As the Philadelphia Flyers and general manager Ron Hextall gear up for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, it may surprise some that it’s already been four years since Hextall conducted his first draft for the Flyers in a GM role.
Although named to that role just over a month before the 2014 Draft, there’s plenty of themes and foreshadowing that Hextall showed in his selections.
Hextall has always promised to build through the draft. Four years later, here’s how his first draft picks have made out.
Travis Sanheim, 1st Round, 17th Overall
Hextall’s first selection as a general manager was indicative of what was to come. Building from the blueline out and drafting players that had strong ends to their year before the draft.
Sanheim was seen as a bit of a surprise pick — Corey Pronman and the ISS didn’t have him as a first-round pick and most others had him going later in the first round — but Hextall has made them look wrong four years later than the other way around.
The blueliner has only played 53 NHL games between the regular season and playoffs, but probably would have played more if he was in a different organization or if his coach wasn’t Dave Hakstol.
In that short time, Sanheim has put up positive possession metrics and shown the offensive ability that he flashed more often in the AHL. He also brings unparalleled size at 6-foot-4 and a skill set that is usually found in smaller players.
To fans outside of the Flyers realm, this praise may seem a little surprising considering Sanheim has played just over half of an NHL season. That should start changing next year.
Nic-Aube Kubel, 2nd Round, 48th Overall
Much like Sanheim, Aube-Kubel’s selection was also a sign of what was to come in future drafts. Namely, two-way forwards.
At the time of the 2014 Draft, Aube-Kubel had yet to break a point-per-game pace in the QMJHL but he was lauded for his defensive play that most figured could translate to a bottom-six role in the NHL.
The Quebec native is in line for a role like that next season as long as he has a strong training camp. After an 18-point rookie campaign in 2016-17 with the Phantoms, Aube-Kubel exploded for 46 points last year, playing in a secondary offensive role and no power play time.
Some would expect a more impact player in the second round — if Aube-Kubel becomes a full-time NHLer at all — but finding an NHLer in any round is always valuable.
Mark Friedman, 3rd Round, 86th Overall
If Friedman was drafted by another club, he’d probably be getting a bit more publicity. But in the Flyers prospect pool, the Bowling Green State product has often been the fourth best blueliner prospect.
After three productive years in college where Friedman’s point totals rose each season, the Toronto native scored 16 points in his rookie year with the Phantoms last season.
The first half was an inconsistent one for Friedman, but he turned it around in the second half. Between that and the playoffs, the 22 year old scored all four goals after February.
Friedman’s probably a long shot to make the NHL, especially with the Flyers, but there’s no reason for the team to give up on him and as the defensive prospect pool shrinks, his value will grow.
Oskar Lindblom, 5th Round, 138th Overall
This is where Hextall won the draft. In the second half of the rounds, it looks like the GM found a player that can play in the top six and score over 50 points.
But like Sanheim, Lindblom’s production in the NHL has been a slow time coming. Unlike Sanheim, that can be blamed more on bad luck than organizational tendencies or coaching issues.
The Swede was recalled in the middle of February this past season and scored two goals. He should have had three more, and if luck was on his side — instead of the other — he could have had five more.
Luck wasn’t on Lindblom’s side this season, but it was on the Flyers at the draft. The left wing’s stock fell in his draft year due to his skating and Hextall was able to snare him in the fifth. In the three years after that, Lindblom scored 87 points in 137 SHL games, including 47 in 2016-17.
He didn’t lock up a roster spot in this season’s training camp and struggled a bit in the playoffs with the Flyers, but Lindblom has a bright future.
Radel Fazleev, 6th Round, 168th Overall
Although Fazleev is Russian, the Flyers transitioned back to North America to make this pick. Fazleev was a teammate of Sanheim’s with the Calgary Hitmen at the time.
The now-22 year old had a strong end to his junior career, scoring 71 points in 51 games in 2015-16. However, Fazleev struggled in his two years in the AHL.
He’s scored just 19 points this past season — three more than his rookie year — and even lost his spot in the playoffs when he played just four games.
Jesper Pettersson, 7th Round, 198th Overall
The last pick by the Flyers ended up being the one making the earliest impact in the organization, oddly enough. Because Pettersson played in Sweden, he could come overseas and play professionally right away.
In the middle of July 2014, Pettersson signed his ELC and played 51 games with a weak Phantoms team that season. The defenseman was praised for his rugged play despite standing at 5-foot-9, but didn’t have much of an offensive game.
With a deeper Lehigh Valley team around him, Pettersson split the 2015-16 season between the Phantoms and the Reading Royals. The next year, the Swede spent the entire year with the Royals.
In the summer of 2017, Pettersson signed overseas with Djurgardens IF, ending his time with the Flyers.
Pettersson’s path to the NHL moved backwards each year, but he was always a long shot. Hextall was able to give Pettersson a shot and test him early, though
Statistics state that if a team that can find two NHL players in a draft year, it did pretty good for itself. In a worst case scenario, the Flyers did that in 2014 with Sanheim and Lindblom.
It seems entirely likely that they’ll hit with a third in Aube-Kubel and Sanheim and Lindblom should develop as top-half of the lineup players. Meanwhile, Friedman still has some potential to become a bottom-pairing defenseman.
What’s even more surprising is that each pick of Hextall’s made some sort of contribution in the organization. That’s even more rare than finding three NHLers.
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