Sam Hinkie isn’t the only General Manager in town making waves on the Philadelphia sports scene. The newly anointed Ron Hextall, tasked with the unenviable challenge of shaping the Flyers in the form of a true Stanley Cup contender, has already had a busy offseason to this point. Monday alone, Hextall shipped fan favorite Scott Hartnell off to Columbus for R.J. Umberger and signed young forward Brayden Schenn to a team-friendly two-year extension. Many experts assume that finding a way to unload the expensive and ineffective Vincent Lecavalier is next on the docket for Hextall.
With the team appearing to try to get younger and faster, a model that Hextall was able to observe in his experience with the Los Angeles Kings before returning to Philadelphia, this weekend’s NHL Draft could prove to be his most important task. Philadelphia is hosting the annual event and, though there is by no means a requirement, the team whose city is responsible for the draft has a track record of making waves. The last three host sites: Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey, have all seen their respective teams make a roster-altering trade involving first round picks and notable roster players. Given their penchant for active offseasons, not withstanding 2014 already, there is already rampant speculation that the Flyers will continue the trend with Hextall looking to make a hallmark move to kick off his tenure. Tuesday afternoon, the new GM fueled the fire in a big way when discussing the upcoming event.
Hextall strongly hints at #Flyers trading up in draft.
— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) June 24, 2014
Sounds like #Flyers have talked with other teams already, although that seems early. Hextall says after 10 is a dropoff.
— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) June 24, 2014
I think it’s safe to say that Hextall is not of the Sam Hinkie School of Tight-Lipped franchise management. Nevertheless, the Flyers have rarely been shy or discrete about making a splash in the offseason. The past few seasons, save for a few questionable moves (Lecavalier), have seen the franchise trending towards a younger roster. With the departure of Hartnell, Adam Hall and Lecavalier are the only forwards over 30 currently on the roster. With several of the team’s defensive prospects at least a year from NHL readiness, the blue line remains a bit on the older side. All things considering, it seems as if Hextall is intent on molding the team in a new fashion and a trade up in what is considered a rather pedestrian draft class as far as depth goes would only continue that trend.
In his popular ’30 Thoughts’ column, Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman also speculated over the activity of the host team’s upcoming weekend.
12. Finally, there’s Philadelphia. It would be a surprise if the Flyers, hosts of this draft, did not at least inquire about what it would take to get near the top — if not right at it. This is a franchise unafraid to take bold swings.
Though there is not a consensus on the pick, teenage defenseman Aaron Ekblad would be the target for Philadelphia were they to make such a bold move. Despite being just 18 years old, Ekblad was the captain for his Barrie Colts team and is widely praised for his maturity and high hockey IQ to go along with a skillset that projects to a number one defenseman. Despite drafting Sam Morin in the 2013 Draft, another player who has the makeup of an eventual top-pairing blue-liner, Ekblad appears much closer to stepping into an NHL roster and making an impact than the raw Morin. The Flyers could also be trying to make a move for a wing prospect who could fill in alongside Claude Giroux within the next year or two, as the team has to make the most of the elite center’s prime.
I would put the odds on the Flyers doing something drastic at a very high level. Hextall is new to the GM game, but he has learned under a great one in Dean Lombardi and is smart enough to see that the Flyers are not constructed to contend for a title at this point. It is already apparent that he has been given the power to make moves that alter the framework of the roster. Should be an exciting weekend at the Wells Fargo Center.