Flyers

How much of Ron Hextall's work will Chuck Fletcher undo?

How much of Ron Hextall's work will Chuck Fletcher undo?

VOORHEES, N.J. — If he felt so inclined, Chuck Fletcher could walk in and rip out the carpet, repaint the walls and tear down the drapes. 

The Flyers' newest general manager has been given full autonomy by upper management to make the alterations that are more aligned with the organization’s style of winning hockey. 

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much that Fletcher wants to change. 

“The cupboard is full. There are a tremendous amount of prospects,” Fletcher said Wednesday at his introductory press conference. “This year, we have nine draft picks — we have an extra third and an extra seventh. We have cap space and we have good players. There’s everything here to be successful and that’s our goal and that’s what we’re going to do. It’s set up for success.”

Clearly, Ron Hextall left Fletcher in a much more tenable position in terms of cap space and prospects than Paul Holmgren left Hextall in 2014. But Fletcher will also be carrying out the wishes of upper management, who have expressed a desire to win this season, and not kick that can down the road to 2020, or whenever Hextall felt the time was conveniently right.

Expect Fletcher to be a hybrid of Holmgren and Hextall — the difference between a Wall Street day trader and a financial analyst who admires his 401(k) statements.  

“I’m a big believer in you need all three phases to build a championship team," Fletcher said. "Again, mainly the draft, but you also have to use trades and free agency. You have to have good people, everybody has to be pulling the same way. I do think culture is very important in any organization to be successful.”

If culture is important, then that would seemingly work into Wayne Simmonds' favor. 

One has to believe that Simmonds' future will be discussed thoroughly on the decision to reward him with a new contract or utilize him in a trade that could help mold the Flyers into a more well-rounded team defensively. 

However, what remains clear throughout Fletcher’s nine-year tenure in Minnesota is that his trades don’t look nearly as favorable as some of his free-agent signings.

“When the time is right, we will get to the contract,” Fletcher said. “But certainly there will be a lot of work starting right away in terms of getting to know the file, getting to know the individual, communicating with the agent, and who knows when there’s a fit. But we’ll keep pushing.”

Don’t expect the roster to be overhauled, but that’s only the start. 

Fletcher will also have to determine how much input he wants in just about every facet of the organization. It was Hextall who brought in a dietician to control what players ate. It was Hextall who created a sports science department to improve performance outcomes. And it was Hextall who started an analytics department to use advanced metrics in analyzing player data. 

“I think it’s all critical,” Fletcher said. “We had a pretty good analytics department in Minnesota that we were using more and more. And when I talk about process, that was part of the process. Maybe some areas I’ll tweak a little bit, just from personal preference. But there’s been a lot of thought into building this organization and it’s in a good place.”

All of which leads you to think the profound change Holmgren and Dave Scott were looking for was simply more inclusion from their general manager.  

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One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

zack_hill_philadelphia_flyers_bobby_brink.jpg
Zack Hill/ Philadelphia Flyers

One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

Bobby Brink will remember waiting.

With the NHL draft, most players will say it doesn't matter where you go or when you're taken, it's just special to hear your name called — a dream realized.

Brink, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound winger from Minnetonka, Minnesota, masterfully delivered in his draft year. He carved up the USHL for 68 points (35 goals, 33 assists) in 43 regular-season games with the Sioux City Musketeers, turning himself into what many viewed as a first-round prospect.

He didn't learn his draft destiny until Saturday, Day 2 of the event, at pick No. 34 overall.

"I landed in a great spot with the Flyers," Brink said last month at development camp, "and I couldn't be happier to be here."

Thrilled, absolutely. But …

"It's motivation that teams passed up on you," Brink said. "It was a long day Friday."

He won't forget.

The Flyers traded up to snag Brink. They were excited he was still available on Day 2, three selections into the second round (see story). Brink said he had met with the Flyers throughout the year and at the NHL Scouting Combine.

"I knew the history of the Flyers," Brink said. "It's such an historic organization.

"They didn't tell me they were going to draft me or anything, but I thought I was on their radar."

For good reason.

Brink isn't regarded as the biggest, fastest or strongest, but there's a deceptive quickness to his skating, he thrives on outsmarting the opposition and he's exceptionally skilled. 

I rely on the scouts to put the list together and Bobby was a player that our entire staff highly endorsed, scouted and very much liked as a hockey player. I've known Bobby and his family for many years. His dad Andy coached my son and also taught him in school. So there's a long relationship there. 

In terms of the background, I felt comfortable giving my opinion to the staff about what a quality kid from a quality family. Watched him play at every level, and it's remarkable — he was a star player in squirt and peewee, and he's a star player in the USHL. It's been amazing to watch his rise. He's a high-quality prospect.

- Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher

During the 5-on-5 scrimmage to finish off development camp, Brink stood out playing alongside top prospects Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe.

"He's a small guy, but he works hard," the 6-foot-6 Ratcliffe said. "He seemed to control the puck and it was on a string for him out there.

"He's a really good player."

Brink, who is headed to the University of Denver, said growing up he has admired smaller players in the NHL like Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane.

"Seeing them do that, I realize that I can do it, too," Brink said. "They're providing me opportunity, for the smaller guys, by having so much success."

Gaudreau, the 25-year-old five-time All-Star, is a 5-foot-9, 165-pound winger who was drafted out of the USHL in 2011. He heard his name called in the fourth round.

Sometimes waiting can be a good thing.

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Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

The Flyers selected Noah Cates during the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, plucking him out of Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota with the 137th overall pick.

At the time, Brent Flahr, Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were sitting at No. 147.

"A kid like Cates was right in our backyard," Flahr said. "One thing in Minnesota when you are there, you hate when Minnesota players, especially the good ones, go ahead of you."

Flahr can now thank Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor. As the assistant general manager of the Flyers, Flahr no longer has to kick himself for missing out on Cates.

"Nick Pryor did a good job," Flahr said last month at development camp. "He was right near his house. They got him. He looks like a real good prospect for us."


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

As a fifth-round pick out of high school, Cates was once well below the surface in the Flyers' prospect pool. With time and hard work, he's beginning to blossom — and the Flyers see it. 

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said. "He's quietly gotten better and better every year, and everything we ask him to do, he's doing it."

In 2017-18, Cates scored nearly a point per game (21 goals, 34 assists) over 60 contests with the USHL's Omaha Lancers. He then followed it up by playing an important role for 2019 national champion University of Minnesota Duluth, recording 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and a plus-12 mark through 40 games as a freshman.

What made the national title even sweeter was winning it alongside his brother Jackson Cates, for a school just shy of a 2½-hour drive from his parents Jeff and Jenny Cates.

"Awesome," Cates said. "I think they were at every game this year. It was so much easier for them that we were in the same spot, a couple hours from home. They're obviously so proud of us."

Couple his freshman year with a goal and two assists for the U.S. in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and it was a productive 2018-19 for Cates.

"Just grew so much, developed so much with the college game — living on my own, going to school and everything like that," Cates said. "Just an awesome year all around and capping it off with that national championship was so special with my family."

Cates is far from the skinny, offense-first player he was in high school. He's gone from 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. He's a smart, all-situation thinker — in large part because of his development with the Bulldogs and trust from head coach Scott Sandelin.

"My role kind of grew as the year went on, got more comfortable," Cates said. "A little bit of power play, some penalty kill, last-minute stuff — that's important to play in all those key situations, so important moving on to have that experience. To do it for a team like that, it was really special. I can't say enough good things about that program and the whole year in general. Coach Sandelin gave me a lot of opportunity and I'm so grateful for that opportunity and took advantage of it."

The Flyers noticed.

"He scored goals, he's on the ice when you're protecting leads, he's killing penalties," Samuelsson said. "He's a very rounded hockey player."

Cates said it's too early to tell how long he'll stay in school.

"When you're on a team like that and with a program like that, you don't want to leave too early and maybe hurt your career," Cates said, "especially with the opportunity that's in Duluth."

After all, there's no real rush. Flahr, Fletcher and the Flyers know him well.

"So happy to be in Philadelphia," Cates said.

"I just need to play the way I can play, especially these next couple years with my development. They're on board with that, they're happy with where I'm at, but I've got to keep making strides."

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