Over the course of the next six weeks, general manager Ron Hextall will be meeting extensively with his scouting staff as they align their draft board and rank the prospects for the NHL entry draft in Dallas on June 22 and 23.
The Flyers have two picks in the top 20 for the first time in 40 years. That hasn’t happened since 1978, when the organization snagged defenseman Behn Wilson and center Ken Linseman with back-to-back picks in the top 10.
Recent history suggests Hextall will not wait for the draft board to come to him. As passively as Hextall has operated around the trade deadline, the Flyers' GM has shown a much more aggressive side in terms of navigating his chess pieces during draft weekend.
Holding the 14th and 19th overall selections gives Hextall many options.
“We’ve seen enough players where it’s a good draft and we’re going to get a couple of good players if we make those picks,” Hextall said last week. “In terms of options, yeah, it gives you more options. If you want to move up, I would envision the chance to move up.”
Moving up has been Hextall’s draft strategy.
In his four years at the helm, he has valued draft picks and prospects like family heirlooms, reluctant to part with them regardless of how much of a boost it provides the Flyers in the short term.
Three years ago, the Flyers acquired Tampa Bay’s first-round pick, 29th overall, along with Radko Gudas as part of the Braydon Coburn deal. Fearing Travis Konecny may not be around that late, Hextall was able to move up five spots by throwing in a late second-round pick as part of the Kimmo Timonen deal with the Blackhawks.
Last year, Hextall engineered the Brayden Schenn deal with St. Louis, which netted the Flyers a pair of first-round picks — the 27th overall selection in 2017 that was used to select Morgan Frost, who finished second in the OHL with 112 points in 67 games. It’s the most points scored by a Flyers prospect in junior since former Quebec Ramparts winger Simon Gagne finished with 120 points in 1998-99.
Hextall and his staff didn’t relax on Day 2 as they jumped up nine spots in the second round to snag big scoring winger Isaac Ratcliffe, which gave the Flyers three picks in the top 35 of last year’s draft.
As a result, the Flyers' prospect pool looks considerably more potent in the four years under Hextall’s control, and the farm system has been consistently ranked in the top five.
“We have a good depth chart right now,” Hextall said. “Would I like it to be a little better? Yeah, I would. Get a little greedy, I guess.”
With Ivan Provorov, Nolan Patrick, Konecny and Frost just in the past three years, Hextall has been stockpiling first-round picks and now has an opportunity to add two more to his reserves.
“We’ll look at everything with those picks," Hextall said. "I’m not saying we move them or move up. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to come our way. You sit here and you might want this or that. Someone else is going to want the same things you want.”
But as Hextall has shown, he won’t sit around and let another GM dictate what the Flyers do on draft day.