Throughout Thursday night and right into Friday afternoon, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was trying to do what the Flyers do best:
Make a splash at the NHL draft.
“We tried a number of things over the past few days and nothing came to fruition,” Hextall said. “You do anything you can to make the team better. And if at any point we’re going to trade up, yeah we’ll trade up.”
Do something to top the trade for Chris Pronger during the 2009 NHL draft in Montreal.
Like create a tidal wave by barreling from the 17th pick to No. 1, so they could tab 6-foot-3 defenseman Aaron Ekblad from the Barrie Colts, an 18-year-old, who Hextall himself admitted can play right now.
Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon listened long and hard with at least four bonafide offers for his No. 1 overall pick and said it wasn’t enough.
“We were close,” Tallon said of his discussions with the Flyers. “They made a legitimate attempt. We had a number of conversations with Ron. They teased me. It was not an easy decision. They were willing. ... It was enticing.”
In the end, the Panthers, who bypassed Seth Jones in last summer’s draft, ended up choosing Ekblad (see story), the No. 2 ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting who bypassed top-ranked Samuel Bennett.
“High noon today,” Tallon said. “We made our decision. We laid out all our cards on the table, laid out all the pros and cons on possible deals and what was eventually best for the franchise in the long term. ... We felt that Ekblad fit into the [Aleksander] Barkov, [Nick] Bjugstad advance in what we’re trying to build.”
The Panthers wanted Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and at least one other player, possibly Braydon Coburn. The Flyers balked at Simmonds. In return, however, the Panthers were also willing to take Vinny Lecavalier and his $4.5 million contract off their hands.
When things didn’t pan out with Florida, multiple sources said Hextall even tried to finagle a way with Buffalo and Edmonton to get to Ekblad, who has a hard, right-handed shot.
“We tried a number of things,” he said.
Ekblad heard the rumors he might end up in a trade somewhere all Friday.
“Yeah, my phone was blowing up all night,” the young prospect said. “I don't remember any of the specific trade rumors. I actually didn't have time to read all the tweets. I just wanted to scroll through them and see how many there were.”
In the end, the tsunami never came, sparing the poor people at the Wells Fargo Center.
Hextall stayed put at No. 17 and took Calgary Hitmen defenseman Travis Sanheim (see story).
If you wondering why the Flyers, who have a pressing need at left wing in a draft deep with forwards, would opt for another defenseman (see story) given the young, emerging talent they have in their system in Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, and Samuel Morin, it’s only because Ekblad has drawn comparisons to Ryan Suter, among others.
The Windsor, Ontario native, who is remarkably mature and speaks to the media like he’s been a 10-year NHL veteran, was voted the OHL’s top defenseman.
He was worth the risk.
“He’s a man,” Tallon said. “He’s a big strong kid. Physically he can do that. But he’s 220 pounds, solid and mature. He’s played as a 15-year-old against 20-year-olds. He has more experience than any of these other kids. For us, it was the best choice for our depth chart.”