Flyers

Flyers

Ron Hextall's process is methodical and meticulous.

At times, it can mimic a snail-like pace that would drive even the most patient person up a wall.

But there's substance and meaning to it.

The general manager's long view is setting up the Flyers for multiple Stanley Cup runs, not just go for the gusto and back to square one.

Which brings us to Saturday.

When the Flyers clinched a playoff berth behind a 5-0 rout of the Rangers, there was some validation to Hextall's master plan, a step forward in the process.

No, playoffs are not the ultimate goal, but this bid should represent more — because the Flyers are in the postseason with their youth in place, just about a year after Hextall deemed it ready.

"Our kids, it's time to give them a shot," Hextall said last April after missing the playoffs. "And we're going to do that."

This April, the Flyers are in the postseason with plenty of kids set for their first taste.

"The stage gets bigger, there's a lot more eyes looking at you," Sean Couturier said. "That's what you play for growing up." 

Hextall's Flyers got younger this season, but more importantly, better as they grew up.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg all played roles in pushing Hextall's vision onward during a season which started with far more questions than guarantees.

The 19-year-old Patrick and 21-year-old Lindblom are second-line guys seemingly improving with every game they play. Sanheim, 21, hasn't come out of the lineup since his recall March 9, while Hagg, 23, finished with 70 games and a team-best 238 hits.

 

All four are rookies.

But the rebuild even changed gears when Hextall, somewhat uncharacteristically, placed two 19-year-olds on his roster as camp broke for the 2016-17 season. Those teenagers were Provorov and Konecny, who are now massive contributors both at the age of 21.

Provorov, already, is a minutes-eating defenseman that turned in 17 goals, 24 assists and a plus-17 rating. Regarded for his maturity, he sounded determined for playoff hockey.

"We're not here just to get some experience," Provorov said. "We're here and we're going to try to win."

Konecny, on the other hand, has provided spunk and energy to go with 24 goals. His youthful exuberance has rubbed off on the Flyers, even 102-point captain Claude Giroux.

"T.K. is more loose during the games," Giroux said with a smile. "Often I kind of give him s--- to focus a little bit more."

But when he was Konecny's age …

"His personality, I think I see myself a little bit in him," Giroux said. "I used to be pretty loose and sometimes it got me in trouble. We have a good relationship, so it's good.

"He's a really good kid."

Just one of many Hextall trusted to augment his team's core.

It produced a playoff team, a notable mark in the GM's blueprint.

The next will be winning in the postseason.

We'll see if these kids are ready for that step of validation.