Flyers

Hextall: Developing prospects a 'huge priority'

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Hextall: Developing prospects a 'huge priority'

Nicklas Hjalmarsson. Brent Seabrook. Duncan Keith.

The Chicago Blackhawks drafted and developed all three of those defensemen this decade. Hjalmarsson and Seabrook were on their NHL roster within two years. It took Keith three years to make it.

Did the Blackhawks rush their development at the pro level? Probably. Did they roll the dice allowing them to learn on the job? Absolutely.

Yet look at the dividends paid: Two Stanley Cups.

As Ron Hextall faces his new job as general manager of the Flyers, he does so with this one piece of essential, albeit embarrassing, knowledge: Since the current decade began, the Flyers are the only NHL club without a single drafted/developed defenseman on their roster playing for them.

That has to change and change quickly, especially given the current crop of talent in the Flyers' organization in Robert Hagg, Shayne Gostisbehere and Samuel Morin.

Is that a priority for Hextall?

“Yeah, it is,” Hextall said on Wednesday. “We got Kjell Samuelsson on our development team now and he’s worked with some of the young defensemen this year. We saw Morin and Gostisbehere a lot. Went to Sweden for Robert Hagg. It’s a huge priority.

“The one thing that hasn’t changed in my mind is build through the middle. Your goaltender, your defense, your centermen. You have to be strong there or you can’t win. ... You can’t win in the playoffs without defense and goaltending.”

That Chris Therien, who played a decade for the Flyers on the blue line, remains the organization’s lone drafted/developed blue liner of any pedigree or longevity is a reason why we’re coming up on 40 years without a Stanley Cup.

The Flyers have traded some good D-men away, too. Dennis Seidenberg, Joni Pitkanen and Luca Sbisa, who was the centerpiece of the trade for Chris Pronger, a trade that was well worth doing.

To their credit, the Flyers tried hard to get Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to fill the void of not being able to promote one of their own on defense. Yet they failed.

“The problem is, if something does come along, a No. 1 defenseman, you are giving up two or three young players or two or three draft picks,” Hextall said.

“You fill one hole and create three or four others. That’s the one thing -- trying to get all those holes filled at the same time. In cap world, you are always going to have a weakness. You want the weakness on the wing. That’s how I think.”

It remains unknown whether any of the Flyers' current defensive prospects will be on their NHL roster next fall. Club chairman Ed Snider said last week he wants the team to be more aggressive in pushing the developmental envelope.

Some people think Hagg, who been playing in Sweden, is the closest to playing right now. Others think it’s Gostisbehere, who was nothing short of sensational playing in Philadelphia during the NCAA Frozen Four.

The lack of defensive prospects in the eight years he was GM falls on Paul Holmgren. Things likely would have been much different had Pronger played through his contract instead of being forced onto long-term injury indefinitely with post-concussion syndrome.

Had Pronger played, there would be far less attention to the defense.

Holmgren admits that deal still sticks with him.

“We've talked about that, we talked about it [Tuesday],” Holmgren said. “ Not the 'what if,' but we gave up a lot to get Chris. In fact, I asked Ron. He was in Los Angeles when we made that trade. I said, 'What'd you think of that trade?'

“'Was it steep?' he said, 'Yeah, but that's the only way you were going to get him.' Then we talked about how nice it would've been to have him this year ... you try not to dwell on those things but every once and a while they come up.”

Ever since Pronger’s playing career ended in November 2011, the Flyers have been trying unsuccessfully to fill his void.

It’s impossible to replace a future Hall of Famer.

“Probably the only way you're going to get that guy [impact defenseman] is to draft for him,” Holmgren said. “Who knows, maybe we have him. Maybe Sam Morin or Robert Hagg, or Gostisbehere. Maybe he's going to be in this draft. Who knows?”

The Flyers are very shallow in their overall organizational chart in terms of draft picks playing for them right now with the Phantoms. Again, it’s unacceptable.

Holmgren had a conversation with Hextall this season during an AHL game.

“I can remember watching a Phantoms game with him earlier in the year and he said, 'How many draft picks do we have playing in this game?’” Holmgren recalled.

“Honest question, right? I think I said, 'Four?' [Nick] Cousins was there and we were counting free-agent guys that we brought in, not young guys or older guys that we brought in from other organizations.

“I think we had four or five. He just mentioned that, and the team that we were playing against that night had 12. So we've got to get better at that. He mentioned it today that we have to keep our draft picks and we've got to do a better job in that regard and he's right, we do.”

For years, the Flyers traded away second-round draft picks like they were free lollipops. Which is why Andreas Nodl was the last one of any consequence who actually played for them.

The Flyers' draft record in the second round is nothing to be proud of since so many of them have been cast aside.

“The other thing that we have to get better at is development,” Holmgren said. “[Hextall] has gone out of his way to help with that development side. In the limited amount of time he's been here, he has hired a guy to work with the forwards that we drafted in our organization, not playing for the Phantoms, but in our organization.

“He gets on the ice with them and does work, and when time allows Kjell Samuelsson works with our defensemen. He's been out seeing Gostisbehere, Sammy Morin. It's not that we weren't doing these things prior to that, but just not to the level we are now. Instead of having one player up top, now we have two. There’s been some changes that have been ideas of his and I guess a result of the forcefulness of him getting those ideas across.”

This is one part of “culture change,” as some say, which has to change under Hextall.

He says it will.

We’ll see.

Best of NHL: Anthony Duclair scores hat trick, Coyotes beat Senators in OT

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Best of NHL: Anthony Duclair scores hat trick, Coyotes beat Senators in OT

OTTAWA, Ontario — Anthony Duclair gave the lowly Arizona Coyotes another two points.

Duclair scored in overtime to complete a hat trick and the Coyotes beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 on Saturday for their second straight victory.

Antti Raanta made 30 saves to help the Coyotes improve to 4-15-3. On Thursday night in Montreal, they rallied to beat the Canadiens 5-4 for their first regulation victory of the season.

"I think it was a well-earned win to be honest," Duclair said. "We carried that momentum from the Montreal game and all four lines were rolling and we just played a solid 60 minutes."

Duclair scored at 1:23 of overtime, his shot trickling through Condon's pads and over the goal line (see full recap). 

Anisimov's third-period goal leads Blackhawks past Pens
PITTSBURGH — Artem Anisimov scored a power-play goal in the third period, and the Chicago Blackhawks continued their winning streak against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 2-1 victory on Saturday night.

Anisimov scored his 10th goal of the season just 21 seconds after Pittsburgh tied the game. Gustav Forsling scored his second for the Blackhawks, who won their eighth straight against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.

The Blackhawks have won three of their last four games after taking two of their previous seven.

Corey Crawford made 35 saves for Chicago, including a right-pad stop on Phil Kessel in the final 20 seconds (see full recap). 

Lee scores 2 goals, Islanders beat Lightning
TAMPA, Fla. — New York Islanders coach Doug Weight had a simple message after a big lead was slipping away: Stay calm.

Anders Lee scored twice and the Islanders held on after nearly blowing a four-goal lead, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 Saturday night.

"He was just telling us what we needed to hear," New York right wing Josh Bailey said of Weight's message on the bench midway through the third. "He was just getting his point across. We just needed to calm down a little bit, realize we're in a good position. We've still got the lead in the third period on the road against the top team in the league." (see full recap). 

Ovechkin returns after puck to face, Caps snap Wild's streak
WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin returned from taking a puck to the face, T.J. Oshie had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals snapped the Minnesota Wild's winning streak at four with a 3-1 victory Saturday night.

Behind goals from Oshie, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov and 30 saves by goaltender Braden Holtby, the Capitals stopped their skid at two and won their fifth consecutive game at home.

Ovechkin was bloodied in the second period when a puck ramped off his stick and into his face, but Washington's captain got some repairs and was back on the ice for the start of the third. He set up Kuznetsov's goal late in the period.

Nino Niederreiter scored for Minnesota, which lost for the first time since Nov. 8. Backup Alex Stalock stopped 40 of 43 shots in his first career start against the Capitals (see full recap.) 

Selfish, undisciplined play dooms Flyers in OT loss to Flames

Selfish, undisciplined play dooms Flyers in OT loss to Flames

BOX SCORE

The Flyers' emotions got the best of them Saturday afternoon, and in turn, they got the best from Sean Monahan.

Monahan's second-period power-play hat trick was the result of the Flyers' selfish, undisciplined penalties, which allowed the Calgary Flames to erase a two-goal deficit and take down the Flyers, 5-4, at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

Michael Frolik capped the Flames' comeback, converting on a 2-on-1 chance just 1:18 into overtime.

"It's not deflating — it pisses you off," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said, "when things are a little bit within our control at that point in time. They're penalties that could have been within our control. That obviously turned and changed the hockey game drastically."

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was the primary culprit behind the Flyers' lack of discipline.

After a fracas in front of the Flyers' bench that saw Michael Raffl take a stick up high, Gostisbehere was the recipient of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for yelling at referee Tim Peel. The Flyers successfully killed that two-minute minor and then Gostisbehere was sent back to the box 65 seconds later for elbowing Flames forward Micheal Ferland against the boards.

"I think I was upset overall," Gostisbehere said. "I took it out on the wrong guy. Just wasn't a good team player in that sense on that play — heat of the moment. Obviously, there are no excuses for something like that to happen. I wasn't thinking about my team there. I really let my team down."

"It varies from ref to ref," Brandon Manning said. "In Ghost's case, it was a point to where he was fed up. It wasn't what Ghost said directly. I think it was just a matter of things building up and the time and situation of it."

Monahan didn't score on Gostisbehere's unsportsmanlike penalty, but he did convert on the elbowing call, which completed his first career hat trick. He scored his first goal with Dale Weise in the box for high-sticking and then scored his second goal just three minutes and 44 seconds later, with Manning in the box for slashing and snapping Matt Stajan's stick.

"It's something I've been bad for lately and (what) I've tried to work on is keeping my stick down instead of going after the stick," Manning said. "I was a little surprised he pulled up and kind of backed off and I was just trying to get around him. That's the way it is. They're calling that a penalty now."

While the Flyers' top line has been a three-man show recently, it was the Flyers' No. 1 line that took center stage, as Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Ferland combined for four goals on 22 attempted shots, many of which were high-quality scoring chances.

The Flyers, now 8-8-4 and losers of four straight, jumped all over the Flyers with three first-period goals and taking a 3-1 lead after the opening 20 minutes. It also marked the second straight game the Flyers wasted a two-goal lead. Thursday, the Flyers scored two early goals, led for nearly 57 minutes and then watched it vanish in the final minute of regulation in Winnipeg.

"We were outshooting them pretty badly at one point and then the penalties gave them a chance to get back in the game," Sean Couturier said. "We got to be better on the PK, but at the same time, we've got to be more disciplined."

"We kind of just lost our heads there," Wayne Simmonds said. "I think groaning and moaning at the refs, but some of those penalties are penalties. We got to get better. We got to keep our heads and we just got to focus on the play because we had the game and then we let it go."

Radko a no-go
Radko Gudas was unavailable for Saturday's game against Calgary after he elected to have a phone hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety following his slashing penalty to the back of Mathieu Perreault's head Thursday in Winnipeg.

Gudas was ruled ineligible and sitting out Saturday's game will be applied to his suspension. According to the league’s collective bargaining agreement, “no decision to issue supplemental discipline is made before the player has the opportunity to explain his actions.”

With Andrew MacDonald still not ready for game action, Mark Alt replaced Gudas in the lineup and played 13 minutes and five seconds.

Another Johnny Hockey homecoming
South Jersey's Gaudreau had a successful trip back home establishing a new career-high nine-game point streak. Gaudreau scored Calgary's first goal on a breakaway, which was his fourth straight game with a goal.

Gaudreau also assisted on a pair of Monahan's power-play goals, giving him a three-point night.

"Yeah, this is a big win for us," Gaudreau said, "especially after the last game we had (an 8-2 loss to Detroit last Wednesday). Some big performers tonight, power play looked good, had a huge kill at the end there in the third and a big goal Frolik, so it was a good team win there."