As another draft approaches, Carter Hart still at heart of Flyers 'process'

Everett Silvertips Hockey
Flyers goaltender Carter Hart is at the center of the team’s bright young future.

Imagine the Sixers’ “Process” without The Process’ Joel Embiid.

Imagine the Phillies of the previous decade without Ryan Howard in the middle of the lineup.

As good as Nick Foles was in the playoffs and Super Bowl, imagine the Eagles getting there if Carson Wentz had turned out to be a bust.

Imagine the Flyers of the not-so-distant future without an all-star goaltender named Carter Hart. Or an all-star goaltender named Felix Sandstrom. Or one named Kirill Ustimenko, or, as unlikely as it seems, named Alex Lyon or Anthony Stolarz.

Ron Hextall has done an impressive job stocking what was a comically barren farm system when he became general manager of the Flyers four years ago, and with six picks in the first five rounds and nine overall in this weekend’s NHL draft in Dallas, that “process” will continue. The system is so thick with talent these days that it already allows for the same kind of flops and surprises that naturally occurred as the Sixers rebuilt from the ashes and the Phillies shook off a decade’s worth of losing baseball with the talented draft picks such losing produced.

Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers — and it wasn’t just them. You might be too young to recall that at one point or another, names such as Kyle Drabek, Lou Marson, Michael Taylor, Jason Donald, and, lest we forget, Dominic Brown were nearly as warmly embraced as the memories that trading them for Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay produced.

Similarly, knowing what we know now, who wouldn’t have grabbed what the Celtics were rumored to have once offered for Jahlil Okafor, or dealt Michael Carter-Williams for what will be this year’s 10th overall pick?

Hextall may someday be in position to use one of the above goaltending prospects to bolster his team. But not until one of them “hits,” as he put it during Thursday’s predraft session with the media.

Without that, he admitted, this “process” could get real slushy.

“I think that’s fair to say,” Hextall said when asked whether goaltending was the biggest hit he had to make in his ongoing process. “The two guys we have are not young guys. We all know that. We need some youth coming through, and we need to hit on a goalie for sure.”

>>READ MORE: At the NHL draft, Hextall is at his gunslinger best

That’s a lot of pressure on Hart, who despite his dominance at the junior level and his international experience, is not yet 20. Even if he arcs as some elite goaltenders have – Carey Price, Jonathan Quick, Matt Murray, Tuukka Rask, Andrei Vasilevskiy all reached the NHL before their 22nd birthdays – he will not be joining a team filled with savvy veteran defensemen. At one point on Saturday, Hextall described that 2019-20 defensive core as it projects now: Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, and Sam Morin.

“Of course, you have to give the kids the time that they need,” Hextall said. “We’re not going to be rushing these kids and putting, essentially, their futures at risk to try to fast track. We’re not going to do that. If someone’s ready, then so be it, at any position. But we’re going to make sure they’re ready.”

These are the answers Hextall gave at this time last season, at the start of this season, at the trade deadline, and in April — before the first-year Las Vegas Golden Knights ran through the Western Conference and into the Stanley Cup Finals. Critics have used that team as evidence that a “process” is unnecessary when a GM is savvy enough. On Thursday, Hextall used that team to argue the opposite — that an expansion “process” enables you to build the kind of sum-is-greater-than-the-parts team that Vegas GM George McPhee quickly constructed with the help of an expansion draft structure that left proven stars such as Marc-Andre Fleury and up-and-comers such as Nate Schmidt unprotected.

“We are still the ultimate team sport,” Hextall said. “I think Vegas proved that to all of us this year. The more we move along here, the more society and pro sports seem to put a spotlight on a star. That’s fine, but that star has got to have his teammates in our sport, or you’re not going to win.

“You look at Washington, they had a lot of really good players in the playoffs. Devante Smith-Pelly, do they win without Devante Smith-Pelly? That doesn’t mean you don’t have to have the stars. You do. But you’ve got to have other pieces; they’ve got to feel for each other. They’ve got to have that chemistry. It’s hard to get. But again, look at Vegas.”

>>READ MORE: The one trade that tells you everything you need to know about Ron Hextall’s plan for the Flyers