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Flyers GM Hextall interested in trading up at draft

by Mike G. Morreale

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Trade talk is usually par for the course in the days leading up to the NHL Draft. It's never too surprising to find the Philadelphia Flyers in the middle of such talk, either.

That's especially true this year, when for the first time in the Flyers' 46-year history, they will be hosting the draft, at Wells Fargo Center. The first round will be held Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN) and rounds 2-7 will be Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHLN-US, NHLN-CA).

One day after what could be considered his busiest day since taking over as general manager in May, Ron Hextall was at the Flyers' practice facility Tuesday to discuss the draft and the possibility of a trade at some point this weekend.

"We'll look at trading up if we can, but we won't trade up if we're going to get a similar player at where we are drafting right now in the first round," said Hextall, whose team has the 17th choice in the first round. "There is separation from the top of the draft and where we are drafting, so we'll look to trade up.

"There's no [Sidney] Crosby or [Drew] Doughty in this draft, but there will be some good players taken. It's a decent draft but lacking high-end type guys that some drafts produce."

The predraft press conference came 24 hours after Hextall traded forward Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for forward R.J. Umberger and a 2015 fourth-round draft pick in a move he said would give coach Craig Berube more speed and versatility up front while providing Hextall with some salary-cap flexibility.

He then re-signed impending restricted free agent forward Brayden Schenn to a two-year contract worth a reported $5 million.

Now the focus shifts to the draft and, perhaps, some additional moves. Could Hextall have something in the works with Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon for the rights to the No. 1 pick? The Panthers currently hold the first choice in the 2014 draft, followed by the Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and New York Islanders.

Which position does Hextall, a former NHL goalie, covet most?

"I'd go with defensemen," Hextall said. "I bet you thought I'd say goalie, but it's hard to win without defensemen. You can have a great forward, but someone has to put the puck on his stick and think the game and keep the puck out of your net. Defensemen are valuable pieces and people don't value them enough. It's hard to quantify, but if you watch the game long enough and can say this is a valuable guy to have play against the other team's top line, that's real important."

The Flyers have six picks in the draft, including their own selections in the first round (No. 17), second (No. 48), fifth (No. 138), sixth (No. 168) and seventh (No. 198). Philadelphia traded two picks in this draft to the New York Islanders for defensemen: a third-rounder (No. 78) at the NHL Trade Deadline for Andrew MacDonald deal and a fourth-round choice (No. 108) last June for Mark Streit.

Philadelphia will also receive a conditional choice as payment in the Andrej Meszaros trade with the Boston Bruins in March. If the defenseman signs with the Bruins before Friday, the Flyers receive an additional second-round pick (No. 56). If he re-signs after the draft, the Flyers will receive a third-round pick (No. 86) and a fourth-round choice in 2015. If he doesn't re-sign, the Flyers will get Boston's third-round pick this year.

Many believe if the Panthers decide to retain the No. 1 pick that Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad will be their choice. The Flyers really haven't had a game-breaking, elite defenseman on their roster since Chris Pronger roamed the blue line during their run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. It's certainly an area the organization has pinpointed the past two drafts, as former GM Paul Holmgren used 10 of 13 picks in 2012 and 2013 on either defensemen or goalies.

Ekblad, No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's list of the top North American skaters eligible for the draft, might be the most NHL-ready player from this year's class.

Hextall was asked if Ekblad is one player in this draft class worth trading up for.

"There are a lot of players that teams would trade up for in this draft," he said. "There's a lot of good players in this draft."

Some have compared Ekblad to Doughty, who Hextall knows quite well because he served as vice president and assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Kings for seven years before rejoining the Flyers last year.

"A young defenseman is a harder read," Hextall said. "But you don't win without those types of guys. You don't talk a lot about the guys who shut people down, but the way it is now, it's such a fine line. You have to be hard to score against or you won't be successful."

Tallon has said he's fielded numerous phone calls inquiring about the choice, and the fact the Flyers are in the friendly confines of Wells Fargo Center, in front of their boisterous and championship-starved fans, could make for an interesting scenario come Friday.

"It's exciting that the draft is in Philadelphia; maybe this will mark the first time in draft history that the Flyers might get a nice ovation instead of boos," Hextall said. "I don't feel pressure. Every day I just want to make this franchise better and want to build us into one of the top half-dozen teams in the League where they're talking about us every year as one of the top contenders.

"That's my vision and that's my goal, and if it takes time, it takes time. We've got to make methodical decisions and make our guys better every day."

The last time the Flyers selected No. 1 at the draft was 1975, when they acquired the pick from the Washington Capitals in exchange for Bill Clement, Don McLean and their own first-round choice (No. 18). Philadelphia, which was coming off its second straight Stanley Cup championship at that time, selected forward Mel Bridgman with the pick.


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