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Flyers optimistic about youth movement

General manager Ron Hextall planning to give prospects long look next season

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was angry watching the first night of the Stanley Cup Playoffs but soothed himself by looking to what he believes is a bright future.

"You look at every other part of the organization, and there was a lot of growth, which in a year or two we'll all see," Hextall said Thursday.

Hextall would like to see his roster continue to get younger and more skilled. That started this season with the integration of rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov and forward Travis Konecny. Late in the season, center Mike Vecchione and defensemen Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin each made his NHL debut, and goaltender Anthony Stolarz played his first seven NHL games.

Also at Lehigh Valley in the American Hockey League are goaltender Alex Lyon and defenseman Travis Sanheim, who have NHL aspirations. Beyond them are an NHL-high nine prospects who played in the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"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 [with veterans]," Hextall said. "Now in saying that, it's one of the hardest parts of our job, for sure, predicting whether a kid in juniors or college is going to come up here and play, and how many minutes he can handle. So it is hard, but it is our job and we'll do it. I feel like we've got a number of kids in all positions that can push. The more kids that you have that can fill holes, the better."

The Flyers' biggest strength is young defensemen. Provorov, 20, led them with an average ice time of 21:58 per game and had 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) in 82 games. Morin, 21, and Hagg, 22, each was impressive in his one game. Sanheim, 21, and Philippe Myers, 20, who played for Rouyn-Noranda in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, could be ready to compete for NHL spots next season.

Hextall said veteran free agent defensemen Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto will not be re-signed in order to make room for younger players.

Video: CAR@PHI: Konecny banks bad-angle shot into the net

"Our young players … they've done enough," he said. "We'll continue to monitor some of them through the playoffs, but our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."

The same thing could happen in goal, where Hextall has to make a decision on re-signing Steve Mason, who can be an unrestricted free agent July 1. Michal Neuvirth signed a two-year, $5 million contract March 1 but might have to be exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft.

Mason and Neuvirth combined for a .903 save percentage this season, compared to .920 last season.

Stolarz, 23, had a 2.07 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in seven NHL games, including four starts. He could get a shot at full-time NHL duty next season after three AHL seasons.

"He's the one that's going to have to answer that question," Hextall said. "He's progressed every year quite a bit. He's got himself to a point where he played NHL games, which is terrific. He played fairly well for us. Whether he can do it over the course of the season, in the end, he's got to be the one that proves that."

Of the Flyers' nine goalie prospects who played at World Juniors, Carter Hart (Canada), Felix Sandstrom (Sweden) and Matej Tomek (Slovakia) each started. Merrick Madsen, 21, helped Harvard to the Frozen Four.

Hextall said he'll look for a veteran goaltender in free agency but he does not expect to offer a long-term contract to anyone. 

"We do have kids coming, and I think everybody knows it," Hextall said. "I don't have a lot of interest in getting into a long, drawn-out deal with a goaltender, but again, we'll look at our options and move when we feel is our best option at the appropriate time."

Hextall said his offseason goal is to make the Flyers better by making them younger.

"I think most of our moves at this point right now are going to come internally," he said. "Our kids have come a long way. … They've got a big chunk of the pie there. So we've got some really good things going on there. Our prospects around the world have really grown this year. This franchise is in a good place."

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