While the Philadelphia Flyers’ pipeline has improved by leaps and bounds under general manager Ron Hextall, it’s a simple fact that not every prospect is going to pan out.
Hextall has shown a knack for unearthing late round gems, such as the recently-signed Oskar Lindblom, who was selected in round five of the 2014 NHL Draft. Prospects like Mikhail Vorobyov and Tanner Laczynski have also showcased legitimate potential, despite going unselected in the first three rounds of their drafts. However, every team is going to have their swings and misses, and today, the Flyers confirmed that forward Samuel Dove-McFalls can be placed in that bucket, at least in this organization.
Today was the deadline to sign CHL prospects who were selected in the 2015 draft, with 5 p.m. ET marking the moment when an organization lost exclusive rights to any unsigned picks. Dove-McFalls, taken in the fourth round of that draft, was the only player who the Flyers risked losing at this deadline, and when 5 p.m. came and went with no news, it was essentially confirmed that the 20-year old would not be joining the Philadelphia organization.
In his draft year, Dove-McFalls scored 34 points in 66 games, but apparently impressed the Flyers enough to warrant a selection. However, his Draft+1 season was marred by injury, as Dove-McFalls played in just 29 regular season games. He did return for his team’s (Saint John Sea Dogs) playoff run in the QMJHL, but it still felt like a wasted year of development.
This season, Dove-McFalls stayed healthy, and his production took a legitimate step forward. He finished with 53 points in 65 games, and played a key role for the Sea Dogs in their run to the Memorial Cup tournament, scoring 12 points in 18 playoff games. But apparently, the strong finishing kick was not enough to earn a contract with the Flyers. He now has the option of re-entering the NHL draft, and if not selected, will become a free agent.
Obviously, it’s a disappointment to see a fourth-round selection not impress the organization enough to earn an entry-level contract. But there are a few positive aspects to the news — one obvious, and one more subtle.
The main bright side to the news that Dove-McFalls was not offered a contract is the fact that it speaks to the increased depth in the organization. Dove-McFalls may not be a high-end prospect, but five years ago, I suspect he would have received a contract without much hesitation. Today, the roster of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms is stocked with talent, and a player with mere bottom-six NHL upside would likely struggle to carve out a regular spot in the lineup. Look at 2013 third-rounder Tyrell Goulbourne, who was primarily an ECHL player (36 games in ECHL, 24 in AHL) this season due to the impressive depth in Lehigh Valley, despite his pedigree. Hextall can essentially drop a fourth round pick and not see his pipeline miss a beat.
The second positive is more philosophical. Dove-McFalls was a questionable selection in round four from the jump, considering his unimpressive scoring statistics in the QMJHL during his draft year. At the time, it had fans worried that Hextall was going to continue the previous regime’s tendency to reach for low-upside players in the later rounds of the draft because they seemed ideal fits on an NHL fourth line. Since then, Hextall has certainly quieted the skeptics, taking higher-upside prospects like David Kase, Linus Hogberg and David Bernhardt after the “obvious” selections were gone.
But players like Dove-McFalls still raised concerns that the Flyers remained committed to building an old-school fourth line rather than a more skilled trio over the long-term. And Dove-McFalls’ junior performance really wasn’t all that disappointing if he truly was drafted as a future NHL fourth liner. Instead, the Flyers let him go, which leads me to believe that he was selected more because scouts in the organization previously saw his ultimate upside as much higher than that of a bottom-sixer.
He obviously didn’t live up to those hopes, at least at the junior level. But I’m far more willing to forgive a scouting miss than a fundamentally flawed view of value in the draft. The Flyers should not be chasing future bottom-sixers in the draft; they should either be signing them for cheap, or placing prospects who flashed top-six upside at one point but could not stick there at the NHL level (ie. Scott Laughton) in those roles instead. If Hextall and his front office saw a raw power forward prospect who they felt had a chance of being an impact NHL winger, the original pick is far more understandable than taking a player they viewed as “low-risk, low-reward.”
In any case, Samuel Dove-McFalls’ hockey career is not over. Like former Flyers signing Petr Straka, he’ll have an opportunity to impress next season in the QMJHL and maybe earn a contract from another NHL team. Even though he almost certainly won’t be helping the Flyers, there’s no reason not to root for him.
All statistics from eliteprospects.com.