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Was Ron Hextall actually good at drafting in Philadelphia?

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The answer won’t surprise you.

2018 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Maybe it’s because many have soured on Ron Hextall after how things ended here in Philadelphia, and just how jarring it is to think of him as being in charge of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the idea of whether or not Hextall actually drafted well has come into question. And this is curious, as his drafts are conventionally seen as his best work with Philadelphia. So, with the Flyers off until at least February 18th, and with plenty of time on our hands, let’s see if the claim holds any merit.

There are a few different ways to define a “successful” draft pick, but for this exercise, we’ll be going with those who have played 100 NHL games. There are probably better ways, having to do with point production or a larger amount of games played, but with a lot of these drafts being so recent, it feels like the correct path. We’ll also be making a couple of judgment calls on players who don’t qualify yet, but certainly will.

First, we need to find the percentage of players by draft round that go on to play in 100+ NHL games. Lucky for us, this research has recently been done by now-Carolina Hurricanes scout, Jokke Nevalainen. His findings, which we’ll be using today, can be found here on Dobber Prospects.

In the first round, it was found that 74 percent of the players selected become successful picks, based on the 100-games played threshold. As expected, the higher the first-round pick, the higher the percentage. So, with eight first-round selections, we’re looking for six successful picks to be average. Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nolan Patrick all qualify, while Joel Farabee is well on his way. While season-ending shoulder surgery throws a wrench in Morgan Frost’s development, he is where one of the judgment calls come into play — he’s an NHLer, without a doubt in my eyes, and we’re going to put him in the success category. Maybe it’s a bit premature, but based on his 20 games last season, and his play in the AHL, he’s going to be there next season.

That leaves German Rubstov and Jay O’Brien. On the one hand, Rubtsov is still just 22 years old and has had his development derailed by injuries. At the same time, if the three categories we use for each pick are “success” “up in the air” and “fail,” I do feel comfortable enough to place him under the fail category. That call may end up being a bit premature as well, but with calling Frost a success, it only felt right to be just as decisive on Rubtsov. O’Brien is a tough case, and certainly fits right in the middle after a great season in the BCHL, and a very solid start at Boston University. So, six for eight, with O’Brien still not written off by any means, has Hextall sit right about average in first-round success rate.

It is also noteworthy that the two players that may not pan out to be NHLers each had to face injury troubles.

The table below shows each of Hextall’s draft picks, with each color representing one of three categories.

Green = successful pick, Yellow = up in the air, Red = unlikely to make it.

Detractors rely on Hextall selecting Pascal Laberge over Alex Debrincat to hold against him, as if that somehow negates the good in his drafts, but just look at the list of names taken ahead of even Laberge in the second round;

  • Egor Korshkov
  • Tyler Benson
  • Rasmus Asplund
  • Andrew Peeke
  • Jordan Kyrou

If you move up into the first round, the list of “bad” picks (i.e. not Debrincat) grows. It’s not fair to hold it against Hextall for missing out on Debrincat when so many others did as well. If there was a pattern of poor decisions, it would make more sense to do so, but while nobody is going to argue that he was a perfect drafter, some have made perfection the baseline — and that’s just not realistic.

Again using Nevalainen’s findings, 34 percent of second-round draft picks go on to play 100+ games in the NHL.

Of Hextall’s second-round selections, Carter Hart clearly falls under the successful pick category, and it’s probably safe to say that Nicolas Aube-Kubel does as well. With six players drafted from the second round, if none of Laberge, Wade Allison, Isaac Ratcliffe, or Adam Ginning become regular NHLers, he’s still ahead of the average success rate. If one more turns into a successful pick, Hextall will have hit on half of his second-round picks with the Flyers.

In the third round, the success rate drops to 27 percent. While it’s not a guarantee that Mark Friedman will hit the games played threshold, he probably will — he’s an NHLer. For the sake of being a little more conservative in our estimates, we’ll continue to view that pick as up in the air. Felix Sandstrom, Matej Tomek, Carsen Twarynski, and Kirill Ustimenko make up the remainder of his third-round selections. Twarynski had his first taste of NHL action last season, and goaltenders — at least for now — are essentially lottery tickets. It’s the hardest position to project, and it’s not a surprise that the round in which Hextall’s drafting looks the weakest is the round that over half of the selections are goaltenders.

Heading into round four, we’re looking at a 22 percent success rate. Connor Bunnaman has played just 29 games, but feels like a safe bet to become a regular, while Mikhail Vorobyev may have run out of chances. Matt Strome, Maksim Sushko, and Jack St. Ivany remain unknowns. If one hits, an above-average round score. If none do, below average.

While the proven NHLers list starts and stops with Oskar Lindblom, Hextall’s fifth-round picks are impressive. David Kase debuted last season, and should be knocking on the door again soon, Linus Hogberg just made his AHL debut last week after an impressive run in the SHL, and Noah Cates, who just turned 22, has played really well for Minnesota-Duluth. Further, Wyatte Wylie is coming off of a great final season with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, and by all accounts, Samuel Ersson is killing it in the SHL. The guarantees aren’t there, but there are also no clear misses. Even if none of them become regulars, one-for-six is already average for fifth-round selections, and it’s a pretty good bet that at least one more will make it.

In the sixth and seventh rounds, we’re really just waiting to see whether Tanner Laczynski and Wyatt Kalynuk can become Hextall’s successful picks. Cooper Marody has played a handful of games for the Edmonton Oilers, and more recent selections Gavin Hain, Marcus Westfalt, and Olle Lycksell still have a chance. To hit the average we’re looking for just one from each round, and it’s certainly a strong possibility.

The verdict

It’s still too early to say just how good Hextall’s drafts were, but we already know right now that they were, at worst, above-average overall. With more time, they can only look better.

Ron Hextall had his faults, and was not a perfect drafter; nobody is. However, he was clearly great at drafting during his time in Philadelphia, and thinking otherwise is either expecting too much, or revisionist history. The Penguins’ drafts are in good hands, and if he doesn’t show blind allegiance to his first coaching hire, watch out for that retool. There are real qualms with his NHL talent evaluation — he did give Dale Weise four years, after all — but his ability to bring in young talent isn’t just some made-up hallucination from Hextall Kool-Aid drinkers. It’s fact.