Inside the Flyers: Hextall wants to build through the draft

Posted: June 23, 2014

The Flyers need to start developing their own draft picks before they can even be mentioned in the same sentence as the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, two of the league's heavyweights.

The Flyers will get their latest chance to improve their pipeline when the NHL draft is held in Philadelphia for the first time. The first round is Friday night, while rounds two through seven will be held Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.

Take a look at the Flyers' roster and you will see that the team is allergic to homegrown players. For most of last season they used just three players they had drafted - Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Zac Rinaldo. (That list excludes Steve Downie, who spent six-plus years with other teams before returning to the Flyers, who drafted him in 2005.)

By comparison, the Stanley Cup champion Kings had 11 of their draft picks in their lineup; the Blackhawks, who lost to Los Angeles in a riveting Western Conference final that was worthy of a Stanley Cup Final, had 12 of their draft picks in their lineup.

To be fair, the Flyers did get some quality players in trades for some of their former high selections, such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Those deals netted forwards Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Jake Voracek, and a draft pick (which was used on Couturier).

But in today's salary-cap era, it is clear that the Flyers - and all NHL teams - need to duplicate the blueprint used by the Kings (two Cups in three years) and Blackhawks (two Cups over the last five years): Build your core from the draft and complement through trades and free agency.

The Flyers are on the right track. Their defense will one day revolve around three players they drafted: Shayne Gostisbehere in 2012 and Robert Hagg and Sam Morin in 2013.

Their farm system, however, does not have many promising forwards. That's why this year's draft - the first under new general manager Ron Hextall, a former front-office exec with the Kings - is so critical.

The good news, from the Flyers' perspective, is that the strength of this year's draft is its plethora of talented forwards. Left wing, the Flyers' biggest need, appears to be the deepest position in the draft. The Flyers pick 17th overall.

"My philosophy is to draft the best player," Hextall said. "Typically with these kids, you're looking three, four, five, six years down the road before they're going to make a big impact. Your team changes so much between now and then that to sit and say we need this position or that position" is irrelevant.

That said, scouting director Chris Pryor says if two players are equal, the Flyers will lean toward selecting a forward.

Among the players on the Flyers' radar who could be available at No. 17: Left wingers Sonny Milano (a Boston College recruit who starred for the U.S. under-18 team) and Nikolaj Ehlers (49 goals in 63 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League games last season); right winger/center Joshua Ho-Sang (32 goals in the Ontario Hockey League); and smooth-skating center Dylan Larkin and center/right winger Alex Tuch, players who excelled for the U.S. under-18 team.

The Flyers are also high on Brendan Perlini and Kasperi (son of Sami) Kapanen, wingers who aren't expected to be available at No. 17.

"We're still going to take the best player, but there are a lot of good forwards out there," Pryor said.

Pryor said it's a "fairly good" draft year, but not an overwhelming class. Asked if he expected the Flyers to try to make a deal to move up in the draft, Pryor said the Flyers are "comfortable" at 17. "Right now, we're focused on where we're at."

The Flyers' prospect pipeline took a step backward when they acquired star defenseman Chris Pronger, then 34, in 2009. In addition to dealing Joffrey Lupul and promising young defenseman Luca Sbisa, the Flyers sent two No. 1 draft picks and a third-round selection to Anaheim.

Pronger, of course, suffered a career-ending concussion in 2011. With a healthy Pronger, the Flyers may have won a Cup. Without him, the loss of the draft picks has become magnified.

Hextall seems intent on improving the farm system and not dealing high draft picks for veterans. It's a strategy that worked for him while he was with the Kings, where he had input on several of their marquee draft selections.

Be patient. Let the young kids grow into their NHL roles. Keep the team together for a while to build chemistry.

That is Hextall's mantra.

Considering that the trade-happy, go-for-it-now Flyers have gone so long between Stanley Cups, it is a wise one to follow.


Inside the Flyers: Top of the Heap

Here are the top 15 prospects in the NHL draft, according to TSN draft expert Craig Button. Anthony DeAngelo, a defenseman rated No. 15, is a native of Sewell, N.J.

Player   Team   Age   Pos.   Ht.   Wt.   

1. Sam Reinhart   Kootenay (WHL)   18   C   6-0   185   

2. Aaron Ekblad   Barrie (OHL)   18   D   6-4   216   

3. Sam Bennett   Kingston (OHL)   18   C   6-0   178   

4. Leon Draisaitl   Prince Albert (WHL)   18   C   6-2   208   

5. Michael Dal Colle   Oshawa (OHL)   18   LW   6-2   179   

6. Nikolaj Ehlers   Halifax (QMJHL)   18   LW   6-0   162   

7. Haydn Fleury   Red Deer (WHL)   17   D   6-3   198   

8. Travis Sanheim   Calgary (WHL)   18   D   6-3   181   

9. William Nylander   Modo (SWE)   18   LW   5-11   169   

10. Adrian Kempe   Modo (SWE)   17   LW   6-2   187   

11. Brendan Perlini   Niagara (OHL)   18   LW   6-3   205   

12. Vlad Kamenev    Magnitogorsk (KHL)   17   C   6-2   176   

13. Kasperi Kapanen   Kalpa (FIN)   17   RW   5-11   172   

14. Ivan Barbashev   Moncton (QMJHL)   18   C/LW   6-1   185   

15. Anthony DeAngelo   Sarnia (OHL)   18   D   5-11   175   


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

www.inquirer.com/

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