VOORHEES, N.J. -- When Ron Hextall took the reins as general manager earlier this offseason, he made one thing very clear: Going forward, the Flyers need to do a better job of drafting and developing their own players.
But Hextall says his approach to drafting those players looks a lot like his predecessor’s.
“We’re not going to try and reinvent the wheel,” Hextall said. “… We’ll go on the best player philosophy, which, I think, is pretty much what Homer [Paul Holmgren] has done.”
By that, Hextall means the Flyers won’t draft to fill a specific positional need this year -- at least, not right away. Instead, they will select whichever player they believe to be the best remaining at the time of each pick.
The Flyers select 17th overall in the first round of this year’s NHL draft, Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. They have five other picks, as well: No. 48 overall (second round), 138th overall (fifth round), 168th overall (sixth round) and 198th overall pick. They own one conditional pick from Boston, which will either be the 56th overall (second round) or the 86th overall (third round).
And based on the depth of the draft and the Flyers’ positioning, Hextall knows he’s not going to be fixing a weakness immediately.
“Most of these kids in the draft, we’re talking three, four, five years from now,” Hextall said. “So to sit here and think that I’m smart enough to predict who we’re going to have in three, four, five years, would be asinine. You’ve got to approach it where you draft the best player.”
That’s exactly what Holmgren did last season in selecting defenseman Sam Morin with the Flyers’ first-round pick (11th overall). He was a relative unknown at the time, but to the Flyers’ scouts, he was the best player available.
Stretch back two seasons to the Flyers’ selection of center Scott Laughton, and the philosophy still holds. If anything, the Flyers needed more of every position besides center at the time, but the team liked a lot about Laughton, who they grabbed at No. 20.
“I think the teams with the top few picks, it might be a little different approach,” Hextall said. “There are a lot of good players up top, and they’re really similar levels, not a lot of separation, so if you’re drafting in the top few picks, you might think, ‘I need a defenseman, or I need a center, or I need a winger, or I need a scorer,’ or whatever. But where we’re picking, it’ll be about the best player.”
There are caveats to that strategy, Hextall warned. Say the Flyers select wings with their first few picks -- he believes it would benefit them to fill a need at that time, so as not to overload at one position. Those players, though, have even less of a chance of ever making it to the NHL.
“If we get into the third and fourth round, and we haven’t drafted a certain position, we might look at it then,” Hextall said. “But it all depends, essentially, on the separation of the players. If there’s no separation between a forward and a defenseman and a forward and a goalie, and we feel like we drafted a couple of forwards, then we might look to the defenseman or the goalie.
“Again, assuming there’s no separation.”
Also like Holmgren, Hextall said he wouldn’t be shy about making a move at the draft either. He’s not averse to trading up, if an opportunity were to present itself. But for now, he’s content to speak with his colleagues and plan on choosing 17th.
And remember -- plenty of familiar faces will be counseling him on his draft decisions.
“I don’t care who you are, you’ve got to have a good support staff,” he said. “And I have a good support staff here from Homer to Clarkie [Bob Clarke] to [director of scouting] Chris Pryor.
“I guess you can call me a rookie again, but when you’re an assistant, you’re so involved with everything you pretty much know the gig.”