CHICAGO – Perhaps the Flyers' most perplexing takeaway from this weekend's NHL draft is what's going to happen to this roster next fall on the wing.
To that end, who exactly is going to make up for the 25 goals Brayden Schenn delivered last season?
Think 29-year-old Jori Lehtera is capable of that? The Finnish swing forward has never scored more than 14 goals in the NHL and never hit 20 in Europe, either.
Maybe if Flyers first-round pick Nolan Patrick makes the roster — scouts say he’s in — and maybe Swedish newcomer Oskar Lindblom can handle that chore (see Future Flyers Report). Maybe Travis Konecny quickly blossoms from 11 goals his rookie year to 20 this year.
Yet the potential loss of unrestricted free agent Jordan Weal, who remains unsigned and seems like a perfect fit for the direction the Flyers are headed, puts a damper on things.
Yes, the Flyers still got two first-rounders for Schenn, but those picks will not have an impact until several years down the line.
And it leaves this notion: Ron Hextall’s Flyers are caught between progressing toward the future at a deliberate pace slower than fans want while in a retool — if not a rebuild for 2017-18.
“Are we getting younger? Yes,” the team’s general manager said. “Rebuild? Absolutely not. We have young players and at some point here, we have to open up an opportunity for them to play.
“Unlike what people think of our philosophy, we do not want to hold players back. When they are ready to take that next step, we want to allow them to take that next step. In saying that, we feel we have young players, and if they are not ready, they are close.”
Hextall made no pretense the trade of Schenn to St. Louis for Lehtera and two first-rounds picks, one of which the Flyers used to take Morgan Frost, was something he wanted. He also said the Blues wanted to lose Lehtera’s $4.7 million cap hit the next two years.
That’s fewer dollars and term than what Schenn commanded ($5.125 million over the next three years). Hextall also acknowledged Lehtera needs to pick up his skating, which has declined and was partly responsible for a terrible 2016-17 season (22 points in 64 games).
He was even benched last season in St. Louis.
“Do we like the player? Yes,” Hextall said. “He’s a good player. We like his head, his hands. We like his two-way game. In saying that, he didn’t have a great year last year and he’s got to get himself in tip-top shape in training camp.”
Lehtera has a skating coach this summer for the first time in his career, so he’s taken notice of his shortcomings.
Hextall said Friday — and coach Dave Hakstol reiterated Saturday — there’s a good chance Lehtera will be moved to the wing (see story). There are simply too many centers on the Flyers’ projected roster right now.
His larger concern is where guys fit.
“Lehtera and … whether it is TK (Konecny) or whoever else is in there, we do the math, we’re going to get more production from them,” Hextall said. “The lines we get a lot more familiarity. We’ll see what happens with Jordan (Weal). So to sit and say we’re done, I don’t think we’re done.”
The Weal negotiations seem at a standstill with agent J.P. Barry. Free agency begins this coming Saturday.
“We’d like to sign him; I’m not sure how much clearer we can be,” Hextall said. “He’s a free agent. I can’t grab him by the throat and say, ‘Jordan let’s go’ and come back to Philadelphia.
“We believe we have a couple guys down below who can play. So if Jordan chooses to go somewhere else, we’ll figure it out.”
This weekend did not disappoint from both a Flyers and entertainment perspective.
The Flyers entered the weekend with the No. 2 overall pick, seven draft picks in the first four rounds and 11 picks overall. That was before another June 23 blockbuster happened.
They left Chicago with more hope and intrigue going forward. There is plenty to talk about so let’s dig in with 10 observations on the Flyers and the 2017 NHL draft.
1. Let’s dive right into the Brayden Schenn trade because I think it has implications for what we may see for the rest of the summer and offers some insight into the No. 2 pick.
The Flyers traded Schenn to the Blues for the 27th pick (Morgan Frost), center Jori Lehtera and a top-10 protected conditional 2018-first round pick. So, it’s essentially Lehtera and two first-rounders for Schenn with the possibility of adding a third-rounder too.
Does losing Schenn hurt? Yes. He’s a 20-goal scorer and was a staple on the power play. His 17 power-play markers were tied for the NHL lead. His 25 goals were second on the Flyers.
But Schenn had his shortcomings here too. Most of his goals come on the man advantage. The team would have benefitted more if he added 5-on-5 scoring as well. There’s also the positional fit. He never really found a consistent position and that bled into last year too.
He wasn’t exactly untouchable and I would guess trading him became a realistic option when the Flyers landed the No. 2 pick in the draft lottery.
It’s hard to look at the value and be disappointed. In fact, I never would have guessed Schenn would net the Flyers two first-round picks and a player. It’s an excellent return.
2. One of the first thoughts that came into my mind when the Schenn trade came across was how did the No. 2 pick factor into moving Schenn? Do they trade Schenn without it?
We’ll never know the answer but trading Schenn isn’t a decision made on a whim. This has to be something they were thinking about for a bit. Montreal was reportedly interested too.
Hextall said he wasn’t shopping Schenn but I find that hard to believe. This seems like a decision that was talked about potentially happening. Perhaps the Flyers weren’t looking to unload Schenn, but that conversation had to have happened prior to draft night.
What I think it suggests is Hextall believes Nolan Patrick is NHL ready (see Flyers' youth movement). I also would theorize he believed Nico Hischier was ready too, and therefore the groundwork for trading Schenn was laid.
I thought Patrick was already going to be here before they moved Schenn, but now, I just can’t imagine a scenario without injury where Patrick isn’t on the Flyers on Oct. 4.
3. Now let’s finally talk about Patrick, who became just the second player drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in franchise history. (James van Riemsdyk in 2007 was the other.)
It would have been really difficult for Hextall to mess this up. It was a no-brainer. Devils GM Ray Shero opted for Hischier at No. 1, leaving Patrick for the Flyers. Hextall didn’t overthink it.
We’ll talk plenty about Patrick but Hextall did the right thing. That deserves acknowledging. He didn’t trade the pick and wasn’t scared off by Patrick’s injury history.
Patrick is a Flyer and now the question turns to whether he’ll break camp with the team. He won’t be handed a spot but will have to earn it and he will. That seems to be the consensus.
Sure, we can look at how Hextall has handled prospects in years past but Patrick’s a different breed. As long as he stays healthy, he will wear orange and black in 2017-18.
4. The focus now turns to where does Patrick fit into the lineup? He’s a big, two-way natural center who would be a natural fit on the third line as a 19-year-old to start out.
With Lehtera and Patrick in the mix, the Flyers will have seven centers at training camp: Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Mike Vecchione and Scott Laughton.
On Friday, Hextall said, “Someone has to play wing.” Filppula, Lehtera and Laughton can all play the wing — and there’s no guarantee Laughton will be on the team. I’d guess not.
It’s way too early to draw up potential lines but I think we’ll see some variation of Giroux-Couturier-Patrick-Vecchione/Lehtera as the centers with Filppula shifting to wing.
Factor winger Oskar Lindblom into the equation and suddenly, the Flyers’ forward group has a lot of intrigue to it. It’ll be one of the most interesting storylines in training camp.
5. I did not foresee Morgan Frost being the player the Flyers were going to draft with the 27th pick from St. Louis, especially with Eeli Tolvanen and Klim Kostin available.
Frost, a 5-foot-11 center who also plays wing, was a projected second-rounder but the Flyers “really liked the guy,” according to Hextall, and there’s one area they liked in particular: his hockey IQ.
“He’s an extremely intelligent player — his No. 1 asset,” Hextall said. “We believe he is a kid with a lot of upside. Good speed, but he dissects the game better than most players.”
We won’t see Frost in a Flyers uniform for a few years but he’s the fourth forward drafted in the last three first rounds and sixth forward in the first two rounds of the last two drafts.
Don’t look now but the forward future looks dramatically brighter than it did previously.
6. By many accounts, it appears Frost has been trending up in his draft year. Sound familiar? In Hextall’s first draft as GM, he took Travis Sanheim at No. 17. Sanheim also wasn’t projected to go as high as he did but has turned into one of the Flyers’ top prospects. Time will tell if they identified another riser in Frost, who is the second forward Hextall has traded back into the first round to select in the last three drafts (Travis Konecny).
7. Hextall isn’t one to trade draft picks but he’s shown he’ll pull the trigger to move up for a player he really likes and he did so again Saturday to draft Guelph LW Isaac Ratcliffe. The Flyers traded pick Nos. 44, 75 and 108 for the 35th pick. That’s a lot of value to move up nine spots in the second round, but Ratcliffe was projected by many to be a first-round talent. Trading up for Ratcliffe says the Flyers are confident his raw skill will develop (see story).
Ratcliffe isn’t the best skater but that can be improved. He’s a huge body at 6-foot-6 and has a good shot. There’s plenty to like but there’s also a reason he fell into the second.
8. Matthew Strome is a great value pick in the fourth round. He’s smart, he’s big, he can score, has a lot of tools, but watching him skate is painful. As a buddy of mine said, “It's like trying to watch Pat Burrell run the bases.” If he can learn to skate, this could be a home run.
9. There was a lot of chatter about Vegas trying to move up into the top three Friday, but it made the right move. Trading assets — which for Vegas right now is draft picks — to move up for one player didn’t yell genius to me. Instead, Vegas stayed put and comes away with centers Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki and defenseman Erik Brannstrom in the first round. It’s a good start.
10. The Flyers didn’t get a veteran goalie at the draft. That’s OK. If they really believe Michal Neuvirth is their starter for next season, it makes no sense to give up assets to sign a backup goalie. Wait until July 1 and sign a free agent. Simple as that. Hey, Steve Mason is still out there.
• From the L.A. Times: Jaret Anderson-Dolan is one of the best stories of the draft. The Kings' second-round pick was raised by two moms and once had WHL teams tell him they'd pass on him in the bantam draft because of it. Major props to the Kings' Mark Yannetti for this: "If anybody had a problem with his family situation, they should go screw themselves."
• Via the AP's Stephen Whyno: "In 2000, Rod Brind'Amour and Keith Primeau were traded for each other. (Saturday) their sons, Skyler Brind'Amour and Cayden Primeau, got drafted."
• It was a great draft for the USHL: The 40 players drafted set a new league record. In total, there were 48 players drafted with ties to the USHL, including Primeau.