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Meltzer's Musings: Should Flyers Trade Up, Stand Pat or Trade Down?

May 27, 2013, 10:35 AM ET [220 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The crop of talent available in the 2013 NHL Draft crop is not quite expected to measure up to the very best Drafts in League history (1979, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1991, 2003). However, the pre-Draft belief of many scouts is that could go down as an above-average crop in terms of the volume of players who go on to have notable NHL careers.

With the 11th overall pick in the Draft, the Flyers should be able to get a high quality prospect, whether it is a forward or defenseman. Several people have asked me if I think the Flyers can (or should) trade to move up a few spots.

This is certainly a possibility. However, I don't see where there's a pressing need to do so, unless there is one player whom the team's scouts is head and shoulders above others on their ranking list and the club does not believe that player will be available by the time it is Philadelphia's turn to pick.

As a matter of fact, I would not object to seeing the Flyers trade down a bit in the first round. They could pick up an additional asset while still having no shortage of promising candidates from which to choose.

This is just an example: If the Flyers could swing a two-for-three deal with Montreal to trade the 11th and 41st picks for the Habs' 1st-round pick (about 25th overall), the 34th and 36th overall, it is something they should think about doing. The Flyers have proven to be pretty astute with late first-round picks, and they could get an additional solid prospect out of the exchange.

On the flip side, I would prefer that the Flyers NOT trade up unless they can get into the top five, which would put them in position to draft someone like Aleksander Barkov or Valeri Nichushkin, whom some scouts believe have superstar potential.

Several readers have specifically asked about whether the Flyers ought to trade up to draft Darnell Nurse. I personally want not to see the Flyers do that, although I'd be fine with him as the 11th overall selection if he gets there.

Via webcast, I saw about 10 of Nurse's games this season, mostly during the NHL lockout when I was doing daily HB coverage of Flyers' prospects (Nick Cousins was a teammate of Nurse's on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds). I liked what I saw from Nurse, but I don't see much merit in the Chris Pronger comparisons that have so frequently been put out there in recent weeks.

Is there a chance that Nurse becomes a franchise player, ala Pronger? Yes, but it's not very likely. Keeping in mind that every player is unique and predicting upside on a teenage player is an inexact science at best, the best comparison player I can liken Nurse to is Braydon Coburn.

Both are big guys who skate well, can be shutdown defensemen when on their game, are prone to streakiness and whose offensive games are so-so despite impressive physical skills. As a matter of fact, the other day, I pulled out an old pre-2003 Draft scouting report on Coburn. It reads almost verbatim like the ones for Nurse right now, right down to the Pronger comparisons.

Portland Winter Hawks defenseman Braydon Coburn has scouts drooling over his rare combination of size, speed and grit. The towering blueliner is adept at shutting down other teams' top players and can join the rush to make plays. Some scouts have likened his game to St. Louis Blues defenseman Chris Pronger.

"Coburn is already very good and he has only just begun to tap into his potential," said a Western Conference scout. "That's a pretty scary thought. He's going to become a monster in the NHL."

Despite his 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame, Coburn's greatest asset is his speed and natural athleticism. He can log heavy-duty ice time against other teams' top players and shut them down. Already an aggressive physical player who racked up 145 penalty minutes this season, Coburn's mean streak should grow even further as he continues to add muscle to his lanky frame.

Coburn's offensive skills are not as advanced as his defensive game. Although he produced only three goals and 16 points this season, his offensive game is likely to develop over time. All the necessary tools are there.

"He is a very good passer, and he has a rocket of a shot," said the scout. "He improved a lot offensively in the past year, and I think he'll just get better and better."

If there is one knock on Coburn, it's that he sometimes tries to do too much with and without the puck. He needs to pick his spots better, but scouts believe that it is simply a matter of gaining experience.

"He is a mature young man and a hard worker," said the scout. "It's just a matter of Braydon figuring out what works for him and going from there."

Coburn, who was selected eighth overall by the Atlanta Thrashers and came over to the Flyers in a 2007 trade for veteran Alexei Zhitnik, has gone on become a decent if somewhat inconsistent NHL defenseman. He had a bad year this season but has shown himself in the past to be a capable player.

There is much greater chance that Nurse will have an NHL career like Coburn's than Pronger's. That's just the reality of how much more difficult the NHL is than junior or AHL hockey.

When there are junior-level question marks about offensive upside and/or on-ice decision making, those areas of weakness RARELY become the player's NHL strengths. Instead, it is up to the player's NHL coaches to minimize the weaknesses and maximize their strengths by finding the right role in the lineup for the player. Deployed properly, Coburn is a good NHL player. He's just not a star.

If Darnell Nurse goes on to have a career like Coburn's, he will have been a worthy first-round selection but not someone worth trading up and expending an additional asset to ensure your team can draft him.

Let's put it this way: Knowing what you know now, would it have been better if the Flyers had given up the 11th pick to move up to eighth in the 2003 Draft and select Coburn rather than staying put and selecting Jeff Carter? The Flyers' current options are not all that different from the outlook of where they stood 10 years ago.


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