Ron Hextall’s first NHL draft as general manager of the Flyers ended Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center with both optimism and regret.
The Flyers selected two left wings, a swing-forward and two more defensemen in Rounds 2 through 7 (see story).
“It was decent draft and there were still some names on the table when it’s over,” Hextall said. “There’s some depth, but once you get into the later rounds, it’s a crap shoot. There are still some things to grab on to.”
Counting Friday’s first-round pick, Travis Sanheim, the Flyers have taken 11 defensemen in their last three drafts as the club continues make a push for a homegrown blueliner (see story).
Yet they still added some depth on the wings.
“It was more the way it fell,” Hextall said. “We certainly weren’t going to draft all defensemen. It was a nice balance. I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get a goalie, but they didn’t fall where we hoped they would.”
There was a run on goalies with four going off the board in the first nine picks of the second round.
The day began with the Flyers selecting two undersized players. Swing-forward Nicolas Abue-Kubel in the second round (48th) and defenseman Mark Friedman (third round, 86th pick).
Both players are 5-foot-11, with Abue-Kubel five pounds lighter -- 180 pounds -- than Friedman, a conditional pick from Boston for Andrej Meszaros.
Abue-Kubel was a workhorse player for Val-d’Or at this year’s Memorial Cup and had an impressive showing despite his size.
“Competitive, speed, he’s a winger and he’s got some good hands,” Hextall said. “We think he has some upside.”
Friedman, the blueliner, played for Waterloo in the USHL. He turns 19 this winter and grew up a Leafs fan in Toronto. He remained with the Black Hawks this season instead of entering college at Bowling Green.
“I had a screw up in my courses in school and saw Waterloo had a few guys drafted last year and wanted to come back and here I am today,” Friedman explained, saying the extra year helped prepare better him for college this fall.
“I didn’t think I was mature enough as both a person and a player. The extra year really helped me out. As an 18-year-old, it can be tough. My mom and dad sat me down and talked to me and said this was the best route for you. My coaches in Waterloo welcomed me with open arms.”
His coach in Bowling Green, Chris Bergeron, feels the same way.
“He really grew and matured in that extra year in Waterloo,” Bergeron told collegehockeyinc.com recently.
“He’s prepared to come in here and make an immediate impact. He’s a guy who played with some elite talents as a minor-midget, guys like Darnell Nurse and Max Domi, and he has high expectations for himself.
“He’s the first guy who we’ve recruited here that is being talked about headed into the draft. It reminds me a bit of when we recruited Andy Greene at Miami. When we got him at Miami, that was a big deal, and he was a three-year all-league player who is now in the NHL. That’s the type of opportunity that we have and we see for Mark. We’re really excited to have him."
Hextall said it “doesn’t hurt” that Friedman wants extra time and it didn’t affect whether the Flyers would draft him.
“All my buddies in minor-midget were going to the O and I thought it was the cooler thing to go to school,” Friedman said. “You can’t play hockey your whole life. You need something to fall back on. I think the school and college route is the best route for me. ... I just can’t wait to get started there and see what kind of player I will be in college.”
The Flyers had no picks in the fourth round, then tabbed Swedish left winger Oskar Lindblom in the fifth round at 138th.
Left wing remains an area of critical need for organizational depth, and the 17-year-old is said to have a genuine presence in the slot. He had a good showing at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament with two goals and a plus-4 rating in four games for Sweden’s U-18 team.
Radel Fazleev, also a left winger, is a 6-foot Russian and Sanheim’s teammate with the Calgary Hitmen. That he is already in North America is reassuring given the KHL’s presence in Russia.
“Russian kid playing in North America gives you a little bit of a comfort level that he is going to come over and play,” Hextall admitted.
Diminutive Swedish defenseman Jesper Pettersson was the Flyers' last pick at 198th (seventh round). He turns 20 next month. Thick and feisty is how Hextall described him.
At 5-8, he’s a shot in the dark.
“We were all over at the World Juniors and we see this little Swedish kid playing hard and hitting, a real good player and feisty and I said to one of our guys, 'He’s a pretty good player,’” Hextall recalled.
“And he said, ‘He’s been that way for three years.' He’s been through two drafts. A gritty, hard-nosed honest player. We like him. He’s a wide-body. When you look at smaller guys you look at girth and he has girth.”