Philadelphia Flyers: Hexy’s Draft Theories–Possession Forwards

Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall is adopting a few patterns in his recent drafts, one of which is to take possession forwards

Everybody knows that the Philadelphia Flyers are well stocked on defense prospects. They’ve used several recent first round picks to build up a corps of premium defensive talent, so most observers would assume GM Ron Hextall likes to draft defensemen.

A close look at who Hextall has taken in the last 2 drafts, however, might tell us different stories. One such story is possession-oriented forwards.

When you read the scouting reports of recent forwards taken with high picks by the Flyers, they all have a few things in common. They all are outstanding skaters, they have high “hockey IQ”, and they put it all together to play a “200-foot game” and thus dictate possession and pace of the game.

Consider Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, and Pascal Laberge. Regarding Konecny, a 2015 1st round pick, he was voted by OHL coaches as the best skater in the league, and is praised for his compete level and ability to play in all zones.

Scouting reports for this year’s 1st round pick, German Rubtsov, make similar claims. He’s rated as an excellent-skater, with size and strength on the puck. Combine that with his competitiveness and vision, and he’s perhaps the best 2-way player in the 2016 draft.

It sounds like a broken record when we get to 2nd round pick Pascal Laberge. He’s described as a spirited two-way forward with good hockey sense. Again, with his size and physicality, he can control the puck.

The pattern is pretty clear. Hextall is building a roster of smart, tough, mobile, two-way players. Hextall’s not prioritizing high end offense, but wants players who control the game from the middle of the ice.

This prioritization is particularly prominent in Hextall’s decisions in the 1st round this weekend. There is lots of concern in Philadelphia right now about the decision to pass on goal scoring Kieffer Bellows, who fell into the Flyers laps at their 18th overall pick. Instead of jumping on the type of shooter and scorer the Flyers system obviously lacks, Hextall traded down.

When you look back at the comments of Flyers scouting director Chris Pryor that “all [Bellows] does is score goals,” you realize that’s not an unqualified compliment. Despite having maybe the best shot in the draft, prolific scoring knack is simply not enough to be a Philadelphia Flyers cornerstone player under Hextall and Dave Hakstol.

Another factor is that this may be part of an effort to build around the kind of players Dave Hakstol prefers. For Hakstol, everybody must be able to get up and down the ice. There’s no one-dimensional players out there for the Flyers.

There’s a chance Philadelphia Flyers fans will get to see Travis Konecny in a Philadelphia this fall, but it’s probably more likely Flyers fans won’t see any of Konecny, Rubtsov or Laberge for a few seasons. Organizational makeovers take time, but the roots of Hextall/Hakstol hockey will likely be firmly implanted by that time. As those players arrive on the roster, and the Flyers will have the young talent tailor made to control the ice, and it won’t be from their vaunted defensemen.