Ron Hextall said before Round 1 of the NHL draft the Flyers needed forwards, specifically left wings.
Except by the time the Flyers got to their pick at No. 17, six of the seven top-ranked North American left wings were already off the board.
Flex forward Alex Tuch -- a center/right wing -- was there, but some scouts feel he doesn't have the hands of a pure scorer.
Which, in part, explains why the Flyers’ GM went another direction, selecting Calgary Hitmen defenseman Travis Sanheim (see story), who was projected as a second-round pick.
“We really liked him,” Hextall said. “In the second half of the year, the kid just rose and rose. He’s a young boy with a lot of upside and he’s going to fill out and get bigger.”
The Western Hockey League is Mark Greig’s territory, but Hextall said many of his scouts saw Sanheim, who was actually 53rd in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings. A late bloomer, his mid-season rank was 167th.
It’s common knowledge the Flyers are in desperate need of a franchise defenseman. Sanheim represents the ninth blue liner the club has drafted since 2012.
If the Flyers appear to be stockpiling a tidy little collection of defensive talent, it’s intentional. They want to force competition and hope it produces a stud D-man who will be around for a decade or so.
“We got a real good group of young defensemen now,” Hextall said. “We have a real good group of young forwards on our team. These guys are gonna join those young forwards in two, three or four years. I got a mental picture in my mind of our team in three, four years and I get really excited.”
The last Flyers defenseman who played a decade here was Chris Therien. Since the 2000 draft, the Flyers haven’t had a single homegrown blue liner play regular minutes for them.
So now Sanheim is about to join the fray, which includes three outstanding defensive prospects in Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin.
“That’s the picture,” Hextall said. “We have to remember these guys are prospects. They got a lot of work to do. And I’ll tell you, Kjell Samuelsson [Director of Player Development] might as well get a place in Calgary this year because he is going to be out there a lot.
“It’s now time for Travis to take the next step and work harder, eat right and develop his body and mentally to become an impact player in the Western Hockey League. There is a growth period here. He’s a long way from playing in the NHL.”
The Flyers would love one of these prospects to force their way onto the NHL roster this season, but the company line has been it’s a year or two away.
Sanheim says he’s up for the challenge to take on his peers in camp.
“They’re really talented guys,” Sanheim said. “I’m just looking to come in and make a really good first impression.
“This year is a big one for me. I’m looking a step into a pretty key role with the Calgary Hitmen and play key minutes with that hockey team. I’m looking to take advantage of it.”