It looks like Ron Hextall did not want to let Jordan Weal hit free agency.
The Flyers on Thursday night re-signed the 25-year-old forward to a two-year contract extension. NHL free agency opens Saturday and Weal, who was set to be an unrestricted free agent, would have been an attractive piece on the market.
According to TSN's Pierre LeBrun, the deal is worth $3.5 million over the two years, giving Weal an average annual value of $1.75 million.
"It's awesome," Weal said of returning to the Flyers. "They gave me a great chance last year to play with some great players, and I think this is a group that's heading in the right direction. We've got a lot of talent and skill, especially with some of the additions we've made. I'm just really excited to get back and start up the year where we were finishing it. The way we were playing hockey, it was a good brand, a good style. I'm just excited to get back and see the guys and keep getting better as a group."
Weal pounced on his opportunity with the Flyers last season after being called up from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley because of an injury to touted rookie Travis Konecny. Weal recorded eight goals and four assists for 12 points in 23 games, injecting life into an offense that slumbered from Dec. 15 to his call-up date of Feb. 10. Over that stretch, the Flyers scored the NHL's fewest goals with 38 in 23 games. Once Weal joined the big club, the Flyers scored 72 goals over their final 27 games, but still missed the playoffs.
Weal, a 5-foot-10, 179-pound natural center who plays wing, as well, started fast with three goals in 10 games and then finished even better, registering eight points (five goals, three assists) over his final 10 games, essentially solidifying a spot among the Flyers' group of forwards.
"He's a bulldog out there," Wayne Simmonds said in late March. "He's extremely strong on the puck and not many guys can take it off him."
His impressive sample had apparently caught the eye of teams around the NHL. Weal had met with the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Canucks this week, according to a report by TSN's Darren Dreger, but the Flyers got something done before he could test the waters — just as Hextall had hoped.
Weal was acquired by the Flyers in a January 2016 trade that saw Hextall unload veteran center Vinny Lecavalier and his lucrative deal to the Kings, along with defenseman Luke Schenn. Weal played only 14 games — 10 with the Kings, four with the Flyers — in 2015-16, his first taste of the NHL, which consisted mostly of healthy scratches. During those final three months of the season with the Flyers, Weal was frequently the first player on the ice before practice for extra work by himself.
"He's earned everything he has got and he continues to do that on a daily basis," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said last season. "And no doubt he will continue doing that."
For 2017-18, which should his first full NHL season, Weal will be a part of a growing stable of forwards, featuring newcomer Jori Lehtera (acquired in the Brayden Schenn trade last week) and possibly three rookies in Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom and Mike Vecchione.
"You can't really put too much expectation and hype into anything right off the bat," Weal said of his goals. "You've just got to take it as it is, take every game and every practice as a time to get better and better — and try to win hockey games. That's what we're trying to do, we're trying to make the playoffs and I think we've got the group to do that."