Bill Meltzer shares his thoughts on Joacim Eriksson, Europeans, and more

Bill Meltzer writes about the Flyers for hockeybuzz.com and is a contributing writer for NHL.com. Follow him on twitter @billmeltzer.

The Flyers haven’t drafted anyone out of Europe in the past two drafts. In total they have only drafted two players out of Europe in the past 5 drafts. However, they do take Europeans that play in North America. Do you feel they are strategically avoiding drafting prospects out of Europe? What are your thoughts on such a strategy if it exists?

I don’t they are so much specifically avoiding drafting from Europe as they are prioritizing players they think will be ready to sign within the period that the club holds their rights. As a whole, most NHL teams have been avoiding KHL affiliated prospects because of signability issues. With Elitserien or SM-Liiga affiliated players, it’s no so much signability as their readiness within the two-year window. In the other Euro leagues (including the Czech Extraliga in recent years), there have not been all that many quality prospects in any given draft year, so that reduces the chance of the Flyers drafting someone out of those leagues.

It appears to me the Flyers haven’t had a lot of success drafting outside of first round in the last 8 years or so. Could their avoidance of Europe be a reason for this lack of success?

I don’t that’s specifically why. For instance, the Flyers did take Denis Bodrov in the 2nd round in 2006 and Simon Bertilsson in the 3rd round in 2009. I think it’s been a combination of a couple of things.

First of all, the team has traded away so many draft picks (including the first and second rounds) that, by simple mathematics, there is less chance of unearthing future impact players.

Secondly, I think other organizations have simply done a better job than the Flyers at identifying higher-ceiling talents. Detroit has been especially good with European prospects — an example from last year is Teemu Pulkkinen, whom I still have no idea why he slipped all the way to the fourth round. I would have preferred if the Flyers had selected him instead of the (now-traded) Michael Chaput, whom I think also has a decent chance of being an NHL player but is a lower-ceiling talent than Pulkkinen. A North American example would be NHL clubs bypassing Jamie Benn in 2007 until Dallas took him in the 5th round. Benn was under the radar primarily because he played Junior A hockey instead of major junior hockey. Meanwhile, that same draft, the Flyers went off the board to pick Garrett Klotz in the 3rd round; a player who, even in an absolute best case scenario, projected as a 4th line player.

Scouting is an inexact science and it’s always easy to look at a draft in hindsight and question why a team did or didn’t draft a certain player. I think there have been times where the Flyers have opened themselves up to immediate second-guessing about particular picks.

Then again, back in 1991, most everyone in the NHL had Peter Forsberg pegged as a late first round to early second round pick. The Flyers were panned for picking him so early in the first round. It turned out pretty quickly that the team — or, more specifically, scout Inge Hammarstrom — knew what they were doing with that pick. But Hammarstrom was similarly enthusiastic about Alexander Drozdetsky in 2000, to the point that Hammarstrom encouraged the team to pick Drozdetsky in the first round (they ultimately took him in the 3rd) rather than risking another team taking him. Obviously, that pick didn’t work out so well, so it was a good thing the club took Justin Williams in the first round instead.

While the Flyers appear to be avoiding drafting players from Europe, they have shown they are willing to sign free agents from Europe such as Vaananen, Pyorala, and Bobrovsky. Do you think they will continue to look to Europe to find talent for the NHL squad?

Yes. They just signed goalie Niko Hovinen this year, and I’m sure they will continue to look at Euro free agents in the seasons to come.

I’ve also noticed other teams turning to Europe. The Oilers recently signed two players from Finland. Then there is Ville Leino, who was originally signed by Detroit. Will we see more teams turning to Europe in the salary cap world?

Yes, but it’s very much a hit-or-miss proposition. In many cases, the older European players who have never played in North America before prove to be pretty limited in their NHL impact.

Are there any undrafted players currently in Europe that you feel could have an impact in the NHL like Leino?

Personally, I would have liked to have seen Patrick Thoresen get a second shot at the NHL. I think he would have scored more goals the second time around. This summer there was some talk about Jokerit Helsinki forward Janne Lahti getting interest from a few NHL teams. Former Rangers forward Jarkko Immonen’s name was hot for a little while after he was dominant offensively at the Wold Championships this year. However, none of these players were about to get a one-way contract or a semi-guaranteed NHL spot, so they are probably better off in Europe making more money than they would in the AHL and getting more ice time than they would as NHL bubble guys. Among younger players, I suppose there’s a chance that someone like Perttu Lindgren (ex- Dallas Stars forward) or Roman Cervenka (Jaromir Jagr’s linemate with Avangard Omsk, he’s an undersized offensive-minded forward who was never drafted by an NHL club) could draw interest. There are also some late-blooming goalies, like AIK Stockholm’s Viktor Fasth, who could get a shot.

The Flyers haven’t drafted a goalie in the last two drafts, but they have been signing goalies from Europe. Do you feel this is a new strategy of theirs or is it merely a coincidence? Is there a benefit to signing a free agent goalie rather than drafting one?

The benefit is that these goalies are usually a little older, and goalies typically take longer than position players to develop. In the case of Hovinen, the player wasn’t ready for an NHL contract after Minnesota drafted him. By the time the Flyers signed him as a free agent, he had started to come into his own a little bit (although he’s still very much a work in progress). In the case of Sergei Bobrovsky, he wasn’t widely scouted and hadn’t played on the national team so he flew under the radar with NHL teams until he put in two good seasons on a bad team in the KHL.

Flyers fans were stunned when they decided not to sign Joacim Eriksson. His first two seasons since drafting him were very impressive, albeit at lower levels, but then he had a rather forgettable season in the Elitserien. It appeared to me Skelleftea never gave him much of a chance to start and perhaps they weren’t the best situation for him. Do you think the Flyers gave up on him too soon?

The Flyers didn’t give up on him but they had a tough decision to make. Basically, Eriksson was in the same situation with the Flyers this year that Hovinen was in the final year that his rights belonged to the Wild. The team that drafted him had two choices.

Option one was to sign him to an entry-level contract and loan him back to SAIK for at least one season, hope he adapted quickly to the AHL in the second year and was NHL ready by the third and final year of his entry-level contract. That would have required a pretty big leap of faith, considering that he has yet to be a starter in Elitserien and had a rather so-so rookie year as SAIK’s backup. The other option was to relinquish his rights, keep on evaluating him and potentially sign him as a free agent down the line (which might require outbidding other NHL clubs). Either way, there was risk involved in the decision.

If the Flyers hadn’t signed Hovinen this year, they probably would have taken the chance on signing Eriksson to an entry level contract. The book isn’t closed on Eriksson as an NHL prospect, even as a potential future Flyer. He just wasn’t ready now, and the rules no longer work in favor of drafting young players out of European teams.

Under the old rules, NHL teams held the rights to players drafted from European teams basically for as long as they wanted. It was not uncommon for a drafted player to come over even in his mid-20s. That’s no longer the case, at least for countries (Sweden, Finland) where there is a transfer agreement in place. NHL teams are still holding onto the rights of players drafted from Czech Extraliga or KHL teams, which is how the Flyers still hold the rights to Jakub Kovar (drafted in 2006) but not Eriksson (drafted in 2008).