With the NHL Draft three weeks away, GM Ron Hextall and the rest of the front office are preparing to begin phase one of Hextall’s vision for the Philadelphia Flyers.
During the press conference where he was promoted to general manager, Hextall made it known that he will build the franchise with draft picks and young players. This is not the easy way to build a contender. Building a team from within takes years to come to fruition and with a fanbase that is used to winning, patience will be central to the process. What benefits Hextall during this process is the core of this team is young and has room to grow. Claude Giroux is 26 years old. Jakub Voracek is 24. Wayne Simmonds is 25. Steve Mason is 26. Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn are 21 and 22.
While the core is young and has plenty of good hockey left in them, all but Giroux and Couturier are homegrown talent.
This problem is what Hextall plans to fix.
The Flyers have take steps in the right direction with their previous two drafts. Players like Shayne Gostisbehere, Anthony Stolarz and Scott Laughton were all taken in the 2012 draft. The defensive corps was replenished with the selections of Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg during the 2013 draft.
Taylor Leier, who was taken in the fourth round in 2012, had a successful career in juniors and will make the jump to the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms next season. Valeri Vasiliev, taken in the seventh round in 2012, is a low-risk, high reward prospect who has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his young career.
But Hextall still has much to do to fix the farm system and the upcoming draft is the perfect place to begin.
Front-office executives have already predicted an eventful draft. The Florida Panthers are listening to offers for the first overall pick and the Toronto Maple Leafs are reportedly trying to move up in the draft. Jim Nill, general manager of the Dallas Stars, feels ‘there could be a lot of moves’ during the last weekend in June and Hextall could be right in the thick of it.
This year marks the eighth draft in a row the Flyers have not had a pick in every round. This season they will have picks in all but the fourth round. What stands out even more is that from 2008 to 2011, the Flyers did not own a first-round pick. Their first-rounders in 2008 and 2011 were acquired via trades. It should be noted, however, that the first-round selections in 2009 and 2010 were given to the Anaheim Ducks in the Chris Pronger trade.
This year, the Flyers have six picks. Former GM Paul Holmgren traded away the club’s third- and fourth-round picks to the New York Islanders for Andrew MacDonald and Mark Streit in separate trades. Holmgren was able to acquire a third-round pick from the Boston Bruins for Andrej Meszaros at the trade deadline. Next year, for the 2015 draft, the Flyers will not have a second- or third-round pick. These were dealt away in the MacDonald and Steve Mason trades. (*You can take a look at the Flyers future drafts here.)
Hextall will likely be looking to replenish the Flyers draft pool between picks. Speculation and rumors have pointed to Vincent Lecavalier being traded away if another team is interested but do not be surprised if Zac Rinaldo is shipped out for draft picks. Nicklas Grossmann is another potential candidate, but if he is traded, it will not be during the draft because of his injury. He could garner a mid- to late-round pick.
For years, the culture of the Flyers is to win now at all expenses. This strategy has worked in keeping the orange and black competitive but it has not translated into Stanley Cup banners, despite six trips to the final. Great teams are built from within and they are not built with just first-round picks. They are built with gems found in the later rounds. New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was selected in the seventh round. San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski was taken in the seventh round, too. Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings was not picked up until the sixth round.
Hextall is taking the Flyers in the right direction. The process will not be easy but neither is the road to the Stanley Cup. Look no further than the best teams in the NHL for reinforcement. The Los Angeles Kings were built from within. So were the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins. Each of those teams have won the Cup in the last five seasons. Band-aid solutions do not win championships.