Draft is key for Flyers, Hextall says

"I really believe in the draft," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "Tell me an organization that's been successful without drafting well."
"I really believe in the draft," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "Tell me an organization that's been successful without drafting well." (ANDREW THAYER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 26, 2014

The Flyers have three promising defensive prospects - Shayne Gostisbehere, Sam Morin, and Robert Hagg - but overall, they are thin on young players knocking on the NHL door.

That makes this year's draft, the first overseen by new general manager Ron Hextall, so important. Hextall and scouting director Chris Pryor need a strong draft to put the organization on the right path.

"Your core pieces - we call them homegrown players - they're big. . . . You want guys like that," Hextall said during a news conference Tuesday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees. "Don't get me wrong. You can add a piece here or a piece there. You can fill a hole with a free agent, but you want your core built from within. . . . I really believe in the draft. Tell me an organization that's been successful without drafting well."

Hextall called it a "decently deep draft" but said it lacks "high-end type of guys that some years produce."

The Flyers will select 17th overall when the first round is held Friday at the Wells Fargo Center - Rounds 2 through 7 will be Saturday - and many talented forwards will be available when they make their top selection.

Three players who excelled for the U.S. under-18 team - left winger Sonny Milano (a Boston College recruit), center Dylan Larkin, and center/right winger Alex Tuch - are on the Flyers' radar and could be available at No. 17.

"They're three good prospects," Hextall said. "Tuch's a big guy, kind of a power forward, and Milano is a skilled guy. Larkin's probably a two-way guy. . . . They're probably all going to be good picks."

The Flyers are also high on left winger Nikolaj Ehlers, who scored 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 winger Kasperi Kapanen, son of former Flyer Sami Kapanen.

"There's a couple kids in the draft who will probably be in our wheelhouse who can score," Hextall said.

Hextall said just because the Flyers have three quality defensive prospects doesn't mean they would shy away from a defenseman in the first round.

"I'm a big believer in defense," said Hextall, a former goalie. "It's the middle of the ice [that's important] for me - the goaltending, the defense, and the center-ice men."

This year's draft has a much stronger group of forwards than defensemen. Anthony DeAngelo, who grew up in Sewell, is one of the top defensemen and is expected to go in the first round. He could be available when the Flyers pick, but they seem lukewarm on him.

There have been some outstanding players selected at No. 17, headed by Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke, who was chosen in 1969 and led the Flyers to Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975. Other 17th picks include Brent Sutter (1980), who had 12 seasons of 20 or more goals; five-time all-star defenseman Kevin Hatcher (1984); and standout left winger Zach Parise (2003).

"That would be great to get Bobby Clarke," Hextall said with a smile. "If he was only 45 years younger . . ."

Among the more recent No. 17 picks was San Jose forward Tomas Hertl (2012), who was the rookie-of-the-year favorite before suffering a knee injury during the 2013-14 season.

Lecavalier on the move?

Hextall said he is still trying to clear salary-cap space. That means if Vinny Lecavalier ($4.5 million cap hit for each of the next four years) agrees to waive his no-trade clause, he could be headed elsewhere.

"I've had some discussion with his agent, and I'm pretty much going to leave it at that," said Hextall, whose team has less than $2 million in cap space (assuming the cap climbs to $71 million) and still needs to sign another forward and a backup goalie.

"If something happens one way or the other, I'll be in touch with him first and then [reporters]."

Hindered by a back injury, Lecavalier, 34, managed 20 goals in 69 games last season.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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