2016 NHL draft prep: Options for Flyers at 18

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If we look at the Flyers' landscape, their cupboard is well stocked with defensemen and goalies. There is a forward prospect in there with a bright future, and a Russian defenseman that could be patrolling their blue line as early as next season.

General manager Ron Hextall has done an excellent job building through the draft, while staying true to his vision despite the orange and black being a little ahead of schedule.

The Flyers' playoff appearance in 2015-16 signaled a glimpse into Hextall's final creation, which is still a few years away from being completed. It's still just a plan.

Nothing is concrete. There are no guarantees Hextall's process will result in long-standing dominance and Stanley Cup rings. But there is a clear objective for the Flyers.

This offseason is still a critical stage of development. The Flyers have drafted well on the back end and even unearthed a promising undrafted defenseman in Philippe Myers, too.

Now comes the next phase. Hextall has 10 picks in this year's draft, including five in the first three rounds — No. 18 overall, two second-round picks and two third-round picks.

Hextall has proven to draft by best player available instead of team need. But make no mistake, he understands what his team needs most: goal scoring and playmaking.

Here are several prospects the Flyers could target come June 23-24 in Buffalo, New York.

Michael McLeod, C, 6-2/187, Mississauga (OHL)
McLeod's style of play may sound familiar and may not directly align with what the Flyers are looking for. He's a smart, two-way center who coaches can rely on in all situations.

Sound familiar? It should. The Flyers already have a player that fits that description in Sean Couturier and even Scott Laughton resembles McLeod's game in terms of work ethic.

Playing for his hometown junior team, the Mississauga Steelheads, McLeod finished second on the team in scoring with 61 points behind projected top-10 pick Alexander Nylander.

The 6-foot-2, 187-pound centerman netted 21 markers and 40 assists in 57 regular-season games for the Steelheads and nine more points in seven playoff games for Mississauga.

At 18, McLeod is likely done growing, but he can still fill out his frame. He has size and is an excellent skater with a good burst. He gives the same effort every shift.

He failed to leave a lasting impression with Canada in the U-18s — four points in seven games — and fell seven spots in Central Scouting's final North American rankings to 13th.

But McLeod is a hard-working forward who pays attention to detail in all three zones. At the very least, he's a checking line center, which may not fit well with the Flyers.

Will he be there at 18 is the question. He finished 15th on our top 30 prospects, and his stock has dipped throughout the year. Still, he'll likely be off the board by 18.

Kieffer Bellows, LW, 6-0/194, USNTDP (USHL)
A product of the U.S. National Development program, Bellows is a personal favorite.

Bellows, 18, is a 6-foot power forward who loves to forecheck, win puck battles and score goals. He's shifty with the puck and has a plus shot. Sounds like a good fit here.

By his own accord, Bellows still needs to improve his defensive coverage, but he'll have plenty of time to do that. He's committed to play at Boston University in the fall.

The son of Brian Bellows, a 17-year NHL veteran, Kieffer led his team with 50 goals this season and also played center on the power play, on which he registered 12 markers.

Along with his teammate Clayton Keller, Bellows is projected to be a top-20 pick. Keller is a little higher on the board than Bellows, but Bellows would fit well with the Flyers.

He plays left wing and owns a particular set of skills for which the Flyers are looking. He's a goal scorer, which they obviously lack, and likes to play a physical game.

While he could be better in his own end, Bellows' offensive contributions would be hard to pass up in the first round for Hextall. He's the kind of player the Flyers need.

A future with Bellows on the wing of Claude Giroux or Couturier would be a promising one.

Julien Gauthier, RW, 6-4/225, Val d'Or (QMHJL)
In theory, Gauthier would be fit in well with what the Flyers need.

He is a big, strong right winger who finds twine more often than not.

But there is a catch. Gauthier's stock has fallen. At one point, he was believed to be a top-10 pick, but now he's even fallen out of the top 40 prospects, according to TSN.

Talent evaluators tend to judge players on whether they're trending upward or downward. With Gauthier, it appears many don't see him becoming much more than what he already is.

Still, Gauthier does have a skill set that should transition to the next level. He has a similar skill set to Rick Nash. Big, soft hands and finds ways to score goals.

In 54 games with Val d'Or this season, Gauthier potted 41 markers and 57 points. In 2014-15, he registered 38 goals in 68 games as a 16-year-old.

The goal scoring is there, which makes him an interesting option. We don't really know how teams rank these players, but the Flyers did not meet with Gauthier at the combine.

That does not necessarily mean much. The Flyers also didn't interview with Couturier in his draft year, but they also didn't have the No. 8 pick at the time of the combine.

Gauthier will likely be available at 18 for the Flyers.

Luke Kunin, C, 6-0/196, Wisconsin (NCAA)
One of two A-rated collegian skaters by Central Scouting, Kunin did meet with the Flyers' brass during the combine. A center by nature, Kunin can also play the wing.

Kunin flew under the radar playing for a struggling Wisconsin program, but he'll have more opportunity to showcase his skills next season under former Avs coach Tony Granato.

In his freshman season, Kunin scored 19 goals and 32 points in 34 games. He showed an ability to finish and find himself scoring chances. He's a gifted offensive player.

The 18-year-old works hard and is an intelligent player. His versatility makes him attractive to the orange and black, as he could move to wing if needed. The skill is there.

It'll be interesting to see how long he stays at Wisconsin.

Max Jones, LW, 6-2/189, London (OHL)
A decade ago, Jones would be a perfect fit for the Flyers.

Now, it's uncertain if he's a good fit here — or in the NHL.

He's a big, nasty SOB who's made a name for himself as a hard-working, hard-hitting winger that often toes the line between clean and dirty. His junior coach, Dale Hunter, said Jones' opponents hate him "because he works too hard." But he also has skill.

Jones plays an in-your-face brand of hockey, and at 6-foot-2, he's big enough and has the willingness to get into the greasy areas to score goals. In 63 regular-season games for the Memorial Cup-winning London Knights, he tallied 28 markers.

What may scare off teams is his tendency to toe the line, especially given the league is adjusting to more of a skilled game. Will it be enough to scare the Flyers off? We'll see.

But Jones, if you can tame his wild side, could be a good fit for the Flyers at 18. He can score, plays a physical game and is a tireless worker. All positives.

Other names to consider

Charlie McAvoy, D, 6-0/206, Boston University (NCAA)
McAvoy isn't expected to be available at 18, but if he's there, he may be too hard to pass up. A right-handed shot who produces offensively and takes care of his own end.

German Rubtsov, C, 6-1/174, Russia U-18 (MHL)
Likely will be available at 18. The Flyers interviewed him at the combine, which shows some interest. A two-way center from Russia. Definitely fits the playmaker mold.

Tage Thompson, C, 6-5/185, Connecticut (NCAA)
Another collegian player the Flyers interviewed during the combine. A big center who opened eyes during his freshman campaign at the University of Connecticut.

Jake Bean, D, 6-0/165, Calgary (WHL)
Another defenseman who may be too good to pass up if he's available. That's the question. Will he be there at 18? The thinking here is no. He'll go before the Flyers.

Riley Tufte, LW, 6-5/205, Blaine High School (Minnesota)
Might be a bit of a reach at 18 for the Flyers, but he's trending upward. The high schooler has a ton of skill and is a huge pup. Could be a name to keep an eye on.

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