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Jay O’Brien the latest reminder of Ron Hextall’s draft mistakes

Heather Barry Images

Ron Hextall had a long-term vision during his time as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers. He wanted to come in, get the Flyers out of salary cap hell, and rebuild (or retool, if you choose) a team that would be competitive for years to come.

In theory, it was a great plan. A team usually needs a handful of years – or more – to return to relevance after toiling in mediocrity for the better part of a decade. In execution, however, it was a disaster.

The latest reminder of Hextall’s ineptitude came over the weekend when Elliotte Friedman reported that the Flyers will not be signing Jay O’Brien. O’Brien was selected by the Flyers with the 19th pick in the 2018 NHL draft – Hextall’s last dance.

Flyers will not sign Jay O’Brien, receive second-round pick
The Flyers and a mediocre prospect are parting ways, and the team gets a very good draft pick because of it.

Hextall grabbed Joel Farabee just five picks earlier, so perhaps he felt like the team could take a big swing on O’Brien, but that swing was like Eric Hinske’s against Brad Lidge’s devastating slider – he came up empty. The projected second-round pick has dealt with injuries at Boston University while turning into a near-point-per-game player.

However, even if O’Brien does put it all together, it won’t be for the Flyers. Sure, the Flyers getting a second-round pick in next year’s draft is some compensation, but it’s tough to look at the players drafted after O’Brien and be happy with a second-round selection that won’t make an NHL impact until the latter half of the 2020s.

It makes you wonder what may have happened if Hextall’s drafts went another way.

Well, he started out relatively strong at least with his best first round in 2015. The Flyers drafted Ivan Provorov seventh overall and traded up to snag Travis Konecny at pick 24.

Provorov has been both up-and-down and polarizing, to say the least, but he’s a steady top-four defenseman that looked like a building block on a team. Who knows, maybe he gets traded somewhere and ends up thriving in a second-pair role rather than being asked to play over 24 minutes a night.  

Konecny is likely Hextall’s best draft pick during his time with the Flyers. He’s turned into a legitimate top-six forward that could be the second or third piece on a first line for a contending team.

Then it goes downhill.

The Flyers traded down from pick 18 (Logan Stanley drafted by Winnipeg) to 22 and selected German Rubtsov. We all know how that turned out as the Russian center played just 27 minutes over the course of four games in his NHL career. He was shipped out as an afterthought in last year’s Claude Giroux trade.

Henrik Borgstrom and Max Jones, who were selected directly after Rubtsov by Florida and Anaheim respectively, have at least played in over 100 NHL games. Then, of course, there is Tage Thompson who has found another gear in Buffalo this season.

In the second round, the Flyers opted to select a scoring forward but ended up with Pascal Laberge despite Alex DeBrincat being available and traded three picks later. Hindsight is 20-20 but DeBrincat and Giroux teaming up in Philadelphia instead of Ottawa would’ve been pretty nice.

The 2017 NHL Draft is rather self-explanatory. Hextall took the safe route with Nolan Patrick despite the center’s injury history. Patrick has unfortunately not lived up to the hype as Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, and Elias Pettersson – the next three off the board – have turned into top-tier players.

Hextall did also trade up to the 27th pick to draft Morgan Frost in 2017. Frost is finally finding his game a bit this season but struggled to do much in his early NHL seasons.

The second round is also worth pointing out here. Isaac Ratcliffe, who was sent to Nashville for future considerations in February, was selected one pick before Jesper Boqvist and four picks before Jason Robertson. Again, hindsight is crucial, but Hextall missed the mark.

That brings us to 2018. Joel Farabee was a solid pick at 14th overall. In fact, he’s right up there with Konecny as one of Hextall’s best. Only top-seven picks Brady Tkachuk (4th), Andrei Svechnikov (2nd), Quinn Hughes (7th), and Rasmus Dahlin (1st) have more points than Farabee in his career.

But for as good a pick as Farabee was, O’Brien was just as bad, and now the Flyers only have a second-round compensatory pick to show for it.

In summation, here are the players drafted by Hextall in the first 36 picks from 2015 to 2018:

  • Ivan Provorov (7th)
  • Travis Konecny (24th)
  • German Rubtsov (22nd)
  • Pascal Laberge (36th)
  • Nolan Patrick (2nd)
  • Morgan Frost (27th)
  • Isaac Ratcliffe (35th)
  • Joel Farabee (14th)
  • Jay O’Brien (19th)

Out of those nine, four have turned into true NHL players (Provorov, Konecny, Frost, Farabee) while the other five have gone down their own paths for one reason or another.

What stings a bit is looking at the players available to the Flyers that they could’ve drafted instead of Rubtsov, Laberge, Patrick, Ratcliffe, and O’Brien.

In 2016, Thompson and DeBrincat were taken four and three picks after Rubtsov and Laberge

In 2017, the names after Patrick are well-known (Heiskanen, Makar, Pettersson). Hell, even Cody Glass has turned into a serviceable NHLer.

In 2018, K’Andre Miller was on the board for the Flyers but they passed on him. He’s now a budding blueliner with the Blueshirts.

By no means is drafting a perfect science, and the benefit of hindsight is huge, but for someone that had a long-term plan in place, Hextall certainly could’ve used his resources to do a better job of setting the Flyers up for success.

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