Philadelphia Flyers

Hextall 'excited' to finally get season started

aphextall.jpg

Hextall 'excited' to finally get season started

Ron Hextall said it was a smooth transition, coming back to the Flyers after seven years as an assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Kings.
 
Why wouldn’t it be? Outside of Bernie Parent, Hextall is easily the next most popular goaltender in Flyers history.
 
Fans love him. Players love him. Ed Snider loves him.
 
That’s what 11 years in the Flyers' net, plus another seven in the scouting office, will do for a guy.
 
“It feels good,” Hextall said of his homecoming. “I know a lot of the people. I’m excited to get the season going here.”
 
While it’s easy to understand why the Flyers wanted him back -- he bleeds orange and black even after winning a Stanley Cup in L.A. -- it’s not easy to understand why Hextall left the West Coast.
 
Essentially, this was a lateral move when he was next in line to succeed Kings’ general manager Dean Lombardi.
 
The answer requires thinking ahead.
 
Paul Holmgren has been the GM here since 2006. He received a three-year, $4.5 million contract extension on Jan. 18, 2011. That deal runs through the 2014-15 season.
 
At this point, the 49-year-old Hextall’s wait may not be very long.
 
Logically, there was no reason for Hextall to leave L.A. unless the Flyers indicated he’ll be in the big chair sooner here than if he had stayed with the Kings.
 
Hextall still hasn’t given specifics on why he came back other than to say the move “felt right.”
 
“I don’t necessarily have one decision why,” he said. “It just seemed the right decision at the right time. That’s about all I can say.”
 
Clearly, the road is fully paved for Hextall to advance.
 
“That’s not why I am here,” Hextall said. “It is my goal in the end to be a general manager. But when and where and how and if, who knows? Just one day at a time, to do my job and see where it goes.”
 
Hextall was the guy who pieced together a lot of those young faces in Los Angeles. The sounding board who advised Lombardi on trades -- Mike Richards, Jeff Carter -- and free-agent signings. He brings a different education, he says.
 
“Anybody you work for is educational,” Hextall said. “Clarkie (Bobby Clarke) and Homer and Dean Lombardi. Anybody you work for, it’s educational. You learn different ideas and different philosophies. To see the way another organization runs, it’s educational.”
 
When you’ve been in hockey a long time, then finally win a Cup as a member of management after being robbed of such at least once as a player, it’s easier to walk away to another organization.
 
Hextall felt he had achieved his goal with the Kings.
 
“Winning did make a difference in my decision,” he said. “When you spend seven years and build something, you want to see it through and I really did see it through. Was that a factor? Absolutely.
 
“If we would not have won it and you had built a team six or seven years, you kind of want to see it through. That played into my decision, for sure. Also, when you go outside an organization, you learn.”
 
The easy thing to say is Hextall is part of the Flyers' “old boys network.” True, the organization likes to keep as many former players as possible here in Philadelphia.
 
There’s more to it. The legacy the Flyers have can greatly influence the next generation of players.
 
Remember when Claude Giroux started here? Clarke worked with him on faceoffs. Having the legends around isn’t all that bad.
 
“When you establish an identity as a franchise, you have to grow with the times,” Hextall said. “But to have those guys around, it is invaluable to have Bob Clarke and Billy Barber and Bernie. There is something to it and something special to it.
 
“Now again, in saying that, we’re not in the '70 or '80s or '90s. So you have to move forward. You have to change. Philosophically, things have to change and you have to grow with the game or you’re old and have to be out.
 
“I think it is great for the young guys to see Clarkie and Billy. It’s special. In L.A., we tried to bring those guys around. There is something to it.”
 
Hextall has worked with just about everyone in the Flyers' organization. Some of the current media members -- including this reporter -- actually covered him in his prime as a player.
 
“Knowing philosophically where the organization is at, that makes the transition easy and I know the area and people,” he said. “The big team, I know a little bit. The minor team and young guys, I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
 
The only other former Flyers goalie who is a general manager in the NHL is Garth Snow with the Islanders. Do goalies see things differently?
 
“Everybody says as a goalie you kind of see the whole game, the whole ice,” Hextall replied. “I’m not sure. Everybody’s got their own preference. One of my preferences because I was a goalie, I really like a two-way defenseman. I really like 180-feet [red line to red line] players at all positions. I also think the way the game has evolved now, you have to play 180 feet. ... You don’t see anybody putting up 150 points anymore. You got to cover the whole sheet. Teams check so well.
 
“It really has changed from the 1980s to now. It’s a full-sheet game and those guys play both ends, both sides of the puck, are really important guys, especially when they are your top-end players.”
 
Hextall’s longtime agent, Steve Mountain, is still in business, still representing players. The two spoke this summer.
 
“I’m my own Steve Mountain now,” Hextall quipped.

Future Flyers Report: Still questioning the Morgan Frost draft pick?

aaron-bell-tom-dougherty-usa-morgran-frost-felix-sandstrom-connor-bunnaman.jpg
Aaron Bell/CSNPhilly/USA Today Images

Future Flyers Report: Still questioning the Morgan Frost draft pick?

Welcome back to the return of the Future Flyers Report, a weekly column tracking the development of the Flyers’ prospects. This year, we’ll try some new tricks along the way.

We’re nine days out from the Flyers’ season opener, and when preseason ends, it’s expected that a few mainstays of this report from years past will graduate to the NHL. That’s OK. As the Flyers enter their youth movement, we’ll continue evaluating their first-year players with weekly reports on their progress throughout their rookie seasons.

The CHL opened its regular season last week, and international leagues have been underway since earlier this month. As hockey season returns, let’s dig into the future.

Morgan Frost, C, 5-11/172, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Think back to draft night in June, when the Flyers traded Brayden Schenn to the Blues and then used the 27th overall pick on Frost. Not many knew who Frost was, and the projections had the centerman as a second-round pick. Fans reacted as such on social media, without ever seeing Frost play. I didn’t know too much about the player when the Flyers drafted him, but all the reports were positive and I immediately thought of the Travis Sanheim draft. It’s too early to say Frost will rise to that level of prospect, but he showed in development camp the hockey smarts and playmaking ability that drew the Flyers to him.

Frost had an explosive start to the season this weekend, especially Saturday night in the Greyhounds' season opener against Oshawa, a 7-4 loss. He picked up two assists in Sault Ste. Marie's loss, but his first helper was a dandy. Frost found Tim Gettinger open in the faceoff circle across the ice, through multiple defenders with a slap-pass and Gettinger finished with the goal. On Sunday night, Frost followed up with a shorthanded penalty shot for his first tally of the season.

It was exactly the type of start you'd want to see from Frost, who was sort of a riser in his draft class. It's his third season in the OHL, and you want to see a leap offensively from him. He got off to a strong start this weekend.

Felix Sandstrom, G, 24, 6-2/192, Brynäs IF (SHL)
One of the Flyers’ top goalie prospects, Sandstrom was expected to miss the start of the season because of a simple laparoscopic procedure, but the procedure was postponed. Sandstrom made his first start Thursday, stopping 29 of 32 shots in Brynäs’ 4-2 loss to HV71. With Oskar Lindblom, German Rubtsov and Mikhail Vorobyev in North America, Sandstrom is the most intriguing international prospect in the Flyers’ system. It’s a safe bet he’ll be the top-selling international flavor of this report this year.

Connor Bunnaman, C, 19, 6-1/207, Kitchener (OHL)
Before the Rangers’ first game Friday against Flint, Bunnaman was named the 53rd captain in Kitchener history, replacing Frank Hora, who is with the Phantoms on an AHL contract. Bunnaman joins Mike Richards (2003-05) and Bill Barber (1971-72) as Flyers draft picks who wore the ‘C’ with the Rangers. Paul Evans, who was drafted by the Kings but later played for the Flyers, was the Rangers’ captain in 1973-74. Bunnaman also played in his 200th career OHL game Friday night, recording three shots and no points in a 5-3 Rangers loss. He was highly effective in the Rangers’ 3-1 win over Sarnia on Saturday night with five shots on goal, his first assist and a plus-three rating.

Anthony Salinitri, C, 19, 5-11/170, Sarnia (OHL)
This is an important season for Salinitri if he wants to earn an entry-level contract with the Flyers. This will be the Flyers’ final season of holding Salinitri’s rights before having to decide to either sign him or let him go. They elected not to sign Sam Dove-McFalls this summer, and Salinitri, a 2016 sixth-round pick, is in a similar situation. There’s no guarantee the Flyers sign him, and he was cut early during training camp. With a 50-contract limit, the pressure is on Salinitri to make a major impact this year in Sarnia.

Salinitri’s 2017-18 campaign didn’t get off to a bad start, though. In his first game Friday night, the centerman scored his first goal of the season and also potted a shootout goal in the Sting’s 4-3 win over the Guelph Storm. He did lose 10 of his 13 faceoffs, however. On Saturday night, against Kitchener, Salinitri was a minus-two with two penalty minutes, two shots on goal and no points. He won two of his five faceoffs in the 3-1 loss.

Pascal Laberge, C/RW, 19, 6-1/162, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
Laberge is another prospect with an important season ahead of him. After dealing with more adversity in 2016-17, this time with concussion issues, Laberge has to put himself back in good standing within the Flyers’ organization. General manager Ron Hextall, while understanding of the situation, made it clear this summer he didn’t like the way Laberge competed at times last season. In training camp, Laberge showed he still has a lot of work to do. Still, the 2016 second-round pick still has plenty time to develop.

I would expect Laberge to have a bounce-back season. In Victoriaville’s season opener Friday night, Laberge was the top-line center. He was held pointless in the Tigres’ 2-1 win over Gatineau, registering three shots and winning 50 percent of his draws. Laberge picked up his first point of the season Sunday night, setting up Maxime Comtois' game-winning goal in the Tigres' 4-3 overtime win over Shawinigan.

Quick hits
• Rubtsov was unavailable for Chicoutimi during the Saguenéens’ opening weekend because of paperwork, according to La Presse. He should play this week.

Isaac Ratcliffe, a hulking 6-6 winger, netted a shootout goal in Guelph’s 4-3 loss to Sarnia on Friday but didn’t register any points in either of the Storm’s first two games.

David Kase, a 20-year-old European prospect who’s playing in the SHL this season, had a goal and assist with three shots in Mora IK’s 5-1 win over Rogle on Thursday.

Olle Lycksell, a 2017 sixth-round pick, has four assists in four games with the Linköping HC J20 team.

Linus Högberg, a 2016 fifth-round pick, has an assist in three games with Växjö (SHL).

Valeri Vasiliev has three assists in four games and is averaging over 17 minutes with Severstal (KHL). Vasiliev, 23, was a seventh-round pick in 2012.

• The Russian goalies: Ivan Fedotov has a 1.92 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in four games with Toros Neftekamsk (VHL). Kirill Ustimenko has a 2.00 GAA and .904 save percentage in six games with Dynamo St. Petersburg (MHL).

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers play a preseason back-to-back set when they visit the Rangers on Monday, then host them Tuesday.

With such a schedule setup, head coach Dave Hakstol already has two lineups in mind as the Flyers continue their evaluation for the opening night roster. The training camp roster is technically at 29, but with three players injured (Cole Bardreau, Colin McDonald, Anthony Stolarz), it's actually at 26 and must be down to 23 by the Oct. 4 season opener.

The obvious roster hopefuls are forwards Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Mike Vecchione, and defensemen Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim.

"Everybody that's here is still in the mix," Hakstol said after practice Sunday at Flyers Skate Zone. "I said it a couple days ago, this is when the competition gets pretty high."

If Sunday's practice combinations are any indication of what Monday's lineup will look like at Madison Square Garden, Travis Konecny, Vecchione, Leier and Lindblom will be extras. They were the four-man rotational line Sunday.

Hakstol said there could be some differences from the groupings Sunday when it comes to Monday's game. However, he does hope to play each bubble player at least one of the two games. So whoever sits Monday is more than likely to play Tuesday.

Eyes on Patrick
Patrick is feeling better and better.

After assisting Shayne Gostisbehere's overtime winner in Wednesday's 3-2 preseason split-squad win against the Islanders, Patrick played 16:50 Thursday in the 2-1 OT loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. The No. 2 overall pick saw some power-play time, had a few shots on goal and a pair of takeaways.

"Last game was the most comfortable I've felt," Patrick said Sunday.

He's now played in three preseason games, as well as the rookie game.

Patrick centered Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds on the second unit at practice, a spot which suits his strengths playing between two finishers with a good blend of ways to score.

Look for that line to stick Monday.

"We've only had one game together, but I think Simmer's obviously a top player in the league, he was an All-Star last year, he can put the puck in the net and make plays," Patrick said. "So he's big down low to create space. Jordan's great offensively, he's got a lot of speed, so I just try to play smart and find them when they're open and make plays."

Sound with studs
Hagg has put together a strong camp and preseason.

The 22-year-old defenseman is well-groomed and prides himself on play in his own end. Playing alongside Gostisbehere doesn't hurt, either. It allows Gostisbehere to focus a bit more on producing offensively because Hagg understands his defensive role.

The last two days, Hagg has been paired with Ivan Provorov.

With those two, he isn't complaining and seems to relish being the complementary piece.

"They're pretty good guys to play with," Hagg said.

"I don't mind it. Let them do their job and I'm taking care of the defense, kind of what I did last year, as well. Start getting used to it and I don't have any problems with it.

"I think my best game is in the D-zone, shutting down guys, 1-on-1 battles. And then sure, I can follow up in the game and find some pucks here and there. But my main focus is to be good in the D-zone, take care of that and the rest will take care of itself."

Roster two cents
Vecchione has played only two preseason games thus far and he was among the four-man line at practice. He should play at least one of these games on the back-to-back, but at this point, he looks like he'll start the season at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. There just isn't a spot for the rookie forward right now and he won't be on the roster to be an extra man.

Laughton seems to be a safe bet to make the Flyers' roster. He's been playing in the exact role the Flyers are hoping for him and he proved growth to general manager Ron Hextall last season with the Phantoms.

Leier has done everything you'd ask for from a guy fighting for a spot. However, the numbers game likely pegs him at Lehigh Valley to start 2017-18.

Nonetheless, Hakstol has been impressed by the 23-year-old winger, who had a two-goal game Wednesday in the 3-2 split-squad win at the PPL Center.

"It's about playing his role, what his role is," Hakstol said. "Taylor's a responsible two-way forward. When he's been with us, he's played in that third, fourth-line wing type of role, he's killed penalties — that's his chair. He's done a good job of that so far in camp and that's why he's got himself solidly in the mix."

Can't get enough
Weal is always getting in extra work.

Ever since coming to the Flyers in the January 2016 Vinny Lecavalier trade, he is often the first player on the ice before practice even starts. On Sunday, he was the last one off of it with Konecny. Together, the two took in some bonus ice time.

The 25-year-old Weal just loves the rink and it's gotten him from lots of healthy scratches in 2015-16 to what should be a prominent role in 2017-18.

Quotables
"I think they're going to try to stick to it a little bit more. I don't mind it. It's like impossible to cheat now in faceoffs. But some guys, it's kind of a skill to be able to cheat in faceoffs. I don't know, I think they're going to stick to it, and if they do, it's good. Guys are going to be not trying to cheat because you want to stay in the faceoff dot. We'll see what happens."

- Claude Giroux on refs being stricter in the faceoff circle during preseason

"I had quite a few chances that game. Just being able to jump up in the rush at the right times. You're seeing a lot more in the NHL these days that a lot of the offense is being pushed from D-men getting up in the play and joining the rush and creating chances. That's something I've had as a part in my game all the way through my career. I'm just trying to bring that to this level."

- Travis Sanheim on his goal against the Bruins Thursday

Practice lines and pairings

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek (more on this here).
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read
Mike Vecchione-Taylor Leier-Oskar Lindblom-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald

Current roster breakdown

Forwards (18)
Cole Bardreau (injured)
Sean Couturier
Valtteri Filppula
Claude Giroux
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Jori Lehtera
Taylor Leier
Oskar Lindblom
Colin McDonald (injured)
Nolan Patrick
Michael Raffl
Matt Read
Wayne Simmonds
Mike Vecchione
Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal
Dale Weise

Defensemen (8)
Shayne Gostisbehere
Radko Gudas
Robert Hagg
Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning
Sam Morin
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim

Goalies (3)
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth
Anthony Stolarz (injured)