CHICAGO – Perhaps the Flyers' most perplexing takeaway from this weekend's NHL draft is what's going to happen to this roster next fall on the wing.
To that end, who exactly is going to make up for the 25 goals Brayden Schenn delivered last season?
Think 29-year-old Jori Lehtera is capable of that? The Finnish swing forward has never scored more than 14 goals in the NHL and never hit 20 in Europe, either.
Maybe if Flyers first-round pick Nolan Patrick makes the roster — scouts say he’s in — and maybe Swedish newcomer Oskar Lindblom can handle that chore (see Future Flyers Report). Maybe Travis Konecny quickly blossoms from 11 goals his rookie year to 20 this year.
Yet the potential loss of unrestricted free agent Jordan Weal, who remains unsigned and seems like a perfect fit for the direction the Flyers are headed, puts a damper on things.
Yes, the Flyers still got two first-rounders for Schenn, but those picks will not have an impact until several years down the line.
And it leaves this notion: Ron Hextall’s Flyers are caught between progressing toward the future at a deliberate pace slower than fans want while in a retool — if not a rebuild for 2017-18.
“Are we getting younger? Yes,” the team’s general manager said. “Rebuild? Absolutely not. We have young players and at some point here, we have to open up an opportunity for them to play.
“Unlike what people think of our philosophy, we do not want to hold players back. When they are ready to take that next step, we want to allow them to take that next step. In saying that, we feel we have young players, and if they are not ready, they are close.”
Hextall made no pretense the trade of Schenn to St. Louis for Lehtera and two first-rounds picks — one of which the Flyers used to take Morgan Frost — was something he wanted. He also said the Blues wanted to lose Lehtera’s $4.7 million cap hit the next two years.
That’s fewer dollars and term than what Schenn commanded ($5.125 million over the next three years). Hextall also acknowledged Lehtera needs to pick up his skating, which has declined and was partly responsible for a terrible 2016-17 season (22 points in 64 games).
He was even benched last season in St. Louis.
“Do we like the player? Yes,” Hextall said. “He’s a good player. We like his head, his hands. We like his two-way game. In saying that, he didn’t have a great year last year and he’s got to get himself in tip-top shape in training camp.”
Lehtera has a skating coach this summer for the first time in his career, so he’s taken notice of his shortcomings.
Hextall said Friday — and coach Dave Hakstol reiterated Saturday — there’s a good chance Lehtera will be moved to the wing (see story). There are simply too many centers on the Flyers’ projected roster right now.
His larger concern is where guys fit.
“Lehtera and … whether it is TK (Konecny) or whoever else is in there, we do the math, we’re going to get more production from them,” Hextall said. “The lines we get a lot more familiarity. We’ll see what happens with Jordan (Weal). So to sit and say we’re done, I don’t think we’re done.”
The Weal negotiations seem at a standstill with agent J.P. Barry. Free agency begins this coming Saturday.
“We’d like to sign him; I’m not sure how much clearer we can be,” Hextall said. “He’s a free agent. I can’t grab him by the throat and say, ‘Jordan let’s go’ and come back to Philadelphia.
“We believe we have a couple guys down below who can play. So if Jordan chooses to go somewhere else, we’ll figure it out.”