Philadelphia Flyers

Hextall: Flyers must be in better physical shape

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Hextall: Flyers must be in better physical shape

This is the final segment of a four-part Q&A with Ron Hextall, who just completed his first summer offseason in Philadelphia as the Flyers’ general manager.

Who in your mind has improved the most in the East and in your division?

Hextall: Oh, boy. Boy, that’s a good question.

Looks to me like the Rangers and Penguins took steps backwards.

Hextall: People maybe look at Tampa in the East and say they improved. I always say, if you don’t improve from within, you can only make so many steps. ... You can’t sign free agents X and Y and say, ‘Oh, we’ve gotten so much better.’ Maybe you look at Minnesota two years ago and say they were the exception with [Zach] Parise and [Ryan] Suter. You say, ‘Well, they should be a lot better.’ It didn’t work out quite like some people thought it would. For the most part, you can’t go out and sign a free agent or two and say you took this huge step. Because of chemistry and everything else that goes into it. If you don’t get better from within, your chances of moving too far ahead are slim. That’s where we focused this summer. Getting better from within. Not just on the ice, but some of our staff and minor league team. Little things we can improve in here like the analytical part or coaching part. There’s things we can get better. It’s not just the product on the ice which is a byproduct of all the little things that you improve on, whether it’s medical devices or training programs. Our team was very diligent about training [this summer]. Our team last year? I don’t think was in great shape. I really don’t, for whatever reason. We better be in better shape this year. 1 and 7 [start]? We can’t do that again. We got to be ready to go on opening night. We gotta fricking go! That type of thing far outweighs signing a decent free agent.

What did you learn from your father [Bryan Jr.] and grandfather [Bryan Sr.] in hockey?

Hextall: It’s funny. ... Probably the biggest thing coming out of being a son of an NHL player and grandson was you’re pretty much born into hockey. When that happens, you go one of two ways. You either love it or you hate it. And I loved it. I’d go to practice with my dad when I was 4-5-6 ... watch practice, skate before practice and skate after practice. Be in the locker room after practice. The whole lifestyle thing. People ask me why I was a goalie. I have absolutely no idea. ... The biggest thing I learned was the lifestyle and passion I had. My dad was a hard worker and honest player. He was an honest man. … I think I’m the luckiest kid ever. I still have fond memories of practices in Pittsburgh and Atlanta and Detroit and Minnesota. I remember Pat Quinn and Butch Deadmarsh in Atlanta fighting during practice and then coming out after practice and they were talking. And I couldn’t figure it out. They were on the ice teammates and they fought. Then after practice they are in the street clothes talking outside the locker room. I questioned my dad on the way home. Why were they talking? They just fought. They were both bleeding. Just the whole passion for the game. I’m rambling on a bit. The lifestyle and work habits is the short answer.

So what was your father’s answer to that question?

Hextall: He just said it was a confrontation. They got mad at each other. They fought, but they are still teammates. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but I guess I should have because my brother and I fought like crazy, but would be best buddies 10 minutes later. I probably should have understood it. ... I got it figured out now.

Did you ever settle it with [Chris] Chelios since he lives in [Malibu] and you had seven years out there?

Hextall: No, but I took a lot of heat for talking to him one night in the press box. You guys all made a big deal of it. I don’t know what people wanted. Did they want Cheli and I to stand up in the press box and go at it? I don’t know. I respect him. He played hard. He would have been a great Flyer. I would have loved to play behind him.

What part of Ron Hextall the player has carried over to Ron Hextall the GM?

Hextall: [Laughing]. Thankfully, probably not much of it.

You were quick-tempered as a player.

Hextall: Well, yeah and I was reactive, but you have to be. It’s a fast game and things happen and you had to be. But in my position now, it’s whoa. You've got to be really methodical and think things through and don’t jump too quick. Funny, but when you think about it, it’s almost totally opposite of what I did as a player. And I think a coach has to be more like a player. A manager can’t be like a player. You've got to look for today and look for tomorrow and you've gotta look for the next four or five years. And you've gotta be patient. There are going to be times where we will go through a rough time and you’ll be wanting to do something. Sometimes you've just gotta hold the fort.

Last question … why was John Paddock (defensive coach) cut loose? He held a variety of jobs here over the years.

Hextall: My beliefs are having a big enough staff, but not too big a staff. I really felt like we needed a defenseman [to coach the defense]. A defenseman who played the position and could teach our defense on the ice during the game and video sessions. I have a lot of respect for John. We’re from the same province [Manitoba]. I’ve known him a long time. He is a fricking good human being. If you ask me the hardest thing I’ve done since taking over, that was it. I thought about that and fretted over that for a period of time and in the end, it made sense. I didn’t want to have an extra coach. ... Gord Murphy is a real teacher and former teammate. A real smart player and kinda calm, methodical, well thought-out guy. He is going to be really good for our defense. That’s not saying anything bad about John, but he was a forward and Lappy [Ian Laperriere] was a forward and Chief [Craig Berube] was a forward and [Joey] Mullen was a forward. ... Forward, forward, forward. That was a hard decision and a really tough thing to do because he was a good man and I had a lot of respect for him.

Flyers-Rangers preseason observations: Travis Sanheim's push to make team heats up

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Flyers-Rangers preseason observations: Travis Sanheim's push to make team heats up

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Dave Hakstol conducted some garden variety experimentation Monday night against the Rangers, by moving Claude Giroux to left wing for the first time in his Flyers career.

"It's definitely a change but you know I'm just trying to be in good position and make the right play," Giroux said. "Slowly, I'm feeling more comfortable."
 
The line combination of Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek failed to generate a point, but it was the play of rookie Travis Sanheim that took center stage off Broadway.

Sanheim notched a pair of goals, but the Flyers fell, 3-2, in overtime at Madison Square Garden. Ryan McDonagh scored the game-winner for New York in the 3-on-3 OT.

"It's really high right now," Sanheim said of his confidence. "Obviously, I don't want it to get too high. I just have to try and keep an even-keel here and finish up strong."

Sanheim has now scored the Flyers' last three goals of the preseason.

• For the fourth time in five preseason games, the Flyers went to overtime. The Rangers finished the job Monday, as the captain McDonagh collected his own rebound and pushed the puck past Michal Neuvirth for the game-winner with 1:09 remaining in OT.

• New York scored on its first shot on net, when Rick Nash deflected McDonagh's shot from the point to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead just 3:16 into the game.

• Sanheim tallied his first just 2:23 after the Rangers' first goal. The defenseman ripped a rocket past Henrik Lundqvist from the top of the left circle. It was his team-leading second of the preseason with assists from Jordan Weal and Nolan Patrick, who picked up his second assist in four preseason games.

• Sanheim added his second goal in the final moments of the second period, when he pinched behind the Rangers' defense and corralled Radko Gudas' shot from the point and backhanded it past Lundqvist with four seconds remaining in the period.

"I'm just trying to play my game,” Sanheim said. “All along I play that offensive side. I'm just trying to keep it simple defensively and trying to make smart plays and make good reads to get in the play and it's been working so far."

Sanheim has continued to make significant strides and show improvement throughout the preseason, and his offensive upside has to give Hakstol some serious consideration to how he wants his defense to look when the regular season begins. There have been few lapses defensively since the preseason opener against the New York Islanders.

• The Rangers tied the game at 2-2 when Neuvirth knocked away Mika Zibanejad’s wrist shot with his blocker, but the rebound hit Robert Hagg, deflected off Neuvirth and just over the line for a goal.

• The Flyers' power play continues to work out the kinks. The team worked on the PP structure for the first time over the weekend. That unit is now 0 for 14 over the last two games. The Flyers finished Monday’s game 0 for 5.

• Scott Laughton continues to be a valuable asset on the Flyers' penalty kill. Laughton broke up several passes on the Rangers' early power play of the second period.  
  
• Gudas fell to the ice late in the first period and then appeared to be holding his hand in obvious pain. Gudas didn’t miss any time and made a pronounced statement in the third period when he unloaded an open-ice hit on Rangers center Filip Chytil. Mats Zuccarello rushed to Chytil’s defense, which resulted in a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a Flyers power play.

• The two teams will continue their preseason home-and-home series Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center as Brian Elliott is expected to play the entire game in net. Elliott turned aside all 18 shots in two periods of action last Thursday in Boston.

Lines, pairing and scratches:

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Sam Morin, Taylor Leier, Mike Vecchione, Dale Weise, Oskar Lindblom

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

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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).