Flyers Fact Check: Building through the draft works much better than you think

So often, teams look for the biggest fish in the free agency pond. So often, those same teams look for the best rental player at the trade deadline. Paul Holmgren was one of those general managers who sought after those big fish, those high-profile rental players. Going after those players resulted in a few trips to the conference finals, a Stanley Cup final appearance, but no cup to show for it.

The lack of a Stanley Cup isn’t an indictment on whether Holmgren was a good general manager or not. He was doing what he thought would benefit the Phildelphia Flyers. However, with Ron Hextall taking the helm and exhibiting practices that are a complete 180 from what fans are used to, the term “Holmgren” is apparently a slur now that doesn’t sit well with Flyers fans.

Whereas Holmgren took a “build through acquisition” approach, Hextall has taken a “build through the draft” approach, which is unsettling to many. Many fans want instant gratification, knowing full well that the Flyers are capable of fielding a competitive team every year. What fans don’t realize is that with Hextall’s approach, he is also digging the club out of a horrid financial position that Paul Holmgren left for him.

Hextall’s hands have been tied for years, preventing him from making any key acquisitions at the deadline or during free agency. However, he has somewhat made up for it by drafting class after class of promising prospects, stockpiling the Flyers pool to the point where they are the deepest and most talented in all of the NHL. Hextall is setting the Flyers up for long-term success, and building internally has proven to be successful, just ask the past two Stanley Cup champions.

In 2016 and 2017, the Penguins took home the most coveted prize in all of sports, very much to the dismay of Flyers fans. There were no shortage of stars on the Penguins, with players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang. What people don’t realize is that the Penguins were chock-full of homegrown players and prospects.

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Aside from the stars like Sidney Crosby (drafted 2005), Evgeni Malkin (drafted 2004), and Kris Letang (same as Crosby), the Penguins had many players they plucked from the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins as well. Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and Tom Kuhnackl were all drafted by the Penguins, and all contributed on a regular basis whilst the Penguins were en-route to two straight Stanley Cups.

Even Brian Dumoulin, who was acquired two months after he was originally drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes, was essentially a home-grown prospect who now is a mainstay on the Penguins roster. Dumoulin was sent to the Penguins with Brandon Sutter as part of the deal for Jordan Staal.

The Penguins even did their due-diligence, and signed three undrafted free agents in Connor Sheary, Carter Rowny, and Zachary Aston-Reese when they were pro-eligible. Connor Sheary saw time on the top line with Crosby, while Rowny and Aston-Reese each saw time in the pros this past season.

Oh yea, and there’s some other guy named Matt Murray who the Penguins drafted in 2012 who just happened to replace long-time goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury on his way to two Stanley Cup rings. No big deal, right?

If that’s not enough to convince you, let’s take a look at the roster that just won the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals.

Washington’s farm team, the Hershey Bears, are notorious for cranking out NHL talent. That same moniker is the reason why the Caps won the cup this year. All in all, the Capitals had eight players who are former Hershey Bears, and even more who helped them get there throughout the regular season.

You have your stars like Alex Ovechkin (2004), Nicklas Basckstrom (2006), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010) who made the jump straight to the pros after being drafted. Then you have a plethora of talent that spent time with the Bears in the sweetest place on earth.

The 2008 draft brought both John Carlson and Braden Holtby into the organization. 2009 saw Dmitri Orlov join the club. 2012 saw Chandler Stephenson and Christian Djoos join the Caps. 2013 and 2014 saw Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana, respectively, join the sea of red.

The lone undrafted free agent who helped the Capitals reach the pinnacle of the sport was Jay Beagle, the only player to ever win the Kelly Cup (ECHL), Calder Cup (AHL), and now, the Stanley Cup. Beagle wasn’t the biggest contributor stat-wise, but has been a great locker room presence ever since joining the Caps back in 2009.

Yes, these teams made acquisitions to get better. The Penguins brought in Phil Kessel and Derick Brassard to help compliment their already star-studded roster. The Capitals acquired T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller to help Ovie and Backstrom. Big moves, yes, but not earth shattering. We aren’t talking the Yankees here, trying to buy a World Series every single year by acquiring the most talented/expensive option available.

The fact is, a majority of the Penguins rosters those two years, and the Capitals roster this past year, are ripe with homegrown talent. Most of the players on both squads were either drafted by the team, or signed as an undrafted free agent by that club. Names like John Carlson and Kris Letang as defensemen, Crosby and Ovechkin as forwards. Those names are elite talent in the NHL, and they were drafted by the teams they currently play for.

Is this a sure way of saying that the Flyers are going to find themselves in a similar position to either of these clubs? No, of course not. Is this a sure way of saying that they are going about their process the right way? You could say that. This process doesn’t work for everyone, but it sure seems to be working for the two clubs who are responsible for the last three Stanley Cup victories.


Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

2 thoughts on “Flyers Fact Check: Building through the draft works much better than you think

  1. Derrick, I’ve been a season ticket holder since 1977/78 season. How many Cups have the Flyers won in those 41 years? Not one. How many 1st round and 2nd round draft picks did the Flyers trade away for “big” name players? Too many to count. How many free agents did the Flyers sign that we’re going to take us to the “big dance”? Again, too many to count. I was skeptical when the Flyers hired Ron Hextall to take over a Flyers franchise that seemed about to crash and burn, even though the team had gone to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. Sure, Ron Hextall was a great player, but what could he possibly know about building a winning team. He seemed, in my mind, to be a clone of Paul Holmgren. A pugilist Flyer fans loved, but NOT the thinker, tactician and talent evaluator that could outsmart the GM’s in the NHL who know how to steal a fellow GM’s candy, but their wallets and suits too, without the GM who they fleeced, even knowing they’d been robbed. Flyer fans were ready to throw in the towel, but since the team was a mess what did it matter. The Flyers were capped out with high paid, once great players who were horrible: Vinny Lecavilleire, Ilya Bryzgalov, Luke Schenn, Chris Pronger and others. Even worse, there were few prospects in the system and many great draft picks traded away for players that were one year wonders.

    Talk about being totally wrong when I assumed Ron Hextall would be more of the same kind of operation that Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren ran, HeXtall has been the complete opposite. The Flyers today are being run by maybe the smartest hockey mind in the NHL, at least the smartest GM. People who don’t like Hextall are just not getting Hextall’s game plan yet, but they will jump on the bandwagon eventually. I have been onboard almost from his firs few months. He made some great trades, got rid of overpaid players, added draft picks and drafted outstanding kids that other “smart” GM’s missed in the draft and now he is overseeing his youth movement begin to mature. Life is about to become beautiful in Philly soon. The Flyers will be one heck of a team again. I’m onboard.

    1. Greg, I couldn’t agree more. Holmgren and Hextall are two completely different General Managers. Are they both wrong or both right? Of course not, each did what they thought and are thinking is best for the club during their respective tenures. Hextall took a different approach than Holmgren, and it seems to be paying off so far. I’m very encouraged by the way he has been going about his business, and can’t wait to start seeing some of these draft picks pay dividends in the near future!

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