The latest Flyers draft had Ron Hextall’s fingerprints all over it. Hextall wanted the Flyers to get faster and more skilled. He got both. At first glance,
Hextall’s first draft as general manager was a great success.
Similar to his predecessor, Hextall injected more defensive talent into the Flyers prospect system. Armed with six picks, Hextall took three defensemen. Travis Sanheim, the 17th pick in the draft, shot up the prospect rankings during the second half of the season. He is a mobile, two-way defenseman who TSN compared to Ryan McDonagh. Sanheim is years away from NHL action. He needs to add more weight to his frame – 6-foot-3, 190 pounds – but once he fills out, he could become a force on the Flyers blue line.
Hextall continued to draft for speed in the second round when the selected Nicolas Aube-Kubel, a forward with great skating ability and ‘a motor that doesn’t quit.’ Aube-Kubel is a player head coach Craig Berube will love. Described as “hard-working and high energy” Aube-Kubel plays a solid defensive game, crashes the net and never quits on the play. He is a bit undersized at 5-foot-11, but his speed and unending motor make him an asset.
Aube-Kubel would set the tone for the remainder of the draft for Hextall. During the fifth and sixth round, Hextall would again take two-way forwards who are exceptional skaters and who go to the dirty areas to score goals.
During the third round, Hextall dipped back into the defensive pool and took Mark Friedman with the 86th pick. Friedman has been described as a right-handed Shayne Gostisbehere, but Friedman compares himself to a more seasoned veteran.
“I’m a two-way defenseman. Good offensively. Good defensively. I know when to step up, when to join the rush. But I really rely on my defense more than my offense. I compare my game to Johnny Oduya of the Chicago Blackhawks. … That’s who I’m compared to, and I feel like I am like that.”
Friedman and Gostisbehere are similar in stature. Friedman, 5-foot-10, is an inch shorter than Gostisbehere but weighs 185 pounds. Gostisbehere, in comparison, is 170 pounds, according to several websites, but has probably packed on additional weight since being drafted.
The Flyers had to wait until the fifth round to select again at 138th overall. With that pick, they took Oskar Lindblom, their first European of the draft. Lindbloom is another two-way forward with great skating ability. Lindholm, 6-foot-2, brings some great size to the left side of the ice. He will not make the highlight reels with his style of play, but he gets the job done.
Radel Fazleev, a playmaking center, dropped to the Flyers in the sixth round. Fazleev is described as ‘a creative playmaker with some raw but impressive tools.’ Like the previous two forwards drafted, Hextall took someone who is not afraid to battle along the boards. Fazleev, 6-foot, 179 pounds, seems to bring a different element to his game than Lindholm or Aube-Kubel. While the other two are more likely to score off of rebounds, scouting reports paint Fazleev as a player who can score off his own shot.
After drafting two forwards, Hextall capped off the draft with Jesper Pettersson, a feisty Swede who plays bigger than his 5-foot-9 frame. Hextall’s first two defensmen had some offensive upside, but Pettersson focuses much of his game in his own zone. He is not afraid to lay the body, nor block shots for the betterment of the team. He is 19 years old, so depending on how his development progresses, he could see action with the Phantoms as soon as next season.
The 2014 NHL Draft was a nice change of pace for the Flyers. They drafted some great talent, while also filling in some needs. The players selected are several years away from contributing at the NHL level, but Hextall saw the construction of the Los Angeles Kings firsthand. He saw the importance of drafting good players and the importance of a strong farm system. This method is not the quickest way to a championship but it is proven.
Today’s NHL have two things in common. Size and skill. Hextall is no fool when it comes to contending for the Stanley Cup. Each team has an equal balance of both, which makes them so difficult to defend and to beat in a seven-game series. One phase of Hextall’s vision for the future of the Flyers is complete. Over the next few days, he will have his hands full assembling the present team.