2024 NHL Entry Draft, Danny Briere, Flyers Prospects, Konsta Helenius, Matvei Michkov, NHL Entry Draft, Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers Should Prioritize Drafting Konsta Helenius

After a press conference where Philadelphia Flyers general manager (GM) Danny Briere didn’t really give up too much information, there was one thing he made abundantly clear—nothing is off the table for him leading up to the 2024 NHL Draft. Some other things he also mentioned? Drafting a center, and taking the best player on the draft board.

Konsta Helenius, a 5-foot-11, 181-pound centerman who played his 2023-24 campaign professionally in Liiga, checks that first box. With the fourth-highest point total in the history of his league among age-17 players (36), he seems to have the second one checked, too. But what makes him so special? Why is he such an ideal fit for the Orange and Black? Let’s examine.

Helenius Can Complement Michkov Offensively

The thing to like about Helenius is that he and dynamic Russian forward prospect Matvei Michkov could be seriously dominant together in Philadelphia. The Finnish center is by no means the most electrifying prospect in the class, but how he plays is projectable to the NHL and could be really useful for a team that seemingly already has their superstar.

Konsta Helenius Team Finland
Konsta Helenius, Team Finland (Pasi Mennander/FIHA)

Let’s first get into why Helenius is so good. For starters, he really doesn’t have any weaknesses other than the fact that he isn’t dynamic. He is seemingly always in the right place at the right time as an excellent supporter on the forecheck. He doesn’t actively hunt it out, but he is more than willing to engage in contact along the walls—he won those puck battles against grown men in Finland’s top league, oftentimes. A great puck protector, that can allow Michkov to showcase his in-zone dominance. The more space he has, the better—Helenius can either create it through his effectiveness as a forechecker or simply by forcing the opposition to gravitate toward him, which he did quite frequently.

Helenius is not a superstar-level playmaker, but he is still very strong in that aspect when space is freed—that is one of the big things that the Flyers lack. Michkov can’t do literally everything offensively, even if he is a superstar in every sense of the word. He needs some help, and that’s what Helenius can provide. One of the most cerebral players in the 2024 class, one thing Helenius does not lack is creativity—that creativity would, in theory, allow Michkov to do his thing and take attention off of him. This is exactly what the Flyers should want.

Helenius didn’t always have his teammates finish on the opportunities he created, and Michkov had to do a lot of things himself with a lower-end club in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)—he still put up ludicrous offensive totals (41 points in 48 games) despite that and a battle with pneumonia. Helenius doesn’t have the dynamic talent to dangle defensemen out of their skates, but Michkov does. With a linemate who can actually create for himself and is strong with and without the puck, that is where the Russian dynamo can excel. He will have more opportunities to showcase his talent without having to do essentially everything himself.

Helenius Has a Legitimate Two-Way Upside

In the NHL, we oftentimes call bottom-six forwards who play effectively defensively solely against bottom-six forwards “two-way players,” which isn’t entirely accurate. The real two-way forwards in the NHL are those who are great to elite at both ends of the ice whilst simultaneously playing against the best of the best. In either center-form or in general, the Flyers do not have a player like this.

Related: Flyers Need an Elite Two-Way Center for Their Rebuild

Especially for his age, Helenius is very responsible defensively. He seldom allowed goals on the ice even with a pretty sizable workload for a 17-year-old playing in a professional league, which is inspiring already. He was elite with zone exits and was also very good with retrievals. The fact that he is so comfortable putting himself out there projects nicely for his future. He isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty, which is really all the Flyers can ask for.

Since Helenius is so involved defensively and even supports breakouts when he helps get the puck out, that could really bode well for the Flyers. One of Michkov’s flaws is that he is not an effective defensive player, nor does he try to be—it would limit his offensive upside and be sort of counterintuitive. Helenius can be a well-rounded first-line center who can help mask this, in a sense.

As well, we see a lot of championship teams have elite defensive centers, especially in the modern era. Pavel Datsyuk, Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, and Ryan O’Reilly have all won at least one Selke Trophy, had a point per game season, won a Stanley Cup, and played a prominent role on said championship team. Helenius, although a big “if,” could be that if he reaches his ceiling. Actually, it’s not that difficult to envision it.

As a true two-way center, Helenius gets that hole patched for the Orange and Black. The fact that Morgan Frost, while pretty good, is Philadelphia’s best center and they don’t have anything else there in the pipeline says a lot about where they are at. They need a first-line centerman and can get one here.

Helenius Supports the Flyers’ Transitional Philosophy

Whether or not the Flyers stick with the same general schemes when Michkov is on the team is a mystery, but they will probably still lean on their play in transition—that is one of Michkov’s strengths, too. Fortunately, this is another area where Helenius is pretty great.

Helenius doesn’t have crazy speed or anything, but he is very good at both supporting rushes and actually creating them himself. The Flyers’ entire offense essentially came from their play in the neutral zone, so it’s evident that they would enjoy this out of a prospect.

The level of deceptiveness in Helenius’ game also makes scenarios in transition effective for him. The Flyers were not very good at entering the offensive zone—especially on the power play—in 2023-24. Helenius has the intelligence to be able to do this with normality and also keep the puck on his stick the entire time so a scoring chance can come from it. This is another benefit for Michkov.

Where Will Helenius Land?

It is somewhat difficult to project where Helenius will land, as he could seriously go anywhere. There is a lot of great talent in the 2024 NHL Draft, and that is especially true on defense—that could lead to him slipping, but also going high for a forward-needy team.

Logan Horn of The Hockey Writers had Helenius going 16th overall in his latest mock draft, but that seems a bit late in my eyes. Even with a relatively weak U18 tournament and U20 World Junior Championship, he had seven assists in five games in the former tournament and showcased all of the qualities mentioned above in both of them. The scoring wasn’t dominant overall with nine points across 12 games combined, but he was still the same player. At the latest, I think we see him going in the early teens.

After about the seventh pick, that’s when it starts to become somewhat likely that Helenius will get snagged. Interestingly enough, that seventh pick belongs to the Ottawa Senators, and we saw a little bit of speculation on that front on Twitter/X. Nothing has come from it, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Just for a second, let’s humor the idea that the Flyers and Senators were inquiring about a trade. Let’s also humor the idea that the Flyers were moving up for the seventh overall pick, which a few other posts suggested. It seems like Briere is willing to do pretty much anything to secure his top player, and might be willing to acquire a second early first-round pick to land two high-end prospects.

If the Flyers are seriously considering the latter, then Helenius should be their priority. Pure offensive skill is abundant in the class, but one thing that isn’t is someone who plays like Helenius. There’s a path to getting him, it’s just a matter of how much Briere wants this to happen.

On draft day, there will be talk that Helenius lacks offensive upside and that he is a two-way player with a low ceiling but a high floor. By itself, that’s not really what the Flyers need—talent is what they desire. But make no mistake: Helenius is what they need. He seems like the perfect pick, so the Orange and Black should do whatever it takes to get him.

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