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June 21, 2023

'Things aren't good enough right now': How John LeClair, Patrick Sharp aim to improve Flyers' player development

The Flyers' player development system has had far too many failures in the recent past, and LeClair and Sharp are being brought in to help try and fix that.

The Flyers announced the hirings of franchise alumni John LeClair and Patrick Sharp as special advisors to hockey operations last week, noting that both will have a strong focus on player development with the organization's prospects. 

Now fully into a rebuild, Danny Brière's priority as the general manager is to accumulate as many assets as possible, but just as important will be the process of ensuring they all become good players once they're actually in the system.

And to put it bluntly...

"Things aren't good enough right now," LeClair said in a Zoom call with the media on Wednesday. "We're not where we want to be and we need to get better, and to get better, we're gonna need some fresh legs and faces to get in there and do that. We have some pretty good talent that we can develop, and that's what we want to do. We want to try to get the most out of those guys, for them and for us."

You don't have to look all that far to see where LeClair's coming from. Going back through the rosters and draft history over the last decade, it's plain to see. 

For every Joel Farabee, there's a Jay O'Brien. For every Carter Hart, there's a Pascal Laberge and German Rubstov. For every Morgan Frost – who only just found footing in the NHL and still has plenty of question marks himself – there's a Nolan Patrick and Isaac Ratcliffe. And for every Travis Konecny, who found a way to take off, there's an Ivan Provorov, who never fully could. 

The Flyers have been rife with misreads in talent and player development failures over the years, and perhaps one of the more underrated moves out of the gate upon Brière's full-time hiring and Keith Jones' as the president of hockey operations were the changes to try and fix that. 

Riley Armstrong was promoted from an assistant coach with the Phantoms into the director of player development and former defenseman Nick Schultz was made the assistant director after serving as a player development coach for the team in the four years prior. 

Now LeClair, one of the franchise's greats from the 90s and early 2000s, and Sharp, a former Flyers prospect from the early 2000s whose career didn't take off until he was traded to Chicago, have been added to the mix as additional voices and extra sets of eyes for the front office. 

And by the sounds of it, to help foster a much healthier environment. 

"We just kinda talked about getting started with things but for me, I think it's gonna be a lot of just having a personal knowledge of the kids and having that repertoire between kids so that they can talk to you, feel really comfortable asking [questions] about their game, anything that's bothering them that they don't feel right about with their game," LeClair said of what he hopes to accomplish in his advisory role. "If they don't understand the coach or the message that they're trying to send, we want to make sure that it's a real open, friendly atmosphere where they feel really confident and secure talking to us about anything. I think that'll help a ton. 

"And then obviously there's the knowledge that the staff has from our player development guys in Riley Armstrong and Nick Schultz and the rest of the crew. These kids are gonna learn a lot and that's what the goal is. You want them to be the best that they can be so that they can get the most out of their career."

Even if it takes a while, like it did for Sharp way back when. A third-round pick by the Flyers in the 2001 draft out of the University of Vermont, Sharp was a budding forward within their prospect pipeline, though at a time when there was a logjam up on the NHL roster. 

He had his stints with the Flyers through those first few years, but for the most part, he was a Phantom back when they were still playing in Philadelphia at the Spectrum, including on that lockout year run to the Calder Cup in 2005. 

He was traded to Chicago the season after, arriving just in time to be a vital part of the Blackhawks' run to three Stanley Cups. But for him looking back, none of that probably happens without those first few years trying to find his way and learning some hard lessons in Philadelphia. 

"I didn't know if I was gonna be a lifetime minor-league player, I didn't know if I was going it make the NHL," Sharp said over another call with the media. "That was the dream, that was the goal, to play at the NHL level, and I wasn't quite ready at age 20. I needed to learn a lot about living on my own away from the rink. I needed to learn a lot about being a professional, how to compete more consistently, and those were things that I did learn over parts of three seasons."

And now those are the lessons he wants to pass on to the Flyers' prospects, so they can become great pros, and so that the next diamond in the rough stays skating in orange and black, not elsewhere. 

"I feel like I have great experience to relate to these players and try to help them on their journey," Sharp said. 

"Every winning team starts with a great culture, a great core group of players, and a strong development system. And that's what I'm excited to work with here in Philadelphia, helping some of our young prospects take that next step and be great Flyers down the road."

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