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Five Takeaways – Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor

by Brian Smith | PhiladelphiaFlyers.com / Philadelphia Flyers

Over the past two days, Flyers GM Ron Hextall and director of scouting Chris Pryor addressed the media in advance of the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo and the following week’s opening of free agency. Here are five takeaways from the conversations.

1. Rule of Thumb – Best Available

Like every NHL team, the Flyers will be looking to fill needs at the draft. But in their case, that usually comes after the first round. The philosophy there is to take the best available player regardless of position, which played into their selection of Ivan Provorov at seventh overall last year.

“If you look at the history of the draft, there’s a lot of players in that first round that don’t play in the league or don’t play many games in the league,” Hextall said. “So if you start getting specific and trying to fill needs, you can miss. So we want to take the player that’s got partially the best chance of playing and partially the best player. There’s a little bit of a mix there that we talk about amongst our scouts, and pick the guy with the best chance of playing combined with the highest upside. So there’s a real feel there that our guys have done a good job at, and they’ve got to continue.”

2. Move way up, or not at all

One of the wild-cards with any draft is the possibility of a draft-day trade. Sometimes a team is fixated on a particular player they want and is able to find a dance partner to move up a few spots in exchange for a lower-round pick. But a lot of times that doesn’t materialize until just before it happens.

“Last year, we moved up to get Konecny,” Hextall said. “But if you asked me the day before or quite frankly an hour before, we don’t know if that’s there or not. So it’s really hard to gauge what we’re going to do.”

From the sound of how things are going to play out this year, it appears the Flyers would be best suited to stay where they are if they don’t plan to trade into the top three picks.

“I think the feeling with most hockey people is there’s a lot at the top, and then after that it levels out,” Hextall said. “So there’s a feeling there that [either] you get into the top few or you’re just as well to stay where you are. But we also don’t know how the board is going to fall, so we sit and look at that right now, again most hockey people think that. But the board’s not going to fall the way everybody thinks it is.”

3. Not like last year, but still a strong draft

The Flyers have the potential to make 10 picks in this draft, which would give them 19 total selections in this year’s and last year’s event – the most they’d have in a two-year span since 2002 and 2003. It seems this is an excellent time for that, because hockey people are rating this draft as an excellent one just a year after an exceptional one in 2015.

“We feel like it’s a good draft,” Hextall said. “I talked to Dennis Patterson about it and he doesn’t think he’s seen drafts back-to-back as good as these two. Last year was obviously a bumper draft. Is it as good as last year? No, but is it the average draft? We don’t believe so.”

Pryor’s particularly happy with the forwards that are available this time around.

“The top end is obviously very good, and usually when the top end is as good as it is, it has a trickle-down effect,” Pryor said. “If I had to give it a grade, I’d say A-, B+. I think it’s extremely a forward-deep draft, especially the top group. It’s exciting because when the top end is as good as it is, it does push everybody down a little bit. So we’re hoping that we see some of that.”

4. Sticking to the plan

Hextall reiterated that there won’t be anything at the draft that strays from the organization’s plan to build with young players and remain patient with them. Two years after moving into his current position, he’s pleased with the organization’s current spot.

“Our young players grew a lot this year,” Hextall said. “Schenner (Brayden Schenn), Coots (Sean Couturier), Ghost (Shayne Gostisbehere) , Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and then you get to the kids in minors and college, our kids grew a lot. Philippe Myers, (Ivan) Provorov, (Travis) Sanheim, (Radel) Fazleev. You look and are we better than we were last year? As a team, as an organization, our depth chart, damn right we’re a lot better. Now is that going to show up in the NHL in October? We’ll see. But I know our kids got better. Plant your garden well and you know what the shoots are coming up now. They’re not full, the flowers aren’t there. But we’ve come a long ways in this organization in the past year.

“When you send those kids back you see them take their game to a whole new level, playing 23 or 24 minutes. Myers and Provorov are in the Memorial Cup, Sanheim had a good year. You see them and it’s like, ‘wow’, we’re making progress here. It doesn’t necessarily show out there in the next three months or six months but we are getting there. I’m excited about where we’re at, but in saying that, it’s a process. It doesn’t happen quickly, it takes time and I like where we’re at.”

5. Free agency’s next, but only with the right fit

Once the Flyers’ front office group returns from Buffalo, it’ll be a short week before the free agency sweepstakes opens on July 1. That’s Hextall’s best opportunity to immediately improve the current team, most likely through upgrading the team’s forward group. But he won’t do so in a manner that will hamper the Flyers down the road.

“Do I hope to? Yes. Are we going to? I don’t know,” he said. “[Long contract] term [length] scares me, because term gets you in trouble. So if the right player’s there, at the right dollar figure, at the right cap space, we’re going to take a run at him. If he’s not, we’re not.”

It’s probably not a coincidence that such a sentiment comes just days after the Chicago Blackhawks traded Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina, a player they had to include in order to get the Hurricanes to take Bryan Bickell. The Blackhawks are in salary-cap jail and needed to find a way to get Bickell’s $4-million contract off their books; it appears Teravainen was the price they had to pay. And Hextall wants no part of a situation like that.

“We’re not doing something July 1st that two minutes later we are going to regret and we’re not doing something that we’re going to regret in two or three years when these kids’ contracts are up and we end up having to trade a young kid because of cap space and veterans are aging,” Hextall said. “I’m afraid of losing a good young defenseman for the wrong reasons and having to sell cheap. When we get to a point where I feel like we’re ready to take a run, that’s when you add a player that’s going to try to put you over the top.”

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