Hextall: Developing prospects a 'huge priority'


Hextall: Developing prospects a 'huge priority'

Nicklas Hjalmarsson. Brent Seabrook. Duncan Keith.

The Chicago Blackhawks drafted and developed all three of those defensemen this decade. Hjalmarsson and Seabrook were on their NHL roster within two years. It took Keith three years to make it.

Did the Blackhawks rush their development at the pro level? Probably. Did they roll the dice allowing them to learn on the job? Absolutely.

Yet look at the dividends paid: Two Stanley Cups.

As Ron Hextall faces his new job as general manager of the Flyers, he does so with this one piece of essential, albeit embarrassing, knowledge: Since the current decade began, the Flyers are the only NHL club without a single drafted/developed defenseman on their roster playing for them.

That has to change and change quickly, especially given the current crop of talent in the Flyers' organization in Robert Hagg, Shayne Gostisbehere and Samuel Morin.

Is that a priority for Hextall?

“Yeah, it is,” Hextall said on Wednesday. “We got Kjell Samuelsson on our development team now and he’s worked with some of the young defensemen this year. We saw Morin and Gostisbehere a lot. Went to Sweden for Robert Hagg. It’s a huge priority.

“The one thing that hasn’t changed in my mind is build through the middle. Your goaltender, your defense, your centermen. You have to be strong there or you can’t win. ... You can’t win in the playoffs without defense and goaltending.”

That Chris Therien, who played a decade for the Flyers on the blue line, remains the organization’s lone drafted/developed blue liner of any pedigree or longevity is a reason why we’re coming up on 40 years without a Stanley Cup.

The Flyers have traded some good D-men away, too. Dennis Seidenberg, Joni Pitkanen and Luca Sbisa, who was the centerpiece of the trade for Chris Pronger, a trade that was well worth doing.

To their credit, the Flyers tried hard to get Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to fill the void of not being able to promote one of their own on defense. Yet they failed.

“The problem is, if something does come along, a No. 1 defenseman, you are giving up two or three young players or two or three draft picks,” Hextall said.

“You fill one hole and create three or four others. That’s the one thing -- trying to get all those holes filled at the same time. In cap world, you are always going to have a weakness. You want the weakness on the wing. That’s how I think.”

It remains unknown whether any of the Flyers' current defensive prospects will be on their NHL roster next fall. Club chairman Ed Snider said last week he wants the team to be more aggressive in pushing the developmental envelope.

Some people think Hagg, who been playing in Sweden, is the closest to playing right now. Others think it’s Gostisbehere, who was nothing short of sensational playing in Philadelphia during the NCAA Frozen Four.

The lack of defensive prospects in the eight years he was GM falls on Paul Holmgren. Things likely would have been much different had Pronger played through his contract instead of being forced onto long-term injury indefinitely with post-concussion syndrome.

Had Pronger played, there would be far less attention to the defense.

Holmgren admits that deal still sticks with him.

“We've talked about that, we talked about it [Tuesday],” Holmgren said. “ Not the 'what if,' but we gave up a lot to get Chris. In fact, I asked Ron. He was in Los Angeles when we made that trade. I said, 'What'd you think of that trade?'

“'Was it steep?' he said, 'Yeah, but that's the only way you were going to get him.' Then we talked about how nice it would've been to have him this year ... you try not to dwell on those things but every once and a while they come up.”

Ever since Pronger’s playing career ended in November 2011, the Flyers have been trying unsuccessfully to fill his void.

It’s impossible to replace a future Hall of Famer.

“Probably the only way you're going to get that guy [impact defenseman] is to draft for him,” Holmgren said. “Who knows, maybe we have him. Maybe Sam Morin or Robert Hagg, or Gostisbehere. Maybe he's going to be in this draft. Who knows?”

The Flyers are very shallow in their overall organizational chart in terms of draft picks playing for them right now with the Phantoms. Again, it’s unacceptable.

Holmgren had a conversation with Hextall this season during an AHL game.

“I can remember watching a Phantoms game with him earlier in the year and he said, 'How many draft picks do we have playing in this game?’” Holmgren recalled.

“Honest question, right? I think I said, 'Four?' [Nick] Cousins was there and we were counting free-agent guys that we brought in, not young guys or older guys that we brought in from other organizations.

“I think we had four or five. He just mentioned that, and the team that we were playing against that night had 12. So we've got to get better at that. He mentioned it today that we have to keep our draft picks and we've got to do a better job in that regard and he's right, we do.”

For years, the Flyers traded away second-round draft picks like they were free lollipops. Which is why Andreas Nodl was the last one of any consequence who actually played for them.

The Flyers' draft record in the second round is nothing to be proud of since so many of them have been cast aside.

“The other thing that we have to get better at is development,” Holmgren said. “[Hextall] has gone out of his way to help with that development side. In the limited amount of time he's been here, he has hired a guy to work with the forwards that we drafted in our organization, not playing for the Phantoms, but in our organization.

“He gets on the ice with them and does work, and when time allows Kjell Samuelsson works with our defensemen. He's been out seeing Gostisbehere, Sammy Morin. It's not that we weren't doing these things prior to that, but just not to the level we are now. Instead of having one player up top, now we have two. There’s been some changes that have been ideas of his and I guess a result of the forcefulness of him getting those ideas across.”

This is one part of “culture change,” as some say, which has to change under Hextall.

He says it will.

We’ll see.

Flyers beat Hurricanes with offensive explosion, bounce-back game for Ivan Provorov

Flyers beat Hurricanes with offensive explosion, bounce-back game for Ivan Provorov


You know it’s a good night when seven players are plus-2.
When your rookies have strong bounce-back games.
When Jakub Voracek scores his first two goals of the season.
And when Matt Read, ladies and gentleman, climbs atop the NHL leader board with five goals.
All of which unfolded Saturday night as the Flyers snapped a three-game losing skid and earned their first home victory, 6-3, over the Carolina Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).
“It was pretty solid and the goals we let in there were our own mistakes,” said Steve Mason, who picked up his first win in four games with 27 saves.
“We need to clean that up but when it came down to third period we needed to lock it up, it was a pretty good test, there.”
There’s still work to be done. Things like bearing down on the faceoff and open men in the high slot where Mason again twice faced tee shots without support.
Yet the good outweighs all that. The Flyers again rallied, this time from a two-goal deficit, to score four times in the second period to take over the game.
Few players could be happier than 19-year-old rookie Ivan Provorov.
The Russian defenseman has had a tough week on both sides of the puck. He set up two goals and almost three with a flip pass to Read for a breakaway chance that led to a Flyers power play that ended with Wayne Simmonds’ tipping one home to put the game out of reach late at 5-3
“I felt comfortable from the first shift and built on that,” Provorov said. “It helps when the whole team plays a great game.”
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol changed his partner to Brandon Manning but didn’t think that impacted much on the kid’s offensive performance.
“He played a good hockey game,” Hakstol said. “There were a lot of questions coming in how he handled things. We all felt inside our locker room that he has handled things well through some ups and downs.
“He was a solid player tonight. Sometimes, a little change for the sake of change is a good thing.”
Although they weren’t setting the net afire, the Flyers did have a better start to the game. Carolina is a speed team which forces you to match their pace and the Flyers responded in kind.
Carolina scored twice off coverage gaffes in the opening three minutes of the second period before Brandon Manning, surprisingly the club’s best defenseman thus far, went forehand/backhand on Eddie Lack for a clutch goal that gave the Flyers life.
Couple minutes later, Provorov set up Voracek, then Read with excellent point drives to turn the deficit into a 3-2 lead.
“It happens in games – you fall behind,” Provorov said. “All you have to do is stick with it. That’s what we did.”
Voracek now has seven points which leads the Flyers in scoring. He promised a bounce-back season after last year’s disappointment.
“He’s been pretty consistent right from camp all the way through,” Hakstol said.  “Tonight was one of his better 60-minute performances. He played at a high level, start to finish.”
Meanwhile, Read was impressed with how Provorov responded after consecutive minus efforts. You can’t underestimate the importance of getting point shots through to generate goal scoring.
“He’s such a smart, heads-up player out there,” Read said. “He had a minus in Chicago, a couple bad bounces, things happened and he had a tough game.
“I still think every game, for a 19-year-old defenseman, making plays the way he is playing, it’s fun to watch out there. He keeps playing like this, he is gonna be a good D in this league for a long time.”

Instant Replay: Flyers 6, Hurricanes 3

Instant Replay: Flyers 6, Hurricanes 3


A four-goal outburst in the second period enabled the Flyers to overcome a two-goal deficit en route to a 6-3 victory Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The win – first at home this season -- snapped a three-game losing skid.
Matt Read scored his fifth goal in as many games which ties him for the NHL goal lead while four other players had two points.
Defensemen Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere both had strong rebound games after struggling earlier this week.
Wayne Simmonds gave goalie Steve Mason some breathing room late in the third period with a power play goal to make it 5-3.
Notable goals
Jakub Voracek’s first goal of the season: a redirect in the paint off  Provorov’s point drive to make it 2-2 in the second period. He had a goal late, as well.
Goalie report
Mason needs to get some help in front. It’s not all on the defense, either. The forwards are being slack in coming back up ice. Too much room in the slot for guys to tee it up on Mason.
Power play
More entry problems and not enough quality shots on Eddie Lack at the outset. Read’s goal late in the second period off a Provorov drive came one second after a power play ended and it gave the Flyers their first lead at 3-2. Provorov had a very strong game, springing Read for a breakaway in the third period that resulted in a power play (tripping) leading to Simmonds' goal. The Flyers were 1 of 4 on the man advantage overall.
Penalty kill
Despite traffic in front, Carolina’s Justin Faulk found all net with a point shot on the Canes' carryover power play in the second period.
Strange call
I can’t remember ever seeing a charging call at center ice. Almost always happens along the boards. Yet Konecny was given one on Joakim Nordstrom, who’s four inches taller. That aside, it was a clean shoulder hit. Konecny never made contact with the head.
Flyers again having trouble, losing 60 percent of them in the first period.
Radko Gudas (suspended) and Dale Weise (suspended); Scott Laughton (knee), Michael Del Zotto (knee), and Michael Raffl (abdominal pull).  
Up next
The Flyers will practice Sunday at Skate Zone, then travel immediately to Montreal for Monday’s game against the Canadiens.