VOORHEES, N.J. — When it comes to the 2018 NHL draft class, you have the bright shiny red sports car on the showroom floor and then you have the remaining inventory scattered around the lot.
That’s not to minimize the skill level of this year’s draft pool, but there’s clearly one franchise player in defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, expected to be the No. 1 overall choice of the Buffalo Sabres, and then the next tier of talent.
General manager Ron Hextall and his scouting department have been discussing and evaluating just how far does that next level extend.
Two through five? Two through 10?
“Everybody views it different,” Hextall said Thursday. “I don’t want to disclose it for obvious reasons, but some people view it as eight or 10 really good players should go off the board in some semblance of that order.”
Right now, that second overall pick doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 2 player — which wasn't the case last year when the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick. The Carolina Hurricanes have been open to offers for the second overall selection.
In all likelihood, with the 14th and 19th overall picks, Hextall would have to package together a trade to grab one of those next-level prospects. The Flyers' GM won’t hesitate to pull the trigger if it’s a player he covets, like in 2014, when he made a play for defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who was taken No. 1 by the Florida Panthers.
Ekblad possesses the rare blend of size and skill with the luxury of being a right-handed shot, a rarity in today’s NHL where blueliners are predominantly left-handed shots.
“Yeah, me and 30 other GMs,” Hextall said of the need for a right-handed defenseman. “When you look at the hockey world, it’s a weakness in the whole chink of armor there, so, yeah, we’d love to have one.”
Looking at the top 10 prospects in this year’s class, a handful of right-handed blueliners stand out: London Knights' Evan Bouchard (6-2, 192), Acadie-Bathurst’s Noah Dobson (6-3, 176), who just recently won a Memorial Cup with Flyers prospect German Rubtsov, and Sweden’s Adam Boqvist (5-11, 170).
“We tend to go by our lists,” Hextall said. “We’re not going to take our list and go down (and pass better players) to find a right-handed-shooting defenseman. Maybe you move down where you think you’re going to get a guy and maybe you do that. I’m not going to jump 10 guys on our list to draft a right-shot defenseman.”
Right now, Hextall doesn’t believe that will happen and instead will take aim at drafting twice in the first round for the third time in four years.
“I anticipate right now making our picks,” Hextall said. ”Certainly, we would move up if a great deal was there. We’d look at moving back if the right deal was there too. It’s really hard to project or predict.
“I think there’s a point in this draft where a certain pick may not be different than one 20 picks back. It’s probably a fairly typical draft. Everyone views things different and certainly there’s guys that we like.”