On Saturday, following the draft lottery, the Flyers confirmed that they will receive the 14th pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft as a result of the Brayden Schenn trade made with the St. Louis Blues at last year’s draft. This is about as good an outcome as the Flyers could have expected for that pick, given that the Blues hadn’t missed the playoffs since 2011 prior to this season. With that pick, along with their own pick (the 19th in the draft), the Flyers now have two top-20 picks to work with entering this coming draft.
It’s the first time the Flyers have entered the draft with two first-round picks since 2015, when they had their own pick (at No. 7 overall, eventually used to select Ivan Provorov) and Tampa Bay’s (which sat at No. 29, and was used by the Flyers to move up to No. 24 to draft Travis Konecny). The two picks will give the Flyers a chance to add some more premium talent to a prospect pipeline that remains strong despite several graduations to the NHL level in the past two seasons.
They also represent two assets that the Flyers can use in a trade, and one way that they could use those is to make a move up in the draft.
The Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac made some minor waves on Saturday evening following the lottery when he tweeted this out:
It’s unclear from there whether this is simply a hunch from Isaac (a fairly well-informed beat writer) or if he’s speaking with inside knowledge of the Flyers’ plans. In his defense, Flyers GM Ron Hextall gave some lip service to the possibility of moving up in his year-end interview last week (transcription via Flyers PR, emphasis ours):
We’ve seen enough players where it’s a good draft and we’re going to get a couple of good players if we make those picks. In terms of options, yeah it gives you more options. If you want to move up, I would envision the chance to move up. We’re a little bit more defined in terms of the pieces that we have. At least have a good chance of playing. It narrows the scope a little bit, so if we move up to this spot, we can get this player who’s a good fit for the group of prospects that we have. A little bit more options.
In the simplest sense, yes, the Flyers obviously have a chance to move up. Anything can happen if a team in the top-10 doesn’t love where it stands and thinks it can get some value by moving down. Still, it’s worth noting that the cost of trading up for a known top-10 pick in the NHL is both fairly prohibitive and tough to define, because it simply doesn’t happen very much.
BSH alumnus and current Carolina Hurricanes Manager of Analytics Eric Tulsky wrote about this very idea here back in 2012, when the Flyers had the 20th pick and there was speculation that they may look to move up into the top-10 to get a solid defensive prospect. (Which is funny in hindsight, given that the Flyers found a defenseman in the third round of that draft — Shayne Gostisbehere — that’s gone on to be better than most of the defensemen taken in the top-10 of that draft, but that’s a conversation for another day.)
Tulsky noted in that article that, in the seven years between the full-season lockout and that summer, there had only been three trade-up moves involving only picks changing hands:
2008: Maple Leafs trade pick #7, a future second-round pick, and pick #68 for pick #5
2008: Predators trade pick #9 and pick #40 for pick #7
2007: Sharks trade pick #13 and pick #44 for pick #9
The infrequency of trade-ups into the top 10 has largely held up in the six years since then. In fact, there have only been three instances of teams knowingly trading top-10 picks in the last six summers, and none of those were trade-ups — each was a trade of a pick for an established player. rather than a simple trade-up. There hasn’t been a pure trade-up since the two deals mentioned above in 2008 (both of which came courtesy of the Islanders trading down).
Which makes sense when you think about it, right? The same reason we’re all interested in the Flyers trading up from their current position is the same reason that teams don’t usually trade down from the top of the draft. Teams that are picking high-up in the draft usually need high-end talent, and they aren’t really interested in trading out of the position in which one usually finds high-end talent. If the team with the high pick isn’t willing to take two fifty-cent pieces for a dollar, and if the team trying to move up isn’t willing to cough up $1.50 to get that dollar, then there’s not be a deal to be made.
Now, is this perhaps a slightly different situation than usual? To some extent, sure. Most teams don’t usually have two first-round picks in the top-20 of the draft. If some team in the top-10 does look to trade down, the Flyers — between their two good picks and solid base of prospects and young players — have the ammo to make a very competitive offer.
Just remember, though, that top-10 picks don’t get traded very often, because no team wants to give up a good crack at high-end talent. If the Flyers end up moving up in the draft, it’s probably going to cost them quite a bit, and it probably won’t be as simple as just packaging the 14th and 19th picks.