DALLAS — Since Sunday, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall and his scouting staff have been huddled in Dallas, site of this weekend's two-day NHL draft, and have been going over different scenarios and strategies.
The draft will be held Friday (Round 1) and Saturday (Rounds 2-7).
The prospects' on-ice ability, Hextall said, is just part of the equation.
"I believe to project the player, you have to know a lot about that player," Hextall said last week. His staff learned insights about the prospects by interviewing them at the recent scouting combine in Buffalo.
"You have to know some background, upbringing, and character ,[and] there's a lot of ways you can get it," Hextall said. "Our guys are out there digging and trying to find out everything they can about their guy, because in the end, the ability is one thing."
Hextall added: "If you have great ability but the character is not great, you're not going to reach your ceiling. I don't care who you are, you're not going to reach it. If you have a lot of ability and really good character, you want to be the best you can be, then, chances are you're going to reach your ceiling. They need to find out."
There are some players in this draft who have great ability but also have character concerns that could push them lower in the selection order.
Take speedy, right-handed defenseman Ryan Merkley, for instance.
Merkley is an enticing pick for a team willing to roll the dice. Like Hextall did in 2016, when he traded down in the first round and selected center German Rubtsov with the 22d overall pick. This season, Rubtsov had 43 points in 49 QMJHL games.
If not for a performance-enhancing-drug scandal with Rubtsov's Russian team, the center probably would have been drafted higher.
"We dug deeper than I've ever dug. This kid has great character," Hextall said at the time.
Now teams are digging deep on the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Merkley, who had 67 points in 63 games for the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League this season. There are questions, however, about his defense. Merkley was minus-29 this season and gambled too much at the offensive end.
Merkley is projected to go late in the first round or early in the second – even though some scouts believe he has the talent to be a top-10 pick.
According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, "Scouts have openly flagged him because of questionable attitude and behavior." The defenseman has had outbursts on the ice over the last two seasons and has been a healthy scratch because of his attitude, according to published reports.
He was also given a three-game suspension this season after taking a baseball-like swing and delivering a two-handed slash at an opponent's legs.
But Merkley's impressive offensive skills and creativity make him be an intriguing player for a team willing to take a gamble.
Will he be there at No. 50 when the Flyers pick in the second round?
That's questionable. Central Scouting had him at No. 21 at midseason but dropped him to No. 45 in its final rankings.
Merkley, who turns 18 on Aug. 14, is a high-risk, high-reward player.
Which team will take the chance?
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