Ron Hextall Continues Spectacular Drafting

Another draft has come and gone, and the “Nolan or Nico?” debate is finally settled. Barring the obvious selection of Nolan Patrick with the second overall pick, Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall was not afraid to mix it up in order to move up in the draft, acquiring some underrated talent in the later rounds. Here is a recap.

And With the Second Overall Pick…

The Flyers were ecstatic when they jumped from 13th to second at the draft lottery. After stockpiling defensive talent for years, Ron Hextall finally had the chance to select an elite offensive player with the potential of being a number-one center. Needless to say, it was a coin toss between Patrick and Nico Hischier. The Devils opted for the young Swiss native, making him the first-ever Swiss-born player to go first overall in the NHL.

Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With Hextall taking Patrick second overall, it immediately opened the Flyers’ options. They just added a potential elite center with high hockey IQ and playmaking ability. Patrick is still eligible to go back to Brandon in the WHL, but analysts believe his junior days are behind him. Much like Ivan Provorov, Patrick is ready to take the next step and start playing against better competition. He isn’t eligible for the AHL, which makes the decision a little tougher, but Patrick should be on the Flyers’ roster next season. The only way for him to improve is to start playing and practicing with other NHL players.

Fans were content with either Hischier or Patrick, considering the fact they were the consensus No. 1 and No. 2 picks, but Patrick’s stock really dropped after he suffered from multiple injuries. Hischier, on the other hand, benefited from playing for the Mooseheads and put on a clinic at the world juniors. He is a terrific player, but Patrick displayed dominance in previous WHL seasons, going from Rookie of the Year to WHL Playoff MVP. He’s shown his ability to take control of games but unfortunately, his injuries brought him down. There is still plenty of upside for the Winnipeg native.

Change of Scenery

Brayden Schenn played six seasons for the Flyers until he was dealt to the St. Louis Blues on Friday. The former fifth overall pick was originally acquired with Wayne Simmonds in the deal that sent Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings. There was a lot of hype over Schenn, as he was supposed to be the next first-line center for the Flyers. However, he never really panned out the way the team had expected, only breaking out in 2015-16 with a 59-point campaign and following it up with a measly 55 points in 2016-17 that was filled with power-play points.

In exchange, the Flyers took on the 27th overall pick and selected speedy winger Morgan Frost. They also acquired a conditional first and Jori Lehtera. Here are the conditions of the trade, per CapFriendlyIf the 2018 draft pick becomes a top 10 pick, Blues have the option to move the pick to 2019. If it is a top 10 pick in 2019, Blues have the option to move the pick to 2020. If the pick is moved to 2019 or 2020, the Flyers will also receive a 2019 3rd round pick.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It is important to note that Lehtera isn’t by any means a replacement for Schenn. This was simply a contract maneuver due to Lehtera’s bad deal (2 years left at $4.7 million). By taking his contract, Hextall acquired the extra draft picks needed to bolster the offense. Frost is regarded as a very good skater, but undersized for a center. He put up 62 points in 67 games for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds last season. Some say Frost is a center, but he can also play the wing and there is no doubt that Hextall plans on playing him on the left side in the future.

Later Selections

Hextall hasn’t been afraid to move up in previous drafts and he certainly wasn’t afraid this year. In the second round, he traded the 44th, 75th and 108th picks to the Arizona Coyotes for the 35th pick. Hextall clearly had a specific player on his want list, and that player turned out to be the biggest one in the draft – Isaac Ratcliffe.

At 6-foot-6, Ratcliffe plays a big man’s game on the wing, he is a constant net-front presence and can skate surprisingly well for a player of his size. His stickhandling could use some work, but adding another winger was always a plan of Hextall’s. Ratcliffe posted 54 points in 67 games for Guelph last year and admitted he needs to add some weight to his large frame. Ratcliffe says he models his game after Rick Nash, which could turn out to be a great thing for the Flyers. He was projected to be a first-round pick.

Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph Storm, OHL, 2017 NHL Draft
Isaac Ratcliffe (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.)

In the third round, a goaltender was selected in Kirill Ustimenko from the MHL in Russia. Ustimenko was ranked fifth among European goalies by NHL Central Scouting and put up great numbers in 27 starts last year (1.74 goals-against average and .938 save percentage). He was also impressive in his two starts at the WJC U18 tournament, posting a 0.50 goals-against average and a .984 save percentage.

Next up in the fourth round was Matthew Strome, the third Strome brother to be drafted in the NHL. Strome could potentially be a steal in the fourth round. He slid due to his lackluster skating, but still managed to have a good OHL season with Hamilton by putting up 62 points in 66 games. Despite his skating, Strome has great hockey IQ and plays a complete game. He is another left winger added to Hextall’s repertoire.

Overall, the Flyers’ draft was superb, as they acquired an elite talent in Patrick and padded up prospects on the left side. Hextall selected a total of nine skaters – seven forwards, one goalie and one defenseman.

Final grade: A