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June 29, 2024

Flyers stack the deck for 2025 draft while taking the gamble on Jett Luchanko

Danny Brière reached on Jett Luchanko being the center the Flyers need, but also worked with a clear plan to stock up on picks for what is expected to be a loaded 2025 draft.

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Jett-Luchanko-Flyers-Pick-NHL-Draft-2024-Vegas.jpg Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

First-round pick Jett Luchanko on the NHL Draft stage in Las Vegas after the Flyers called his name (with help from Michael Buffer) at 13th overall.

Even under the spectacle that was the NHL Draft's insane stage inside the Las Vegas Sphere and the honor of iconic boxing announcer (and Philly native) Michael Buffer announcing the pick, the Flyers' selection of Guelph Storm center Jett Luchanko at 13th overall was a bit of a head-scratcher. 

Yeah, he brings some crazy speed. Some incredible vision, hustle, and hockey IQ, too. And still only 17, he was one of the 2024 draft class' late risers, especially after an impressive showing for Canada at the U18 World Championship back in May.

There's definite upside and promise there, and at a position the Flyers need to stock up on, too. But at the same time, it's another night 1 draft gamble on the part of general manager Danny Brière and the front office, not to the extent of Matvei Michkov's selection last summer – where the 2023 seventh overall pick had a clear star ceiling but concern over when you would get him, if at all – but rather, on a reach and a setup for a potentially far bigger deal of a draft in 2025.

So here's how round 1 went down: Going into it, buzz was getting pretty loud that the Flyers were calling around and trying to find a way into the top 10 on the draft board. Brière admitted as much afterward, but ultimately nothing came of it, so the Flyers stood pat as the board started to turn sideways.

By the time they were on the clock at 12th overall, Denver University's Zeev Buium, one of the top defensemen in the draft class, had fallen down the board and was right there for the Flyers' taking. But as the seconds were ticking down for a decision to be made, the ESPN cameras cut to the Philadelphia table, which showed Brière on the phone clearly negotiating something.

The call was to move back a spot to 13th in a trade with the Minnesota Wild, who also threw in a third-rounder for 2025. They took Buium instead, while at that point in the round, Brière said, the Flyers had already identified Luchanko as 'their guy.'

"We had the feeling when we saw the board, the way it was coming down, we had a feeling that we could move back a little bit," Brière said. "We explored different options. [The Wild trade] was the only one that really was safe enough and gave us a chance to acquire more draft capital. But we were very careful to not move too far back because we really wanted Jett."

Even with Buium, Finnish center Konsta Helenius, Czech defenseman Adam Jiříček, and U.S. sharpshooter Cole Eiserman – all higher-rated albeit slightly safer picks – all still available by the time the Flyers were up. 

They wanted a center. They wanted Luchanko. And notably, they didn't want their defensive pipeline to grow too redundant with one style of blueliner. 

"When you look at our defense, I mean you have it right," Brière said. "Zeev Buium is gonna be a great player and someone that we considered strongly. But with Cam York, with Jamie Drysdale, with Emil Andrae, at a point it gets tough to go with the smaller guy, but he's a fantastic player."

The risk there, of course, is in banking on York, Drysdale, and Andrae each realizing their potential over the next few years, when all three are still very much works in progress. 

But just as much of a risk for the Flyers would've been in continuing to leave the center position unattended, when they desperately need to start stocking up through the middle, and Luchanko leaves no doubt about where he's going to play. 

"He's a center," Brière said. "The way he plays, the way he works, he's a complete player first of all. Very young still, played on an OHL team, and what he did and how he got better and better as the season went on, we feel that, yes, he's a center, absolutely, and we feel he's just starting to tap his potential. 

"So really excited about having a chance to get him. There were other good players in that area also that we were considering, but there wasn't a big enough difference to go in a different direction, and taking a center was an important piece for us there."

Plus, they still had one more first to work with via the Florida Panthers at the very end at 32nd overall, courtesy of the Claude Giroux trade from two years ago.

However, it started becoming plain to see what the plan was once the Flyers were back on the clock. Time was ticking down again, the ESPN cameras went back to the Flyers' table, and Brière was smirking. They weren't making that pick. 

It was announced soon after that they had traded it to Edmonton for a conditional first-rounder that will take hold in either 2025 or 2026, and at an early glance, that would be setting the Flyers up with possibly three first-round selections in 2025 and up to 13 12 picks for that draft in total.

And the 2025 draft, by the way, is projecting to be stacked in comparison to this year's class – not to say that 2024 is lacking in talent, because it isn't.

But what is clear now, is that the Flyers are trying to line themselves up for something massive in 12 months, between all those potential draft picks and a salary cap that is expected to start finally loosening up for them. 

It's a gamble, but there's a plan. They're stacking the deck. 

"What we feel is having the chance to move the pick to next year in a strong draft and also the chance that maybe that pick is a little earlier, that's a risk on [the Oilers'] end as well," Brière said. "Could be 32, who knows with the way they played this year. But we felt it was worth the risk to move it to next year.

"And we can still keep talking about the Giroux trade for a little longer."

NHL Draft: Live updates on each of the Flyers' 2024 picks

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