Flyers Draft Retrospective: Hextall Gets Lucky

Flyers' Carter Hart
Flyers’ Carter Hart (Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre)

At the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers held the eighteenth overall pick. In the last three drafts, defensemen were selected in the first round. They’re primed to select a forward.

Off the heels of a fifth place finish, the Flyers secured a wildcard berth. The Washington Capitals eliminated Philadelphia in six games.

Claude Giroux led the team with 67 points, but Wayne Simmonds led the team in goals (31.) Giroux, Simmonds, and Brayden Schenn were the only players to score more than twenty. Philadelphia ranked 22nd in scoring, making a goal scorer the top priority.

The Draft

There wasn’t a chance that Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine would be obtainable, but decent players could bolster the lineup. With a mid-round pick, the Flyers likely had to develop their selection for a few years before debuting in the NHL.

Imagine selecting Kieffer Bellows, a player others were excited about, too:

According to Bob McKenzie’s final prospect ranking, Philadelphia could’ve. Ranked eighteenth was Bellows who potted 50 goals for the US NTDP. Julian Gauthier was ranked seventeenth, who scored 41 goals in 54 games. Both were on the board at eighteen. Other scorers were available as well.

Flyers Go Off Script

“With the eighteenth pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers…”

…Trade back with the Winnipeg Jets for the 23rd and 36th overall picks. With the 23rd selection, the Flyers went with German Rubtsov, an 18-year-old center from the Russian U-18 program.

Rubtsov was the 23rd ranked prospect, according to McKenzie. There was mystery surrounding Rubtsov, however. The Russian U-18 team pulled out of the U-18 World Junior Tournament, and Rubtsov didn’t play in the U-20 World Juniors. He registered 26 points (12G, 14A) in 28 games, but was touted as a solid two-way player who could score goals. Philadelphia had those forwards, but lacked was a sniper.

He started off promising with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, totaling ten points (6G, 4A) in fourteen games. Since, his progression plateaued. He played four games for the Flyers in the 2019-2020 season. Now, Rubtsov is back in the AHL after spending last season in the KHL.

Six of the eight players drafted after him have played fifty or more NHL games. Bellows and Gauthier are also playing in the NHL. Bellows registered fifteen points (8G, 7A) in 42 career games. Gauthier totaled seventeen points (5G, 12A) in 81 career games to date.

What Could’ve Been

Giroux finished up his all-star weekend by leading the Metropolitan Division to victory, earning all-star MVP. Alex DeBrincat wrapped up his first all-star weekend. DeBrincat finished his weekend with two goals and one assist. Luckily, the Metropolitan Division were able to keep him off the score sheet in the final game.

DeBrincat was a late first-round or early second-round projection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He flew off the board as the 39th overall pick after dominating with the Erie Otters (OHL.) He scored at least one hundred points in every season for three years with the Otters.

“DeBrincat is a small player with a dynamic skill set and a pure sniper. He is undersized, but can be very nasty to play against and shies away from no one. He skates well and is very effective around the net. He is hard to contain for such a small player, and has great chemistry with anyone he plays with. A decade player in the OHL.”

Tyler Parchem; Elite Prospects 2016

Standing in at 5’7″ and 160lbs, he was two inches smaller than Johnny Gaudreau. There were legitimate concerns that his size would stop him from being effective at the NHL level. DeBrincat put those rumors to bed early in the 2017-2018 season as he scored 58 points (26G, 22A) in 82 games. He scores at a .79PPG rate in the NHL for his career. Travis Konecny, a similar player, .62PPG for his career.

Not a Total Loss

Despite selecting Rubtsov and Pascal Laberge ahead of DeBrincat, Hextall hit with his third selection. In the second round, he selected Carter Hart. This was dubbed by some as “the steal of the draft.”

Hart is recovering from a horrid 2020-2021 season with above-average goaltending despite a historically bad losing streak. He is the main reason they aren’t getting blown out of every game. As Alain Vigneault would say, “he gives his team a chance.”

Hextall, a former goaltender, saved this draft by nabbing a starter for Philadelphia. Here’s to Chuck Fletcher drafting with more success.

The Flyers return to the ice tomorrow night, hosting the Detroit Red Wings.

(Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre)

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