The NHL Entry Draft is a mere 24 days away, and even though the playoffs aren't quite over yet.. no one in Philly should care. Yeah, yeah.. I hear you.. Jeff Carter this.. Mike Richards that.. get over it. With new General Manager Ron Hextall taking the wheel we should be looking ahead to the off-season. A fresh philosophy in town that doesn't center on simply buying up the FAs who ask for the most money can only be a good thing for this franchise, but Ron has his work cut out for him.
So what can Hextall do to kick-start the process of building this team into a contender? Aside from murdering Vincent Lecavalier there are some interesting rumours floating around the first 2 picks in this summers draft. Gare Joyce of Sportsnet posted an article yesterday quoting an anonymous scout.
One scout aware of multiple offers for the top two picks said, "The going price to move up into those spots would be picks - a high first and a second or third - and an established player that helps your top two lines."
Consider that Florida's leading scorers were Nick Bjugstad (38pts) and Scottie Upshall (37pts) while Buffalo's were Cody Hodgson (44pts) and Tyler Ennis (43pts). Florida and Buffalo are teams that DESPERATELY need NHL ready players that can jump into big roles so this type of deal makes sense. They're willing to move down in the draft if they can increase their organizational depth in the process.
Joyce also mentions Tallon's job security is tenuous at best because he has outright failed to right the ship in Sunrise. There are some nice young pieces there (Huberdeau, Barkov, Bjugstad), but the veterans he's brought in have been atrocious. He has to be fairly desperate to make something happen. The complete opposite is true for new GM Tim Murray in Buffalo. He has a cupboard stocked with young talent (Girgensons, Zadorov, Ristolainen, Grigorenko, Foligno), but almost no veterans left of a roster that is VERY young. With such a dearth of young players Murray may be willing to deal from his position of strength (prospects and picks); he has 3 First Rounders lined up for next year.
Seeing as this draft is in Philly and it's the Flyers, if Holmgren were still in charge come draft day his track record suggests he would be moving Giroux because Homer absolutely adored making the big move. However we are entering the Hextall era, we may be in store for a boring two days of him actually retaining the picks, and sipping a coffee at the draft table. If he does decide to immediately put his stamp on things though, what can he do?
Hextall will have the 17th pick, 48th pick and then 138th, 168th, 198th in Rounds 5, 6 and 7. He also has a very tight cap situation, great depth at forward and several overpaid players. The anon scout said a high 1st Rounder with a 2nd or a 3rd Rounder and most importantly a roster player who can slip into a top-6 role. 17 and 48 aren't exactly high 1st and 2nd Rounders (especially in a somewhat thin draft) so the Flyers would likely have to give up a pretty solid player. Brayden Schenn would fit that bill, especially because of his upcoming RFA status.
So is either Sam Bennett or Aaron Ekblad worth that? Bennett finished 9th in OHL scoring (91pts) and will likely be a very good NHLer, but his star is being eclipsed by Connor McDavid (2015 eligible) who was 4th with 99pts. More importantly Bennett is more of a playmaker and not the sniper that would help Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. If I was Hextall I would be looking at more defensemen; to add to Gostisbehere, Hagg and Morin. Ekblad has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone, and sooner rather than later. He's a big kid (6'3" / 207) who skates well, contributes offensively (53pts in 59gp for Barrie last year) and doesn't take an obscene amount of penalties (91 PIMs).
Beyond Ekblad are 3 defensemen who look like legitimate NHL prospects; Hayden Fleury (9th among NA skaters), Julius Honka (11th), and Anthony DeAngelo (14th). After those 4 there are no real guarantees that you're drafting a guy with top-4 potential. With Philly picking 17th there's a distinct possibility all 4 will have been picked by the time Hextall's turn to visit the stage rolls around.
So will the Flyers do something Flyers-y on draft day and trade up in front of a raucous home crowd? Or will they stand-pat and hope another Couturier falls in their laps?