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Open Season

GM Ron Hextall says there will be open spots for young players to compete at camp

by Jay Greenberg @NHLFlyers

The Flyers missed eighth place by seven points, leaving plenty of room for improvement, so the plan is to leave space for their prospects.

"I feel like we've got a number of kids in all positions that can push," said GM Ron Hextall Thursday. "The more kids that you have that can fill holes, the better.

"Our job is to evaluate our young players and try to figure out the best we can whether they're capable of playing at this level, so we don't get overloaded (on the roster). That is one of the hardest parts of our job and we'll do it.

"There's always guys later in training camp or tryouts that can come in, just in case you miscalculate. We'll look at all our options, but our kids, first and foremost. A certain number of them are at a level now that they're going to get a long look."

Some were ready to get it anyway, whether the Flyers were still playing this week or not. The organization is three years into a Hextall plan of build a true contender while maintaining a postseason team -- "We're the Philadelphia Flyers and we expect to make the playoffs,"- the GM said yesterday-but the short term setback notwithstanding he remains resolute about doing nothing that will set the Flyers back in the long run. And that includes neither eating up too much future cap space by bringing in free agents or force-feeding kids with too much, too soon.

Ivan Provorov, promoted straight from junior at age 19, was an outlier. A 101-point junior season by Travis Konecny in 2015-16 argued that, with Lehigh Valley not an option, the kid had much more to learn in Philadelphia than with one more year in Sarnia. The results were mixed, all the more reason Hextall will be more determined than ever that nobody be promoted until they are good and ready to play here.

Left wing Oskar Lindblom, a fifth-round pick in 2014, may be another exception because he has played two full seasons in the Swedish Elite League.

"Oskar has had a great year," said Hextall. "He's in a really good league and has come a long way since his draft year. I hope he's here in September fighting for a spot along with a number of other guys."

If it is their time, they will be here, and not one season before. The trade of Mark Streit and the decisions to not re-sign Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz leaves open spots on defense that will not, Hextall says, be filled with veteran signings. There is no room for that, either cap wise or in three defensive pairs.

"We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end," said Hextall. "Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that.

Both Sam Morin, the 2013 No. 1, and Robert Hagg, the 2013 No. 2, have had two years at Lehigh Valley, which will be the norm. Travis Sanheim, the 2014 No. 1, has more offensive ability than either one of the above, and there is no question that the Flyers need another D who can make good transition plays, but Hextall will not eat his young. Sanheim won't be on the team unless he is ready and, in the organization's belief, Morin and Hagg likely are.

"Robert's progression has been really, really impressive," said Hextall. "He came over as a 19-year old, played up in Glens Falls in the American League and, at age 19, held his own. As a 20 year old he was not bad. And this year he's taken it to another level. He's an all-situation, very dependable, player.

"Sam the same way. He understands more than ever what his game is. I remember seeing him back in junior, and he was on the power play. Sam knows what he is as a player and he's done a really good job of working hard, getting better every day. They've both done a real good job. 

"We'll see where it leads to in September. They have to fight for a spot."

Nobody gets anything handed to him. Morin and Hagg have been on enough busses for two years to fully understand that by now. Meanwhile, Hextall has had three to get the system loaded up to the point, that now, more than ever, he can refuse to do anything he might later regret.

The Flyers had a bad year, by their standards. Hextall still believes they moved forward. "You look at all the kids we have and it's like wow. In every other part of the organization, there was a lot of growth."

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