For Flyers, Hall becoming valuable faceoff ace

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For Flyers, Hall becoming valuable faceoff ace

Adam Hall has taken only 101 faceoffs this season.

He’s won 63.4 percent of them -- the best percentage of any player on the Flyers, albeit with far fewer faceoffs taken than either Claude Giroux or Sean Couturier, who each have won 49.7 percent of their draws.

Hall has always been a defensive, fourth-line center and a sure-handed draw in the circle. He says he does extensive video study of the players he might go up against before every game.

The Flyers sometimes use him late in games as a second center in case one gets thrown out of the circle, like they did in the third period against Buffalo on Thursday.

He’s a vital part of the Flyers’ penalty kill, averaging 2:59 shorthanded minutes per game, second only to Couturier (3:03) among the forward group.

“We do all kinds of things,” Hall said of staying sharp on draws. “The coaches dropping pucks for us after practices and pregame skates.

“It’s a skill like anything else. The more you work on it, you get a little bit better, your timing gets better and there’s a lot of different techniques and factors that go into it.

“What works against one centerman may not work against another. You are constantly trying to update other centerman’s tendencies that you are going against. I watch video sometimes. It depends on a situation.

“We talk to each other, even during games if guys are going against the same centerman. You talk about what is working and try to help each other out. Any tiny little thing can help give you an edge.”

Getting your stick down quickly, turning it, moving your body slightly after a draw and knowing who is behind you are all factors of being a good faceoff man.

Bob Clarke, who worked with Giroux on draws when he first came here, would teach players how to cheat and get away with it.

Mike Richards said it took him three years in the league before officials would allow him to cheat like veterans.

“You had to earn it,” Richards once said.

Flyers coach Craig Berube said every one of his centers does homework on their opponent.

“He’s really good at it,” Berube said of Hall. “He’s competitive, real competitive. Players watch more film now than we did.

“He’s done a great job with faceoffs, penalty killing, plays center or wing. He’s a very valuable guy to have on your hockey team. He does everything properly and works hard, blocks shots, all the dirty stuff.” 

Hall scored his first goal in 64 games Tuesday against Ottawa, albeit an empty-netter. He also assisted on Scott Hartnell’s empty-netter Thursday against Buffalo.

The 33-year-old from Kalamazoo, Mich., is not a scorer, though he once tallied 16 goals early in his career when he was with Nashville.

Hall wasn’t brought here to score goals, yet he feels it’s his job to try and add points when he can.

“You try to help any way you can,” Hall said. “You try to play the game consistently away from the puck defensively and make sure you’re consistent in those ways.

“Maybe you’re not relied upon in scoring but if you’re able to help in that department as well, it’s a great feeling.”

Ron Hextall, Flyers follow through with wingers on Day 2 of NHL draft

Ron Hextall, Flyers follow through with wingers on Day 2 of NHL draft

CHICAGO — If the Flyers had somehow managed to finagle a third pick in the first round of the NHL draft on Friday night, they had a specific kid in mind.

Guelph left winger Isaac Ratcliffe.

"When you really like a guy, you go after him and that's what happened," general manager Ron Hextall said after trading up in the second round Saturday at United Center to draft the power forward (see story).

"He fits the organizational needs at left wing. Real good size. He plays hard and can score goals. He is really raw, at the front end of the process. Some are average and some on the back end of the process. He's got work to do. We like his upside."

The Flyers swapped their own second-round pick, plus two more (75th and 108th overall selections) with Arizona to move from 44th to 35th and select Ratcliffe (see Day 2 draft tracker).

"He is a prototypical power forward," Hextall said of the 18-year-old. "Didn't quite have the power down yet in terms of his body. He needs to put some weight on and add strength. Real excited about him."

The Flyers came into the draft with 11 picks and ended up with nine because of a couple deals. They finished with seven forwards (three left wingers), one D-man, a goalie, and have 10 picks already stockpiled for 2018, too.

Speaking of goalies, Hextall didn't foresee himself taking one early in the draft. Yet he did, selecting Russian Kirill Ustimenko at No. 80 in the third round.

"I'm not gonna chase a goalie," Hextall said days earlier.

Did he chase this kid? Well, Ustimenko, 18, was considered to be a possible sleeper. NHL Central Scouting had him ranked fifth internationally. The Flyers saw a lot of him overseas.

"We did not chase him," Hextall said. "We were surprised he fell there. We actually talked about him much earlier. Our guys really liked him and our comfort level was better than other teams."

The 6-foot-3, 187-pound Ustimenko catches left and had some impressive numbers in 27 games for MHK Dynamo St. Petersburg this season with a 1.74 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.

If you are keeping track, that's Anthony Stolarz, Carter Hart, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom, Matej Tomek and now Ustimenko.

That's an enormous number of Flyers goalie prospects at this point.

Left winger Matthew Strome fell into their laps in the fourth round, where the Flyers had back-to-back picks at 106 and 107.

They took Strome (No. 106), the third brother in recent drafts, joining Dylan (2015 draft/Coyotes) and Ryan (2011/Islanders), who has played 258 games for New York.

"Call a spade a spade — his skating has to improve," Hextall said of Matthew. "We all know it. He's a good hockey player with good size. He makes plays, scores goals and knows how to play the game.

"He's got one deficiency there he can focus on and we like where we got him. It's up to Matthew to put the work in."

A 6-3, 207-pound left winger, Strome, 18, was projected to go in the second round. Upset?

"Not really," Strome replied. "Just being drafted and being one of the top 300 players or whatever it is, just to be honored, it's very special.

"I'm going to use it as motivation to prove people wrong. If people did think I slipped down, I'm gonna prove them wrong, that they made the wrong choice."

He said "all" the attention in his family has been on his brothers. Now it's his turn. His brothers helped prepare him for the moment.

"Entering my first OHL year, they told me there would be ups and downs and I would have to work through it," Strome said. "The past couple weeks, they told me, 'Enjoy the moment, it goes by fast.'

"Once it's over, you're on that team for three years and you've got to make [sure] that first impression on them is really good."

At No. 107, the Flyers tabbed 18-year-old Russian right winger Maksim Sushko (6-0/185), who last season played for Owen Sound (OHL), where he scored 17 goals with 32 points in 54 games. He spoke through an interpreter.

"I model my game after [Nikita] Kucherov of Tampa Bay," he said. "I like a physical style of play and give out assists. I'd like to become a better sniper."

In the fifth round, at No. 137, the Flyers tabbed 18-year-old left winger Noah Cates, from Stillwater High School in Minnesota.

He served as captain of his team and scored 20 goals with 65 points in 25 games last season and has committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

In the sixth round, at No. 168, the Flyers chose smallish (5-10, 163) 17-year-old Swedish center Olle Lycksell, who played for Linkoping last season in the Super Elite League where he had nine points in 29 games.

"He's a hard worker who understands the game and has good hockey sense," Hextall said.

Hextall had two final picks in the seventh round.

At No. 196, the Flyers took their only defenseman in this draft, overage Wyatt Kalynuk, who is 6-2, 186 and 20 years old.

"Really good skater," Hextall said. "Good mobility and size, good puck skills. He's been through drafts and he's going to Wisconsin, which we really like. So we have four years with him."

Ironically, Hextall traded their final pick at No. 199 to Montreal for a seventh-round pick next year so the Canadiens could choose goalie Cayden Primeau, who happens to be Keith Primeau's son.

Habs GM Marc Bergevin called and asked for the pick.

"I thought he would go sooner than he did," Hextall said.

Ron Hextall doesn't make move for veteran goalie; Steve Mason 'still in the mix'

Ron Hextall doesn't make move for veteran goalie; Steve Mason 'still in the mix'

CHICAGO — While the Flyers picked up a young first-round centerman in Nolan Patrick — who many feel will be in their lineup this season — at this weekend's NHL draft, they returned home with one major dilemma unresolved.
 
They still don't have a veteran goalie to pair with Michal Neuvirth next season.
 
The draft is usually a pretty good place to piece together a deal for a goalie about to become a free agent or one already under contract who a team might be willing to move.
 
In the Flyers' case, general manager Ron Hextall said nothing came about. That might be because a couple of teams made some moves prior to the draft involving goalies and there doesn't seem to be a rush to fill the spots.
 
"I didn't expect to [do a deal]," Hextall said. "I would have liked to have it done a month ago. But I am not going to do something just for the sake of having something in place.
 
"We are going to do our due diligence. Sometimes you have to wait and sometimes it's part of the process to see what is out there. It's a high priority. We have to get something in place."
 
Three teams have three goalies — Arizona, Dallas and Carolina. And there are several in free agency.
 
Hextall likes to get a jump on free agency but …
 
"I don't know," he replied when asked if that is where he's headed.
 
Maybe a trade? Again, no commitment. Hextall said he's not worried.
 
"My comfort level is there are a number of goalies out there," Hextall said. "So, there's not six No. 1 spots out there and just one goalie. I have comfort in that.
 
"We are still doing our due diligence and in the end, it's probably going to come down to a guy we take and term and money. I might like this guy, but is he asking unreal term? We'll go somewhere else. I keep telling you, [Steve Mason] is still in the mix."
 
Like a lifeboat in the vast ocean.