The best part of Ron Hextall’s four-year general manager resume has been his shrewd selections and moves in the NHL draft.
Hextall has drafted the way he played goal – with an edge. And with great success.
Hextall, assistant general manager Chris Pryor and the organization’s scouts have produced highly favorable draft results, giving the Flyers one of the NHL’s best farm systems.
That farm system is about to get even better because Hextall has nine picks in next weekend’s seven-round draft in Dallas, including two selections (14 and 19 overall) in the first round. He has three selections in the top 50 in what is considered a good but not overwhelming draft.
“I love what Ron Hextall has done,” Craig Button, a draft expert from TSN in Canada, said the other day. “The Flyers know what they like, and they go after it. They don’t screw around. They loved Morgan Frost. They traded to get [the draft slot] and took him. They don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks. I think that’s what the draft should be all about: ‘We know what we’ve done all our work for. We know who we like, and let’s get him.’ ”
Many projected Frost, whom the Flyers took 27th overall last year, to get drafted much later. Hextall and his staff were enamored with the kid and rolled the dice, and last season he rewarded their faith and had 112 points and a ridiculous plus-70 rating in the Ontario Hockey League.
Hextall hasn’t been nearly as successful in the trade and free-agent markets as he has been in the draft, although he has done a terrific job clearing cap space and stockpiling draft picks in deals.
Some of the players Hextall acquired in trades have yet to make an impact because they are still working their way through the farm system. Take Frost, for instance. The shifty center, who turned 19 last month, was one of the draft picks acquired in last year’s Brayden Schenn trade, and he figures to start paying dividends with the Flyers in a couple seasons.
Hextall’s four drafts have been among the best in the NHL, which is why it’s easy to have trust in his decision to make the two first-round picks Friday or make a deal and try to get a better draft selection with a higher upside.
After all, Hextall is the guy who, in 2014, selected promising defenseman Travis Sanheim in the first round of his initial draft as a GM and then stole left winger Oskar Lindblom in the fifth round that year.
He’s the guy who took Ivan Provorov, who at 21 is already the Flyers’ best all-around defenseman, in the 2015 draft and made a deal with Toronto to move up from 29th to 24th and select dynamic winger Travis Konecny with another first-round pick that night.
He’s the guy who nabbed goaltender Carter Hart – who could be the franchise’s cornerstone down the road – with his third pick (48th overall) in 2016, a draft in which he took gifted forwards German Rubtsov, Pascal Laberge, Wade Allison (acquired with one of the draft picks for Kimmo Timonen), Carsen Twarynski, Connor Bunnaman, and Tanner Laczynski. Of that group, only Leberge has been a disappointment, though he’s only 20 and still has potential.
Hextall continued to be aggressive last year, dealing Schenn and, in a move that surprised many, took Frost late in the first round. One year later, some scouts think Frost is more advanced than Claude Giroux at a similar age.
Hextall also made a deal at last year’s draft to move up and take 6-foot-6, 200-pound left winger Isaac Ratcliffe in the second round (35th overall). Smart decision. Ratcliffe scored 41 goals in the Ontario Hockey League last season, improved his skating, and is the organization’s second-best offensive prospect who has yet to reach the NHL, behind only Frost.
This year’s draft has two dominating players — defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and right-winger/center Andrei Svechnikov — who will undoubtedly be selected by Buffalo and Carolina, respectively.
The next two selections are expected to be wingers Filip Zadina and Brady Tkachuk, though Button said picks 3 to 12 are fairly interchangeable.
“I don’t see much difference at all between 3 and 12,” Button said.
Will Hextall try to move up in the draft to, say, No. 7 overall, a pick that Vancouver is reportedly dangling?
At No. 7, he would have a chance to get a player with a higher upside than at 14. Among the desirable players expected to be there at No.7 are centers Barrett Hayton (Frost’s teammate in juniors) and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and righthanded defensemen such as Noah Dobson, Evan Bouchard and Adam Boqvist.
Hextall might have to deal Nos. 14 and 19 to get to No. 7. Or perhaps trading No. 14 and a player such as Nic Aube-Kubel, a speedy Phantoms winger who has a chance to make the Flyers at training camp, would get it done.
Hextall and his staff will spend the next several days sorting it all out.
Based on their draft track record, you get the feeling their decision will be the right one.