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A conversation with Ron Hextall, Part 2: Young forwards, Steve Mason, and potential

In Part 2 of our three-part interview with Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, we discussed the Umberger for Hartnell trade, who Hextall sees filling Hartnell's spot, and if Steve Mason has anything left to prove.

Victor Decolongon
BSH: Turning to the forwards. The one big trade this offseason, Umberger for Hartnell. Where do you see Umberger fitting in on this team? In your mind is it a one-for-one swap with Hartnell meaning you see him on the top line or does he fall elsewhere on the depth chart and in the lineup?

Ron Hextall: That's a great question and it's something that's gonna have to play out in training camp. We have three or four guys who have a chance at playing in that spot with Giroux and Voracek and in the end the coach is going to dictate who plays there.

brayden schenn
Getty Images

But it's probably gonna be based on play through preseason. We've seen Brayden [Schenn] there a little bit but there are some other guys. We've seen Michael Raffl there do a pretty good job. Umberger, Matt Read maybe. There's a few options there but in the end it's gonna come down to training camp.

The one thing I liked about R.J. when we got him was his versatility. He can play the left side, he can play the right side, he can play on a scoring line, he can play on a checking line, so that was one of the things we liked about him. His versatility. He can also play the middle.

Sean Couturier is an amazing defensive forward, especially given his age. He's up there with the best in the league. But he was also a great offensive player in junior. Do you see him sticking in that third line shut down role for the considerable future or do you think he'll get further up the lineup with offensive opportunities?

I think Coots is one of those players that's always gonna play against the other team's top line but that doesn't mean that he can't score. We do expect more from him offensively this year probably than we have in the past. There's still quite a bit of offensive upside there. You love the way Coots plays. You love the fact that he's really good in his end and plays against the top players and those are hard guys to find.

Typically with a young player, they learn the offensive side of the game first and then the defensive side. Coots is almost-- probably partly because he played as a young player and kind of accepted his role as a defensive player and he does a great job at it. But there's more there and he needs to be a better player for us offensively this year and produce more.

I think when you look at our forwards, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier are both really young guys that need to take a step forward this year.

Would you say that Couturier's offensive upside is a little lower given the minutes that he plays?

I think the best way to play defense is to have the puck. So yeah, ok, Coots starts in the defensive zone more, but there's no reason his offensive numbers can't go up. You have control of the puck. That's the best way to play defense rather than chasing it all over the place. Again, Coots needs to command more of himself and I know Craig [Berube] is gonna command more of him.

We can't forget the fact that he's still a young player and the fact that he knows his way around the defensive zone so well is terrific, and you love the fact, how unselfish he is and stuff. But again, there's more there offensively and to say that he starts a lot of his shifts in the defensive zone, that's no reason that he can't score more.

Do you think that Steve Mason still has anything to prove as a starting goaltender?

steve mason earn it

I think as an athlete you have something to prove every game and every year. I think Mase did a really good job for us last year. He needs to build on it. He's a big guy, he's extremely talented, and I think he needs to prove year after year that he can play consistently at this level. I think last year was a terrific start, but again, I think every athlete has to prove that you're consistent year to year.

Any chance if the team needs an emergency goalie in practice that you'll throw on the pads and jump in?

No chance. [laughing] I am long by that. I do get the itch every once in a while and then I shake my head an realize that I'm long by that.


Check out Part 1 of our interview with Ron Hextall, where he discussed the Flyers defense.

Come back Thursday for Part 3, in which Hextall will discuss Chris Chelios, the Phantoms, and the Flyers use of analytics.