Mikhail Vorobyev’s progression marks a big step in Ron Hextall’s build-from-within approach

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Mikhail Vorobyev’s progression marks a big step in Ron Hextall’s build-from-within approach

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.  

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Report: Flyers, Kevin Hayes closing in on 7-year contract

Report: Flyers, Kevin Hayes closing in on 7-year contract

It appears Kevin Hayes is nearing a payday and Chuck Fletcher is close to getting his guy.

Hayes and the Flyers are closing in on a seven-year, $50 million contract, according to a report Tuesday night by TSN's Bob McKenzie. That would be an average of $7.14 million per season.

Per Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fletcher said Tuesday night: "We are still working on things. I'm hopeful we'll get it done."

If it gets done under the reported terms, it's a hefty contract.

It shows you how much the Flyers' general manager wants Hayes, who projects to be the team's second-line center. For some context, Sean Couturier is making $4.3 million a season. James van Riemsdyk, a two-time 30-goal scorer, is making $7 million a season.

But when you have $30 million in cap space and you're looking to get better significantly and quickly, you make a splash and this would qualify as one.

Hayes, a 6-foot-5, 216-pound forward, is 27 years old, scored a career-high 25 goals in 2017-18 and a career-best 55 points this past season. That doesn't exactly meet or warrant the reported terms of the contract, but the Flyers are clearly projecting and believe his prime years are ahead. They also wanted to do their best in preventing Hayes from testing the free-agent market, starting June 23.

The Flyers traded for his rights on June 3, sending a 2019 fifth-round pick to the Jets. Without a deal, Hayes will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Hayes, who played under Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault from 2014-18 in New York, is a smart and responsible two-way forward. The Flyers want more of those qualities after putting up a minus-37 goal differential and allowing the NHL's third-most goals per game at 3.41 in 2018-19.

"There are not a lot of centermen in the marketplace and Kevin is a quality hockey player," Fletcher said last week. "He plays a strong 200-foot game. He's a guy who can play both specialty teams. He's familiar with our coach and our coach is familiar with him. So, we just thought it made sense to try to get ahead of it.

"He plays well away from the puck. He understands the game. He has hockey sense. He can contribute offensively. We gave up 281 goals last year, we have to get better. We have to have more players that play a strong 200-foot game. I'd like to improve the penalty kill. Having depth through the middle of the ice will make us harder to play against."

Fletcher has been busy, reshaping the Flyers' defense. Now it's time to lock up Hayes, his strategy all along.

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2019 NHL draft profile: 'Elite skater' Philip Broberg could help Flyers restock on defense

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2019 NHL draft profile: 'Elite skater' Philip Broberg could help Flyers restock on defense

The 2019 NHL entry draft is Friday and Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia. General manager Chuck Fletcher, assistant general manager Brent Flahr and the Flyers hold the 11th overall pick and eight selections in total.

"This draft's a little unique," Flahr said last week. "Especially in the top 15, there are a number of different types of players, which is interesting — some power wingers, some smaller scoring wingers, some centermen, there's a number of D, a goaltender.

"We've identified probably five or six guys that we think have a chance to be there at 11 and probably some of the other teams in front of us will dictate that. But we're really confident we're going to get a good player."

This week, we are breaking down options for the Flyers at No. 11.

Philip Broberg

Position: Defenseman
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 200
Shoots: Left
Team: AIK

Scouting report

Watch video clips of Broberg and he will wow you with his skating. He looks like an NHL forward the way he uses his powerful stride to singlehandedly push the puck up ice and create plays in the offensive zone.

The Swede is considered a top-three defenseman in the draft because of his impressive size and polished skating. He has a super high ceiling and played 41 games at the pro level in his home country, scoring nine points (two goals, seven assists).

"Good size, elite skater, played with men all year, so I don't think he had the best year statistically when you watch him, but he had a real strong April tournament," Flahr said. "He has a physical package that's really intriguing for a lot of teams. He's an NHL player, for sure. Whether he has the upside offensively as some of the others, maybe not, but he's going to be a terrific player."

Fit with Flyers

If Broberg is available at No. 11, don't be surprised to see the Flyers take him. Flahr and Fletcher emphasized drafting upside over anything else in the first round, while the Flyers have goals to replenish the organizational depth at defensemen.

With a forward-heavy top half of the first round, there's a good chance the Flyers will have an opportunity to take the second or third defenseman in the draft. Flahr said the Flyers have a couple of blueliners ranked in their top 10.

Broberg's upside would be a welcomed addition to the Flyers' prospect pool, which has steadily seen a promising crop of defensemen graduate to the big club.

More on the 2019 NHL draft

• Flyers take one of draft's best D-men in this 1st-round mock

Trading No. 11 pick? Draft dynamic? That and more here

• Flyers like 'unique' winger Boldy as option for No. 11 overall pick

• Impressive playmaking center Krebs could be there for Flyers at No. 11

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.