LAS VEGAS — Ron Hextall stood in front of the media in his own backyard during the weekend of the 2014 NHL draft and issued a challenge publicly to the entire scouting department within the organization.
Of course, those same scouts had already heard Hextall’s message previously. But using a baseball metaphor, the GM said, “We need to hit home runs” in regards to those mid- to late-round draft picks that the Flyers had been (to use another metaphor) “striking out” on in years past.
If anything was painfully obvious to Hextall during his tenure with the Los Angeles Kings, it's that the seeds of a Stanley Cup champion are planted through meticulous scouting, pinpoint drafting and prudent player development.
So when Mikhail Vorobyev and Oskar Lindblom step on the T-Mobile Arena ice together for the first time, Hextall and the Flyers' scouting staff can start feeling like they’re making solid contact for the first time in four years.
Sure, the Flyers had already scored big by drafting Ivan Provorov and Travis Konency, but there’s a clear level of expectation that comes with drafting players in the first round. Teams only hope they don’t screw those coveted picks up.
Franchises can endure years of mediocrity if they misfire on a first-rounder, but the bricks to a championship team are mined on those selections that never see the stage during draft weekend.
With 21-year-old Vorobyev, chosen 104th overall in 2015, the Flyers have once again taken another sizable step forward.
“To me, it was pretty evident that he earned a spot,” Hextall said. “He wasn’t given a spot. Sometimes you leave spots open and the best young player takes it. Sometimes that guy didn’t earn it. This was an earned spot.”
Of the 30 players selected in the fourth round of that ’15 draft, only five entered this season with any sort of NHL experience, and only Florida’s Denis Malgin had logged over 10 games.
And the same ratio of players holds true for those prospects chosen in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, the one that produced Lindblom.
Interestingly, if you break down the Flyers' top three lines as they’re formed right now heading into their season opener with the Vegas Golden Knights, six of those nine forwards are first-round draft choices.
The other three are Vorobyev, Lindblom and Wayne Simmonds, a second-round choice of those L.A. Kings.
Obviously, Vorobyev and Lindblom have accomplished very little in the NHL. However, by making the Flyers' opening-night roster they’ve put themselves in a position that a vast majority of mid-round picks never attain.
Where the careers of each player end up going is up to them, but by all signs, they’ve gone from just long shots to potential tape-measure long shots.