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With 2 picks in top 20, Flyers' Ron Hextall may look to move up in 2018 NHL draft

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With 2 picks in top 20, Flyers' Ron Hextall may look to move up in 2018 NHL draft

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.

Sorry NHL trade buzz, sorry Flyers' playoff push — Oskar Lindblom's smile wins the day

Sorry NHL trade buzz, sorry Flyers' playoff push — Oskar Lindblom's smile wins the day

All the trade fodder and debate took a backseat.

Gaining ground in the playoff race and smelling first place felt inconsequential.

Quite frankly, nothing compares to Oskar Lindblom's smile.

Just ask the Flyers.

“Oh, it’s awesome. His smile, you know, he’s just a great guy to have around — he brightens your day," Justin Braun said. "The fact that he’s doing well and he’s able to come to the rink and see the boys is just fantastic.”

Lindblom, the Flyers’ 23-year-old forward who is battling Ewing’s sarcoma, surprised the team Saturday by greeting it after a 4-2 win over the Jets at the Wells Fargo Center.

Lindblom visited the entire team and staff in early-to-mid January, when he had begun his cancer treatment.

Once again Saturday, the Swedish native's vibrant smile uplifted everyone. It always does.

“Really good, really good to see him," Scott Laughton said, trying to put his emotions into words. "Just really good to see him.”

"It’s great to see him, I haven’t seen him in a couple weeks," Carter Hart added. "I'm sure he was happy to come to the rink and see the boys. All of us are happy to see him and he’s looking great."

The Flyers had a lot to be happy about Saturday. They strengthened their playoff chances, crept to within three points of the Penguins and Capitals in the Metropolitan Division race and general manager Chuck Fletcher watched his team further cement its status as a contender ahead of Monday's 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline (see observations).

But head coach Alain Vigneault's first postgame comments were about Lindblom.

“He was smiling," Vigneault said. "Great smile, looked beautiful.

“Makes everybody feel good. There’s no doubt that we’re all behind him, his teammates are obviously checking up on him on a regular basis and so is the whole staff.

"But to see him live, it’s just beautiful.”

For the the Flyers, it doesn't get better than that.

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Ahead of NHL trade deadline, Flyers give general manager Chuck Fletcher another win

Ahead of NHL trade deadline, Flyers give general manager Chuck Fletcher another win

BOX SCORE

The Flyers gave their general manager one more quality show before Monday's 3 p.m. ET NHL trade deadline.

Chuck Fletcher watched his club beat the Jets, 4-2, Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers (35-20-7), who won their third straight, came into the action with a 79.6 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to Hockey-Reference.com. They sit in third place of the Metropolitan Division and are only three points back of the Penguins and Capitals (see standings).

Game 62 is the quickest the Flyers have recorded 35 wins since 2010-11, when the club got there at Game 53. The Flyers finished with 47 wins, 106 points and a playoff series victory that season.

The Jets (32-26-5), who entered holding the Western Conference's first wild-card spot, had their three-game winning streak snapped.

• Saturday marked the Flyers' final outing ahead of the trading period.

Alain Vigneault's club is looking more and more like a contender. The Flyers are 13-5-1 with an NHL-high 68 goals since Jan. 8. Over that stretch, only two teams have more points than their 27 — the Lightning (31) and Bruins (29). Overall, they're a top-seven team in the league.

Does the Flyers' standing give Fletcher more incentive to add to his roster? Or do the Flyers have enough to make a run?

“I like my team," Vigneault said before the game. "And for me, this is no different as any other day during the regular season. I know that Chuck looks at any option that can improve our team, he’s been doing that since the first day that I was hired. Now we’re into the final stretch. If there’s something that he feels can improve our team, he’ll definitely look at it. But I’m very happy moving forward with the players that we have here.”

Does Vigneault have a voice in the matters?

“I’ve got a nice French voice," the head coach said with a laugh. "So I’ll throw my two cents in there, it’ll be fine.”

• The Flyers didn't play their best game, but good teams win when they're not at their best.

They did enough and a solid first period made up for a subpar second period in which the Flyers were outshot 15-4.

• For all the talk about the Flyers needing to add depth at forward, Scott Laughton has given the club plenty of it.

He scored a pair of goals to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead at first intermission. In 40 fewer games this season, Laughton has matched his career of 12 goals set in 2018-19.

If the Flyers get Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder) back or acquire a center at the deadline, Laughton would likely be pegged as the team's fourth-line center. Not bad at all.

Tyler Pitlick, another depth piece, scored a clutch third-period goal to extend the Flyers' lead to 4-2. Sean Couturier was the Flyers' other goal scorer. The team's role guys continued to play well.

• Flyers defensemen Ivan Provorov, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun and Robert Hagg were very good against a big, skilled offensive team.

Braun finished with three assists.

• Carter Hart gave up a power play blast off the stick of Patrik Laine and a goal to Josh Morrissey.

Outside of that, he was stout again, improving to 16-2-2 with a 1.64 goals-against average at home.

He's a huge reason why the Flyers are 21-5-4 with a plus-45 goal differential in 30 home games.

• Shayne Gostisbehere (left knee) will wrap up his two-game conditioning stint tonight with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

Vigneault said pregame that he expects Gostisbehere to return to the big club Sunday. The Flyers will have decisions to make heading into Monday (see story).

• Stick tap to Flyers director of sports medicine Jim McCrossin.

• The team is off from practice Sunday as the Flyers Wives Carnival will be held at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers practice Monday at 11:30 a.m. in Voorhees, New Jersey, before hosting the Sharks Tuesday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

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