Flyers draft Swiss defenseman

June 20, 2008 9:10:02 PM PDT
The Philadelphia Flyers hoped to improve goaltending and defense but accomplished only the second half of that agenda in Friday's first round of the NHL draft. The Flyers shipped playoff hero R.J. Umberger to the Columbus Blue Jackets to acquire another first-round pick. They hoped to choose a goalie with that selection, No. 19 overall, but the Nashville Predators drafted goaltender Chet Pickard right before them.

So, Philadelphia opted for defensemen Luca Sbisa, an 18-year-old Italian-born Swiss resident who wasn't even on the draft radar a year earlier. Sbisa was the eighth of 11 defensemen drafted in the first round, one shy of the NHL record of 12 set in 1995.

"One of the goalies we really liked went just ahead of that pick," Flyers' general manager Paul Holmgren said. "We were in a situation where we picked one of three guys we had at three different positions and we stuck to our list. We're very happy with the pick."

Sbisa is a two-way defenseman drawing comparisons to Toronto's Tomas Kaberle, but Sbisa said he's modeling himself after another defenseman.

"I'm a two-way player, and I can make a good pass or get a good shot and still play in my own zone as well," said Sbisa. "I try to model my game after a lot of NHL players, but I think I play like Brian Campbell of San Jose."

In his rookie season in the Western Hockey League, Sbisa flourished, scoring six goals and 27 assists for 33 points and 63 penalty minutes in 62 games.

Later, the Flyers traded their original first-round pick, No. 27 overall, to Washington for 24-year-old defensemen Steve Eminger. He played in only 20 games for the Capitals in the regular season, spending most of the campaign as a healthy scratch.

In parts of four seasons in Washington, Eminger is a career minus-44 in 212 games played with has 43 points in that same span.

The Flyers also claimed a third-round pick from the Caps in the deal.

"We think he can help our team on a regular basis," said Holmgren. "He's a former first-rounder who has had his ups and downs in Washington. I don't think he fit in there. We like him, though."

Eminger is a restricted free agent whom Holmgren said he hopes to sign before July 1. Eminger made $1 million last season.

The Flyers will have five picks in the second through seventh rounds of the draft, which concludes Saturday in Ottawa.