close
close

After a press conference in which Philadelphia Flyers General Manager (GM) Danny Briere didn't give away too much information, he made one thing very clear: For him, nothing is out of the question ahead of the 2024 NHL Draft. What other things did he mention? Drafting a center and taking the best player on the draft list.

Konsta Helenius, a 6'1″, 180kg center forward who played the 2023/24 season as a professional in the Liiga, meets the first criterion. With the fourth-highest points total in his league's history among 17-year-old players (36), he also seems to meet the second criterion. But what makes him so special? Why is he such an ideal fit for the Orange-Blacks? Let's take a closer look.

Helenius can complement Michkov offensively

The beauty of Helenius is that he and dynamic Russian forward Matvei Michkov could be very dominant together in Philadelphia. The Finnish center is far from the most exciting talent in his class, but his style is transferable to the NHL and could be really useful for a team that seemingly already has its superstar.

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

First, let's get into why Helenius is so good. First of all, he doesn't really have any weaknesses, except that he's not dynamic. A great support player on the forecheck, he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He doesn't actively chase it, but is more than willing to engage in contact along the walls – he's won those puck battles against grown men in Finland's top league many times. He's a great puck protector who can allow Michkov to demonstrate his dominance in the zone. The more space he has, the better – Helenius can create it either through his effectiveness as a forechecker or simply by forcing the opponent to move towards him, which he has done quite often.

Helenius isn't a superstar-level playmaker, but he's still very strong in that regard when space opens up — that's one of the big things the Flyers are lacking. Michkov can't literally do everything on offense, even though he's a superstar in every sense of the word. He needs some help, and that's what Helenius can provide. Helenius is one of the smartest players in the 2024 class, and he's not lacking in creativity — that creativity would theoretically allow Michkov to do his thing and take the attention off of him. That's exactly what the Flyers should want.

Helenius didn't always let his teammates take advantage of the opportunities he created, and Michkov had to do a lot of the work himself for a lower-tier team in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), but despite all that and a battle with pneumonia, he posted incredible totals on offense (41 points in 48 games). Helenius doesn't have the dynamic talent to lure defenders out of their skates, but Michkov does. With a teammate who can actually create on his own and is strong with and without the puck, the Russian Dynamo can shine. He will have more opportunities to showcase his talent without having to do essentially everything himself.

Helenius has legitimate upside potential in both directions

In the NHL, we often refer to bottom-six forwards who are only effective defensively against bottom-six forwards as “two-way players,” which isn't entirely accurate. The true two-way forwards in the NHL are those who excel at both ends of the ice while playing against the best of the best. Whether as a center or in general, the Flyers don't have a player like that.

Related: Flyers need elite two-way center for rebuild

Helenius is very responsible defensively, especially for his age. He rarely allowed goals while on the ice, despite having a pretty heavy workload for a 17-year-old in a professional league, which is inspiring. He was excellent at leaving the zone and he was also very good at winning the ball. The fact that he is so comfortable putting in the effort bodes well for his future. He is not afraid to get his hands dirty, and that is really all the Flyers can ask for.

With Helenius being so defensively engaged and even facilitating breakouts when he helps get the puck out, that could really bode well for the Flyers. One of Michkov's flaws is that he isn't an effective defensive player and doesn't try to be one – that would limit his offensive power and would be kind of counterintuitive. Helenius can be a versatile first-line center who can help mask that in some ways.

Additionally, we see that many championship teams have top-notch 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, averaged a point per game on the season, won a Stanley Cup and played a prominent role on said championship team. Helenius, while a big “if,” could be that one if he maxes out. Actually, it's not that hard to imagine.

A true two-way center, Helenius fills that void for the Orange-Blacks. The fact that Morgan Frost, while pretty good, is Philadelphia's best center and they have nothing else lined up says a lot about where they stand. They need a front-line center and they can get one here.

Helenius supports the Flyers' transition philosophy

Whether the Flyers will stick to the same fundamentals with Michkov on the team is a mystery, but they will likely continue to rely on their play in transition — that's also one of Michkov's strengths. Fortunately, that's another area where Helenius is pretty good.

Helenius isn't insanely fast or anything, but he's very good at facilitating attacks and creating them himself. The Flyers' entire offense has essentially relied on their neutral zone play, so it's obvious they would benefit from such a talent.

The level of deception in Helenius' game also makes transition scenarios effective for him. The Flyers weren't very good at penetrating the attacking zone in 2023-24 – especially on the power play. Helenius is smart enough to do this naturally and keep the puck on his stick the whole time, so it can turn into a scoring opportunity. This is another advantage for Michkov.

Where will Helenius land?

It's a little difficult to predict where Helenius will end up, as he could seriously go anywhere. There's a lot of great talent in the 2024 NHL Draft, and that's especially true on defense – that could cause him to slide, but also go high for a team in need of a forward.

Logan Horn of The Hockey Writers had Helenius ranked 16th in his last mock draft, but that seems a bit late to me. Despite a relatively weak U18 tournament and the U20 World Junior Championship, he had seven assists in five games in the first tournament and showed all of the above qualities in both. The point rate was not dominant, with a total of nine points in 12 games, but he was still the same player. I think we see him in his early teens at the latest.

Around the seventh pick, Helenius becomes somewhat likely to be taken. Interestingly, that seventh pick belongs to the Ottawa Senators, and we heard some speculation on Twitter/X. Nothing came of it, but it's something to keep in mind.

Let's consider for a moment the idea that the Flyers and Senators have inquired about a trade. Let's also consider the idea that the Flyers moved up for the seventh overall pick, which has been hinted at in some other posts. It seems like Briere is willing to do just about anything to get his top player and could be willing to acquire a second early first-round pick to land two high-level talents.

If the Flyers are seriously considering the latter, Helenius should be their priority. The class has plenty of pure offensive ability, but there's something missing: someone who plays like Helenius. There's a way to get him, it's just a matter of how much Briere wants it.

Come draft day, there will be rumors that Helenius lacks offensive potential and that he's a two-way player with little upside but a lot of potential. That alone isn't really what the Flyers need – talent is what they want. 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.

Substack The Hockey Writers Philadelphia Flyers Banner

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *