In case you guys have been living under a rock for the past couple years, there is something special happening on Broad Street right now. It has been awhile since the Flyers have seen this many rookies make such an impact at the professional level. Ivan Provorov an Travis Konecny both played last year as rookies, and both made immediate impacts. Ron Hextall has done an incredible job of stockpiling talent down in the minors. Just in the past three years, he has drafted Provorov, Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nolan Patrick, and Morgan Frost…and that’s just in the first round.
When you think of these young guys coming up through, you have guys like Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim who were first round picks. Then you have guys like Robert Hagg and even Shayne Gostisbehere who were drafted past the first round. The talent on just the blue line isn’t necessarily just first round talent. The Flyers are finding gems hidden later in the entry draft. Oskar Lindblom, the youngster expected to slot in on potentially the second line, was a 5th round pick with pretty low expectations. Look at him now, Lindblom is fighting his way towards a roster spot with an NHL team.
If there is one thing this year should tell you, if years past haven’t, it’s that the Philadelphia Flyers are all in on their youth movement. There are three main reasons why this team, headed by mastermind Ron Hextall, is all in on their crop of young talent.
2nd Straight Year with Multiple Rookies Debuting
This year marks the second straight year in which the Flyers are relying heavier than usual on the kids coming up through the farm system. Last year, it was Provorov who ended up playing top pairing minutes with Andrew MacDonald, and Travis Konecny who ended up seeing a good bit of time on the top line next to Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
This year, it is more evident than ever. You have two open spots on the blue line, most likely being filled by a combination of Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, and or Philippe Myers, in no particular order. After filling those two spots, you have two more spots to fill among the 12 forwards. You have a spot to fill due to the departure of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to the Vegas Golden Knights, and another spot available due to the trade involving Brayden Schenn heading to the St. Louis Blues.
It’s pretty obvious who will be filling Schenn’s spot in the lineup, that was pretty evident the second the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick with the 2nd overall pick in this past years draft. To fill Bellemare’s spot, the Flyers are looking towards former fifth round pick Oskar Lindblom. Lindblom has been improving his play overseas in Sweden at an alarmingly fast pace, and has gotten to the point where the Flyers brass has taken notice.
Overall, you have a team that is willing to start four rookies because they are confident in their abilities. Don’t forget, this apparently isn’t a rebuilding year, as long as they do well. If they don’t do well, it is. Regardless, expectations should be held at bay, even though these four rookies have diehard fans more excited than ever for hockey season.
Investing in Draft Picks
We all can remember back about 4 years when the team had all this aging talent and a completely depleted farm system. Paul Holmgren did the Flyers no favors when it came to stocking young talent in the minors, but he sure did his darnedest to make sure the Flyers were competitive year in and year out. Holmgren never TECHNICALLY failed in his determination to make the Flyers a contender. However, the amount of atrocious contracts he left Hextall bogged down with was pretty bad. Most notable, Andrew MacDonald and his six million dollar average cap hit.
As soon as Hextall took office, he started plucking away. He shipped an aging Kimmo Timonen and sent him to Chicago for a 2nd round pick and another conditional pick. He sent Phantom Tye McGinn to San Jose for a 3rd rounder. He pulled a rabbit out of a hat when he sent Coburn to Tampa for a first, third and Radko Gudas. He sent Chris Pronger, a player who hasn’t seen the ice in years and had no intentions of making a comeback, along with Nick Grossmann who really wasn’t much better even though he was actually still playing, to Phoenix for a fourth rounder. A 3rd rounder from LA, and from Boston (where he gave up Zac Rinaldo, WOW). A 1st and 2nd from Winnipeg for a 1st and 3rd, 7th rounder from New Jersey, 4th and 7th from Tampa, and two first round picks from St. Louis. You get the picture.
Ron Hextall has done an incredible job of acquiring draft picks and basically turning them into gold. The only thing he may be doing better than acquiring picks is digging himself out of the hole that Holmgren left him in. Since 2014, he has gotten rid of the contracts of Timonen, Coburb, Pronger, Grossmann, Rinaldo, Luke and Brayden Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier, and Mark Streit. Most of these trades involved the acquisition of picks from the teams that these players were sent to.
There is no doubt that Hextall is building for the future. However, when is that going to be? How many years away are the Flyers from contending to possibly bring Lord Stanley back home to Philadelphia?
Hiring Dean Lombardi
Now hear me out on this one. So many people want to moan about this hiring, and I understand. But Lombardi has done a very good job of bringing in veteran talent, whether it be with his first team San Jose, or his most recent team, the Los Angeles Kings.
During his time with the Sharks, Lombardi acquired the likes of Owen Nolan, Teemu Salanne, Adam Graves, Vincent Damphousse, Mike Ricci, and so on, the list is on Wikipedia. During his tenure with the Kings, he acquired players such as Dustin Penner, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter. The list of names that Lombardi went out and got is larger than those names that have already been mentioned, but you get the point. Lombardi knew talent, and if it would benefit the team, he would go out and get that person.
What people don’t understand is that while Lombardi was “mortgaging the future of his team,” he was also stocking up on future stars. While with San Jose, he developed skaters such as Patrick Marleau, Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, Marco Sturm, and Marcel Goc. While in LA, he ended up drafting and developing skaters such as Jonathan Bernier, Trevor Lewis, Alec Martinez, Slava Voynov, and arguably the best defenseman in the league, Drew Doughty.
Sure, people are quick to point out his shortcomings. He underachieved with the Kings in their final years. He let Daryl Sutter prohibit the growing of the young kids coming up through the LA farm systems, hence the Jordan Weal trade. What people so easily forget is that he took teams in 2012 and in 2014 to the Stanley Cup Finals and won. In 2012, the Kings weren’t supposed to do anything. He put that team together and gave them a chance to win, and they did.
Hextall learned a lot from Lombardi in his time under him in LA. Now, it is time for Hextall to take what he learned and imply it to his work as GM in Philadelphia. So far, Hextall has been doing an absolutely magnificent job. With Lombardi on board now, Hextall has a familiar face, and one that knows how to win, by his side helping him every step along the way.
The time most certainly is now for the Flyers, who have an absolute force of youth coming up through. There is no reason that the Flyers should not be behind their kids 100%. They have invested pick after pick on these highly touted kids, and they deserve their chance to shine, and their chance to shine is now. Get ready for some exciting hockey folks, these kids can play, and there will be more coming next year too!
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports