It didn’t take as long as anticipated for West Chester Rustin graduate Eric Knodel to get the phone call that he was drafted. And that’s just fine with him.
With the 128th pick in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL entry draft Saturday in Montreal, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected the 6-6, 216-pound Knodel to be part of their famed organization.
With their final selection in the 2009 NHL draft, the Flyers select Danish defenseman Oliver Lauridsen out of St. Cloud State. At 6’5, 205 lbs., Lauridsen is a physical, stay-at-home style blue liner with a nasty streak. Lauridsen has a professional frame, but needs to become a better skater all around to stick in the NHL. If the Flyers can get his footwork better, he could be a steal in the seventh round. The typical low-risk, high-reward pick.
With their second sixth-round pick, the Flyers go forward once more, selecting left-winger Eric Wellwood, brother of Vancouver’s Kyle Wellwood. Eric however, doesn’t quite have the skill of his older sibling. Billed as a smallish checking forward, at 5’11, 180 lbs., Wellwood is not a big guy, but is a worker. He had a good year with Windsor of the OHL, scoring 16 goals an 18 assists in 61 games, but he isn’t a pure scorer in the least. If Eric had his work ethic with the talent of his brother, he would have gone a lot sooner in the draft. The Flyers hope he can grow into a player at the NHL level, for he is a project.
The first forward selected by the Flyers, Dave Labrecque is a quick player with some offensive upside. Not much is known about Labrecque, other than his offensive prowess. At 5’11, 170 lbs., the smallish forward is primarily a set-up man, scoring 13 goals and 48 assists in 59 games with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL.
The Flyers again select a goalie, this time Nicola Riopel from Moncton of the QMJHL in the fifth round. The 6’0, 170 lbs., backstop posted a 2.05 GAA in 59 games with the Wildcats. Riopel’s signature is his speed and agility. He doesn’t have the size preferred, but he can move in the crease well. Somewhat of a long shot, Riopel has a questionable glove, but with some coaching and luck, the Flyers may have a keeper in the organization.
The word on 6’0, 190 lbs., defenseman Simon Bertilsson is that if the 2009 NHL draft was not so filled with elite Swedish players, he would have been taken higher. Somewhat overshadowed by the many Swedes in the draft, Bertilsson is a physical, stay-at-home blue liner that is mature in his own zone and thinks the game well.
“We really like Simon,” said Holmgren. “He’s a hard-nosed kid and is good with the puck. We like him a lot.”
Bertilsson has a lot of upside, but he needs to get stronger to be a capable pro defenseman. With his mobility and smarts, he is a solid pick at 87.
General Manager Paul Holmgren made it clear he wanted to improve the organization’s goaltending depth and he did just that by selecting Saskatoon Blades’ goaltender Adam Morrison, 81st overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft.
“He’s a guy all of our scouts liked,” said Holmgren. “We sent Neil Little to watch him play a number of times. He played back up with the Blades last season, but he is going to play a lot more next year. We like our pick, we have done our homework on him.”
At 6’3, 170 lbs., Morrison is a very raw talent. He has the size that the Flyers like in their goaltenders and a strong work ethic. Morrison was the 24th ranked goaltender in the draft, so the Flyers must have saw something they liked.
After trading away a roster player, the team’s top defensive prospect and two first-round draft picks, General Manager Paul Holmgren had some questions to answer about why he would mortgage the future for an aging defenseman. And his answer? It’s about winning now.
“It’s a lot to give up,” Holmgren said honestly. “Ask me a couple years from now if it’s worth it. Lupul and Sbisa are good players but we’re trying to win now and Chris is the guy that can get closer to achieving our goal.”
The fact that Pronger has two Stanley Cup rings, is a big reason Holmgren paid the high price.
“Chris bring a lot of things to any team he is on,” Homer said. “He’s a proven winner first and secondly he brings the size and can pass the puck as well as anyone. He brings a fine physical presence. He’s an ideal fit on our team and he’ll make all the defenseman on our team better around him.”
When asked how they could fit Pronger’s $6.25 million salary under the cap, Holmgren claimed the team was under.
“We have space,” He said. “Once we get through the draft and get back home, we’ll sit down and look where we’re at. We still have a young nucleus and a team that can be a good team for a long time. We’ll address our issues when we get back home.”
The thought of Chris Pronger in the Orange and Black is starting to warm in the minds of blue-thirsty Philadelphians, who are starting to believe that the 6’6 war machine may be that one missing piece.
“I’d like to think so,” said Pronger, when asked if he is that missing link between the Flyers and a Stanley Cup. “That’s one of the reasons I was brought to Anaheim and it worked out. I’m looking forward to it.”
With a no-trade clause, Pronger knew he could potentially be moved at the draft. And according to him, the Flyers were one of the top teams on his list.
“There was a limited number of suitors to begin with with the price teams had to play,” he told TSN. ” Philly was one of the teams on the short list that’s for sure.”
Pronger is a unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2009-10 season. General Manager Paul Holmgren has told the media he has planned a sit down with Pronger and his agent to work out an extension.
TSN is reporting that the Flyers have acquired 34-year old defenseman Chris Pronger from the Anaheim Ducks for forward Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa and the 2009 and 2010 first-round picks, with a conditional future third-round selection. The Flyers have been on the hunt for the big-hitting veteran defenseman since Jay Bouwmeester fell just out of their reach.
Despite aging, Pronger is still a legitimate top defenseman in the NHL. He is big, mean and experienced. Just what the Flyers needed. Philly may have appeared to pay too much, but if General Manager can package Danny Briere or another big-money forward to get back into the first round, the Pronger deal will be much easier to swallow.
Pronger has one more year left on his contract a $6.25 million. The Flyers relieved a little over $4 million with Lupul heading the other way. Look for Holmgren to make some more cap space before the night is over.