ristolainen trade two summers ago.
Given the Flyers have the 22nd overall pick, they may not be too interested in moving back, especially with all the talented forwards up for grabs.
But in the first round of the 2019 draft, the Flyers traded back three spots to draft York at 14th overall and acquire a second-round pick.
Interestingly, York has a lot of similarities to Sandin Pellikka. When York was drafted by the Flyers, he was 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds. Both defensemen are puck-moving, offensive-minded players. One difference is York shoots left-handed.
Maybe the Flyers look for a little more size if they go the defensive route in the first round.
Source: Yahoo Sports