DALLAS — It will probably take four years, or longer, before general manager Ron Hextall’s latest draft class can be properly evaluated.
By then, some of his Class of ’18 members should be in the NHL, while some may still be kicking around the Flyers’ farm system. Others could be with different organizations.
All told, Hextall made eight selections over the weekend in Dallas, and none of those draftees was more fascinating than 18-year-old center Jay O’Brien, who was the Flyers’ second first-round pick.
He also represented Hextall’s biggest gamble in the two-day draft.
O’Brien tore up his competition this season, collecting a staggering 80 points in 30 high school games for Thayer (Mass.) Academy. But because he didn’t even face junior-level competition, it’s difficult — no, downright impossible at the moment — to gauge if O’Brien was worth the high-value Hextall and his scouting staff put on the Massachusetts native by drafting him 19th overall.
“I’ve never been one to be safe. I don’t think it’s a good philosophy,” Hextall said. “I don’t think you can be successful that way.”
A safe pick would have been Rasmus Kupari, Isac Lundestrom, or Joe Veleno, three centers who have faced stiffer competition and were ranked higher than the Providence-bound O’Brien by most scouts and drafting experts. All went later in the first round, Kupari to Los Angeles at No. 20, Lundestrom to Anaheim at No. 23, and Veleno to Detroit at No. 30.
In the end, Hextall showed his trust in his scouts.
“If we believe in something, we do it,” Hextall said. “We believed in picking Jay O’Brien higher than most people thought he should go, and we feel good about it.”
The Hockey News had O’Brien ranked as just the 61st-best prospect.
“It’s a risk when you take a kid out of that [high school] level, but if we’re just going to go by the board, we don’t need scouts, right?” said Hextall, whose organization excelled in his first four drafts. “Our guys have done a real good job. They see things the way they are, we talk about it, we beat it up, and we come to conclusions.”
Hextall called the solidly built 5-foot-11, 185-pound O’Brien a “really good hockey player with really good hockey sense. He’s competitive, he’s strong, he’s got a little agitator in him.”
After the first round Friday, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol met with the players his team had just drafted — O’Brien and speedy left winger Joel Farabee, who was taken 14th overall — and their families at the American Airlines Center.
Hakstol was asked Saturday if he went back to his hotel after the first round to view video of Farabee and O’Brien.
“I didn’t wait that long,” he said. “… It’s always fun to see a few highlights and things like that. For me, the impact is meeting the players and meeting their families. I know organizationally, we’re really excited with the two guys.”
Hakstol said several young players on the Flyers “have the ability to grow their roles and play a bigger part for us” in 2018-19. … Farabee, the captain of the U.S. national U-18 team, helped Team USA win a gold medal in the World Championship in April in Russia, finishing ninth in the tournament with eight points. … Notable alumni from the school O’Brien attended, Thayer Academy: Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte, who is currently the program’s head coach. … Qualifying offers for restricted free agents are due Monday at 5 p.m. The Flyers are expected to make offers to Taylor Leier, Robert Hagg, and Alex Lyon, but not to Petr Mrazek. The Flyers on Monday will officially sign restricted free agent Samuel Morin to a three-year deal with an annual $700,000 cap hit.