Flyers GM Ron Hextall’s Calculated Aggression Pays Off on Day One of 2015 NHL Draft


Heading into the first round of Friday’s 2015 NHL Draft, the first in the Dave Hakstol Era of Flyers hockey, the man who went out on a limb to hire the longtime college coach knew he had a tall task on his hands. Organizations like the Flyers generally don’t spend too much time picking towards the top of the queue given how consistently they’ve made the NHL postseason (missed it just three times in the last 20 years). Though it is not a point of pride for franchises like the Flyers to pick in the top-ten, that doesn’t mean they don’t value the opportunity.

Headlined by a pair of potential franchise-changers in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the 2015 Draft had been touted as a potentially historical one in terms of NHL talent. Every once in a while, the proverbial planets align and manage to infuse a single draft class with the type of quality players that can sometimes be spread out over multiple years. The goal for teams picking in that draft? Acquire as much of the top talent as they possibly can without hindering the future of the franchise.

Gone are the days where the Flyers farm system is seen as a laughing-stock around NHL circles. Even going back towards the end of Paul Holmgren’s tenure as general manager, it became apparent that the Philadelphia front office realized what years of mortgaging the future and trading away young talent did to them from a competitive standpoint. Seeing as they could no longer buy their way out of trouble like they had in year’s past, the Flyers front office started to stockpile young talent and exhibit patience with it.

Though they did not strike the lottery and win the services of a McDavid or Eichel, the Flyers did end up with the 7th overall pick in what is considered to be a very strong draft class. Depending on which outlet one sought out, many claimed that there was a ‘second tier’ beyond the aforementioned duo that could yield the Flyers with a premium pick. As it was revealed Friday night after making their first selection, all they had to do was sweat out six picks ahead of them before pouncing on their top target all along.

"Get to know the newest member of the @NHLFlyers, No. 7 overall pick Ivan Provorov. #NHLDraft— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) June 26, 2015"

Though it’s likely all six teams who picked ahead of the Flyers feel as if they got the best possible player for their slot, Ron Hextall had to have given himself a pat on the back for demonstrating the patience to wait out the picks leading up to Provorov, rather than panicking and trading up to ensure his availability. The excitement level surrounding this 18-year-old, Russian-born prospect with several years of seasoning in both Canada and the United States is well beyond any player the Flyers have selected in some time.

"“Ivan understands the game extremely well and is able to use his considerable talents to contribute in any area and every situation. Calm, poised and competitive he is in command when he’s on the ice. The best defenceman in this draft and I see him as a number one who will anchor a blue line.” – TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button"

For all of the talent that the Flyers have compiled along the blue line in recent years, Ivan Provorov could be the best of the bunch. At just 18, some even consider the possibility of a jump straight to the NHL level in 2015-2016. Hextall has taken a conservative approach in bringing along the teams talent to this point, but he may not be able to keep Provorov down for long if the young man continues to progress the way he has to this point in his young career.

One would have to figure that when the Flyers traded Braydon Coburn for their 2nd of two first round picks in the 2015 Draft, they didn’t expect it to end up as the 29th selection. That’s not to take anything away from how good the Lightning are as a team, but when an executive makes the trade, he most likely does so after having convinced himself that the pick will end up as high as possible. That was not the case and the primary piece that came in return for Coburn ended up being the second-to-last pick of the round.

Given the approach they had taken in compiling assets over the last several months, the Flyers had put themselves in a position to where they could make a move in the first round if a player they targeted could be had. With seven picks in the first four rounds, Hextall had the ammunition to make a jump if he could do what Sam Hinkie could not and find a ‘dance partner’. That companion was none other than Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, 0wner of the 24th overall pick.

Giving up just the final pick in the second round, courtesy of the Kimmo Timonen trade, the Flyers were able to jump up five spots in the first round to take a forward many had ranked much higher than 24th overall.

Travis Konecny played in the Ontario Hockey League for the Ottawa 67’s. The 18-year-old out of London, Ontario is a year removed from being named the league’s Rookie of the Year (2013-2014). Konency served as captain of the 67’s last season, demonstrating the type of attributes that generally translate to the next level as far as potentially donning a ‘C’ in the future on an NHL sweater.

Konecny was ranked in the top-20 in nearly every outlet’s final draft rankings. For some perspective, TSN’s top analyst Bob McKenzie had him ranked as his 15th-best prospect. Hextall was able to capitalize on a franchise in a major transition to assure himself of the player he desired with his second pick and will leave the 2015 Draft with, at the very least, two extremely impressive prospects. Here’s what Yahoo Sports / Buzzing the Net Blogger Neate Seager had to say about Konecny:

"He was a good bet to be the first player shorter than 5-foot-10 to hear his name called. Konecny already skates like an NHLer, whether he’s going north-south at top speed or moving east-west laterally. He’s willing to work to get open and create his own shot, and he’s very consistent with his passing. Captained Ottawa as a 17-year-old, the long view is he’ll wear a ‘C’ at the next level in some distant season."

After prioritizing acquiring top talent on day one of the draft, Hextall has already indicated he will shift his focus towards trying to unload some of the team’s albatross contracts that have prevented them from dipping their toe in free agency recently.

Were Hextall able to move even one of these dead-weight contracts without having to package top young talent along with it, one would have to consider this weekend a resounding success. It’s possible that, when we look at this Friday evening several years from now, whether or not he was able to accomplish that feat won’t determine if that’s the case.

Next: Flyers Select Ivan Provorov with 7th Overall Pick

More from Section 215