Flyers sign first-round pick Jett Luchanko, who has 'a mature game for a young player'

VOORHEES, N J. — Like so many boys in their early teens, Jett Luchanko turned to video games to help pass the time when the pandemic suddenly forced them all home from school. Fortnite and Call of Duty were a couple of favorites, as the multi-player mode allowed him to virtually hang out with his quarantined buddies.

But when that grew stale, Luchenko was not idle.

His father, Jim, figured that the ample downtime was the perfect opportunity to convert the small storage room in the basement of the family home in London, Ontario, into a tidy personal gym for him and his son. Luchanko would spend a couple of hours there to pass the time, daily.

“It just kind of started with a bench and a rack and barbells and things like that, eventually kind of added little things as we went on, and now it’s pretty nice,” Luchanko said. “It’s a small room, but it’s got everything you need.”

It’s not difficult to draw a line from that modest little underground workout facility and the summer of 2020 to what happened last weekend at the Sphere in Las Vegas, when the Flyers made Luchanko the 13th pick of the 2024 NHL Draft. While Luchanko has elite-level speed for a junior and is viewed as a cerebral two-way centerman, he’s also a physical specimen, if you can even use that term for a 17-year-old, judging from his numbers at the NHL combine in Buffalo in early June.

Luchanko, who ranked fifth in terms of body fat percentage (7.2 percent) among the more than 100 prospects who took part, ranked in the top 10 in several categories. It raised his profile headed into the draft, and ultimately landed him in Philadelphia, where he signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Flyers on Saturday.

“That was something I did to try and get an edge on everyone else who was kind of just sitting at home,” Luchanko said of establishing a workout routine at an early age. “For me, I’ve always enjoyed the fitness side of things and it’s something I’ve always taken very seriously. At the same time, I’ve always kind of grown up being one of the more faster, stronger guys. I think it’s a little bit of natural abilities, as well.”

That was on display Saturday at the Flyers’ training facility, as Luchanko — now listed by the Flyers at 6 feet tall and 188 pounds, as he apparently grew an inch and gained a pound since the combine — was one of the more noticeable players on the ice, using his speed but also making plays in tight areas while getting a handful of scoring chances himself or generating them for others. His team — Team Jones — won, 7-3, over Team Briere.

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“On and off the ice, the more you get to know him, the drive that he has, he’s kind of got a quiet intensity about him,” Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said after the scrimmage. “This is summer hockey, but you saw probably in small amounts his details to his game, his speed and the skill that he has — just a very mature game for a young player.”

The Flyers do expect him to improve, of course. Luchenko managed 74 points (20 goals, 54 assists) in 68 games with OHL Guelph last season, but club brass sees room for more.

And, of course, Luchenko does too. He mentioned that among the areas of his game he’d like to improve is his shot — in quality and quantity.

“The biggest thing for me is my shot, and when to use it, when to not,” he said. “I’ve always kind of been a pass-first kind of player, so if I can be kind of more of a dual threat it only opens up the passing game more, and I can be a more dangerous player if I can work on different ways to shoot, different ways to get in those areas, and different ways to score.”

Flahr and Flyers player development director Riley Armstrong echoed that. While it’s encouraging that Luchanko seems to be adept at the defensive aspects of the game, they both indicated that Luchanko can become more of a threat offensively.

“I think sometimes you get a little too focused on defense — I think he can free himself up, especially with his speed and whatnot, he can probably take a few more chances,” Flahr said. “I would expect to see a significant improvement on his production. … He already has those other details, he can play in a lot of situations which a coach will obviously really appreciate.”

Armstrong mentioned earlier in the week that he noticed Luchenko in a game last season against London, which he attended to watch Flyers prospects Oliver Bonk and Denver Barkey. Luchenko’s skating was what stood out right away, but Luchanko could be a little more assertive in Armstrong’s view, too.

“You always want to be a dual threat,” Armstrong said. “I think when you come down the rink and you’re always looking to pass, teams, especially in pro, they’ll start to figure out pretty quick when they’re doing video that he’s going to look to pass. Goalies are smarter, they’re looking at where the shot option is coming from. But as soon as he starts to work on his shot and he brings that into his game, he’s going to probably start to beat a lot of goalies short side that are cheating for that pass.”

Luchanko will inevitably be back for rookie camp and training camp in September, just as he’ll inevitably get reassigned back to Guelph at some point during camp. But, it’s safe to say he left a good impression on the team brass this week, particularly after they targeted a much-needed center for their system at the draft.

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“Anybody that’s ever coached him or been around him just raved about him,” Flahr said. “His approach to the game, how he handles himself on and off the ice, I think that lends well to dramatic improvement going forward.”

“I’ll stick with my training,” Luchanko said, “and trying to get better as much as I can.”

(Photos of Jett Luchanko courtesy of Philadelphia Flyers)

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