Monday, June 23, 2014

Meet the Flyers' other picks at #17

Our fair city will be hosting the 2014 NHL Entry Draft this coming Friday and Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, the first time it's occurred in the 47-year history of the franchise.

For only the third time in club history, the Philadelphia Flyers' first pick in the upcoming draft will be located at No. 17.

Looking past the immediate hopes, dreams and fears of the fandom and the thought process of the front office in making a mid-first-round choice, there's not very far to go for the team to make an impression with this particular selection.

Let's hope Ron Hextall and the rest of the brain trust can come up with a better, longer-lasting player  than the two gentlemen taken previously with that slot. Here's a brief look at both.

One of Peter Laviolette's assistant coaches until this past October, Kevin McCarthy was one of the first players to bookend his career in Philadelphia. He spent parts of 10 seasons patrolling NHL bluelines, and was even well-respected enough to assume the captaincy for one club. He recorded 258 points and 527 penalty minutes over 537 regular-season appearances from 1977-87 -- but only 3-17-20 and 57 of those came with the Flyers franchise.

Taken from Winnipeg of the Western Hockey League with a pick strangely enough based upon the
Flyers' standing from the previous season and not from the fleecing of another team, McCarthy was supposed to represent one of the new vanguard of defensemen taken by Keith Allen who could move the puck and move bodies at the same time.

The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder made an impact during his rookie season under Fred Shero with a respectable 17 points (2G, 15A) and plus-29 rating over 62 games despite missing more than a month with a sprained right knee. However, things changed drastically in his sophomore campaign with Bob McCammon at the helm. McCarthy saw his ice time reduced and the press box view more prevalent, and on December 29, 1978 he was bundled off to the Canucks with Drew Callander for forward Dennis Ververgaert. In typical Flyers front office fashion, the deal was struck because of the potential gain.

"Kevin is a very positive kid," Allen said in Full Spectrum. "But Ververgaert is a guy who should get 30 to 35 goals for us. Everyone is concerned with his attitude, but he's a solid player in every way."

Note: final tally for Ververgaert was 23 in 95 games over less than two seasons.

McCarthy needed to be positive after a hip injury cost him the rest of the 78-79 season, but he recovered enough to be a mainstay on the Vancouver rearguard -- and assumed the role of team captain from 1979 through the miracle run to the Cup Finals in the Spring of '82 -- until a trade two-thirds of the way into the 1983-84 season shipped him to lowly Pittsburgh.

It seemed a comeback story was in the works as now GM Bob Clarke signed McCarthy as a free agent in the Summer of 1985, once the Pens were through excising veterans from their roster to build around Mario Lemieux. In the offseason, Miro Dvorak returned to Czechoslovakia and head coach Mike Keenan wasn't pleased with Thomas Eriksson's effort, yet McCarthy did not play well enough in camp to garner more than a spot with the Hershey Bears.

Over the next two seasons, he participated in just six games, as an injury replacement. McCarthy did end up winning the Calder Cup as a veteran backliner for the 1988 Hershey Bears under current Flyers assistant John Paddock.

To be charitable, Mark Suzor's tenure in Orange and Black was as memorable as it was long-lasting.

A left-handed shooting defenseman out of Ontario who plied his trade for the Kingston Canadians of the Ontario Hockey Association, Suzor was taken in the first round of the 1976 draft after connecting for 16 goals, 30 assists and 108 PIM in 48 games during his third and final year in juniors.

Suzor didn't make an impression close to McCarthy's, and was sent down to the Springfield Indians of the American Hockey League for the balance of the 1976-77 season.

He performed in his NHL debut on March 10, 1977 in a 7-2 Spectrum trashing of the Cleveland Barons and stayed for two more wins before returning to Western Mass. His fourth and final Flyers appearance came in a season-ending 3-3 tie with the Atlanta Flames, giving Suzor the distinction of never having lost a game here (3-0-1) in which he took at least one turn on the ice.

That wouldn't be the case the following season, as Allen sprang into action in August of '77 and shipped Suzor to Denver for equally-disappointing winger Barry Dean. Given a bigger role on a losing club, Suzor totaled four goals and 19 points in 60 games for the Rockies and never saw NHL ice again, kicking between the AHL and IHL until his career-ending eight-game stint for the Toledo Goaldiggers in 1980-81.

Reflections

Looking back at the draft in 10-year increments yields some interesting results from Allen, Clarke and Holmgren.

In 1974, with the club's seventh-round pick (125th overall), Allen chose goaltender Rejean Lemelin. Lemelin spent the bulk of his professional career with the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins, while he's most remembered here for his 13-year tenure as goaltending coach (1996-2009).

Ten years later, Clarke's first draft yielded a bonanza of personality thanks to Greg Smyth (22nd overall), Scott Mellanby (27th) and Jeff Chychrun (37th) in the second round alone, plus John Stevens (fifth round).

Smyth was more famous as a Flyer for his poor attitude, work habits and mohawk haircut than his actual play, and was flipped to Quebec in 1988 for Terry Carkner.

Mellanby made his NHL debut late in the 1985-86 season, and became a regular the following year under Mike Keenan -- who rode Mellanby mercilessly and taunted him about his father's connection with the CBC and his relationship with Clarke. He tallied 83 goals and 197 points in 355 regular-season games adding nine goals and 11 assists in 50 playoff appearances for Philadelphia.

Chychrun spent parts of five seasons in Philly, more a punisher than a legitimate defenseman after 20 points and 608 penalty minutes in 199 contests. Stevens only took part in nine NHL games over two seasons at the end of Keenan's tenure, but has served the franchise as Phantoms and Flyers head coach, winning a Calder Cup in 2005.

In 1994, Clarke's first shot in his second tenure as GM, the club had no first or second round picks. First choice: Artem Anisimov...no, not that one who plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but the one born in 1976, a defenseman, who never played in North America. His next notable selection was in the sixth round, known best as Phil Esposito's son-in-law, the player who scored in overtime of Game 3 in the 1996 Eastern Conference Semifinals for Tampa Bay -- Alexander Selivanov. 

One round later, with the 166th pick, it was Colin Forbes. He totaled 33 goals and 61 points over 311 games from 1996-99 and was used as bait to snag Mikael Andersson and Sandy McCarthy from the Lightning in March of 1999. At 6-foot-plus and over 200 pounds, Forbes was a large enough presence to be used on the top line along with Eric Lindros and John LeClair post-Legion. In the ninth round, it was Johan Hedberg out of Leksands, who played 11 years in the NHL, the last in 2013 with New Jersey.

The last season where there was a draft, but no season, occurred 10 years ago. It was not one of Clarke's finest hours as the sands in the hourglass nearly reached the bottom. Hamstrung again without picks in the first two rounds, the first choice, 27th overall, was the forgettable Rob Bellamy. His second pick in the fourth round (124th overall) was David Laliberte, who potted two goals and one assist in his lone 11 NHL games for the Flyers in 2009-10.

Which brings us to the 170th selection in the draft: Ladislav Scurko. The now-28-year-old confessed to killing a referee in January of 2008 in Slovakia. He was released from prison in 2011, but eventually convicted of the crime during a new trial in July of 2012 and sentenced to eight years based on diminished sanity. Scurko never made it higher than the Western Hockey League of Canadian juniors before returning to Europe.

Goaltender Martin Houle (8th round, 1 game) and forward Triston Grant (9 games, 2006-07) was taken in the ninth round and didn't make much of an impact on a roster which was part of the worst season in franchise history.
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