Flyers’ Draft Day Revisited: Hextall Goes Rogue for Patrick

Nolan Patrick
PHILADELPHIA, PA – MARCH 19: Philadelphia Flyers Center Nolan Patrick (19) looks on during the game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers on March 19, 2019 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA.(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

There are so many working factors against the Philadelphia Flyers. Through 35 games in 2021-2022, this team has endured a handful of season-breaking events: 

Those are five key factors that directly correlate to the Flyers’ performance. Strip the pandemic era and the challenges it presents; most of these issues remain. On the surface, Philadelphia ices a team that needs restructuring. Below the surface, the organization needs to get on the same page. Currently, the team doesn’t have the unanimous respect of their alumni, let alone fans.

Speaking of alumni, Bobby Clarke appeared on the Cam and Strick Podcast yesterday. He didn’t hold back regarding the critical errors made when Ron Hextall was the general manager. Clarke said Hextall “alienated everyone,” and made himself “bigger than the team.” Decisions made without anyone else’s consultation contribute to the current product.

Particularly, Clarke pointed out, “none of our scouts wanted [Nolan] Patrick.” “They wanted [Cale] Makar,” he finished. Ugh.

Hindsight is looking back at this draft class without context and making the connection five years later that a selection was wrong. Let’s talk about this for the last time, but with fresher context.

Why Patrick?

There was a case to select Nolan Patrick. He was the overall best North American skater via NHL Central Scouting. Four out of the first five players in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft were in their projected spot per North American and European skater rankings. 

“He has more than proven over the last three years that he is the real deal and will be an impact NHL player.”

Dan Marr

History shows the Colorado Avalanche breaking that uniform projection norm, selecting Cale Makar as the fourth overall pick. He was the top North American defensive prospect, taken immediately after the top European defenseman, Miro Heiskanen. Ron Hextall made his decision. What did Hextall see? More importantly, and keen on how the story plays out, what did Hextall omit?

We cannot dislike that Hextall wanted the consensus top prospect. Most of the time, taking the best available player works. On the way there, Hextall ignored red flags. The Philadelphia Flyers may have selected one of the most banged up, unhealthy second overall picks in the last five drafts.

Various injuries follow Patrick to this day from junior hockey. He’s had numerous shoulder injuries and was recovering from a sports hernia surgery.

Those were injuries that should have sparked a pre-draft concern. The migraine disorder is its separate beast. Patrick would have derailed his development all the same because of it. There weren’t any previous signs that he had a migraine disorder, but there was a history of it in his family, per Chuck Fletcher in 2019.

What About Makar and Heiskanen?

Clearly, without a doubt, these two were better picks…two years after the selection and with added context surrounding a migraine disorder. On draft day, there was an undisputed divide. The Philadelphia Flyers scouts wanted one of the two defensemen. Hextall didn’t consult scouts, which is outright malpractice when concerning prospects. If you aren’t listening to scouts, why are they on the payroll?

Cale Makar made his debut in 2019-2020. Miro Heiskanen began his career in 2018-2019. Patrick did start 73 games in 2017-2018. No one was making a case that Patrick wasn’t the right decision until the migraine disorder robbed him of his first season under Alain Vigneault.

By this point, Hextall was no longer with the Flyers organization. He saw the best seasons from Patrick. The entire regime was flipped, including the removal of Dave Hakstol as head coach.

Hextall struck out more than he hit in that draft. The only selection from that draft class remaining in Philadelphia is Morgan Frost.

Here we are in 2021-2022, where Makar and Heiskanen are still with the teams who selected them, and Patrick is with the Vegas Golden Knights, coming off of long-term injured reserve.

The Second Overall Pick and Brayden Schenn

With Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin, and others, Hextall felt the defense was deep enough with depth. He wanted the best center in the draft, though scouts still wanted Makar or Heiskanen. 

Why was there such a reliance on needing the best center available? The Philadelphia Flyers had Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, and Brayden Schenn. There is enough NHL depth to place Giroux, Konecny, or Laughton on the wing if you have to.

Clarke recalls Hextall trading Schenn to the St. Louis Blues:

“Our scouts were so mad at Hexy [for doing the Schenn deal.]”

Bobby Clarke; 1/11/2022

Hextall sent Schenn to the Blues for Jori Lehtera and a 2017 and 2018 first-round pick. He consulted no one. Clarke sat a few seats away from Hextall and had no idea Schenn was going to St. Louis.

“I sat at the table, three seats away from him when he traded Schenn. Didn’t have a clue.”

Bobby Clarke; 1/11/2022

Dishing Schenn to the Blues for Lehtera was a massive error. He never caught on with the Flyers. Schenn won a Stanley Cup in his second season in St. Louis. It is easy to understand Hextall making the Schenn trade to acquire picks and shed cap because he dialed in on Patrick as an incoming center. It was just unnecessary to clear $425k with this deal.  

Mark Streit, Nick Schultz, and Michael Del Zotto were all off the roster by 2018-2019. Brandon Manning hardly caught on, and Andrew MacDonald didn’t help in 2016-2017. The scouts did their job accurately. There was a need for defense with the second overall pick. 

Who knew that the Schenn trade would have this butterfly effect? Patrick was still supposed to be the best North American skater in the draft, per the NHL Central Scouting. If Hextall drafts for team need instead, as the scouts implied, he looks like the smartest general manager in the room, dressing Makar in orange and black.

Instead, he makes the Schenn deal, selects Patrick, and the draft picks included with Lehtera become Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee. If you’re saying to yourself that you would rather have Schenn and Makar or Heiskanen: yes.

Farabee is a good player, and Frost is still hoping to find his confidence, but Makar is cracking top ten playlists, and Schenn is a Stanley Cup champion. Lehtera hasn’t played since 2019.

Put It To Rest

Hextall was criminally incorrect. We can say that with twenty-twenty hindsight. On draft day, however, Patrick was not a controversial pick. He was supposed to be the first or second overall pick. What was controversial was the Schenn deal and how secretive it was to Clarke at the same table.

“Wasn’t like we were shopping Brayden. But this deal came along, and we really like the draft next year, we like the late pick this year, we like Jori. Just kind of a deal that made sense.”

Ron Hextall; 6/23/2017

The usage of “we” seems moot.

Remember those things I listed at the beginning of all this? If Hextall selects Makar or Heiskanen as suggested, the Philadelphia Flyers may not have to rely on Ryan Ellis’ availability or die by the sword of Keith Yandle. The team certainly wouldn’t be in a position to underachieve.

Schenn has remained mostly healthy for the St. Louis Blues, especially over the longevity of Patrick’s NHL career. Not making the deal means Kevin Hayes likely isn’t receiving his massive Flyers contract. In this trajectory, down this rabbit hole, Philadelphia could have afforded to extend Makar or Heiskanen to their current deals, too.

(Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)