Ron Hextall on landing No. 2 overall pick: 'This is a big day for our franchise'

Ron Hextall on landing No. 2 overall pick: 'This is a big day for our franchise'

You remember the 2007 NHL draft?

The Flyers were robbed that year in the draft lottery and were forced to settle for the No. 2 overall pick later that June.

They chose James van Riemsdyk and the Chicago Blackhawks — drafting first — tabbed Patrick Kane.

Well, the Flyers got some needed payback Saturday night in Toronto at the 2017 draft lottery.
 
While the Flyers didn't win the top overall pick in this year's draft, they pretty much won the lottery just the same, moving from 13th overall to the No. 2 selection (see story).

"This is a big day for our franchise," said general manager Ron Hextall, who was an assistant general manager with Los Angeles in 2007 when it was Paul Holmgren's team in Philadelphia.

"When the 13th pick went by there and we knew we were one, two or three, that was a huge move for our franchise. We couldn't be more excited."

New Jersey will pick No. 1 and Dallas will pick third. Neither Colorado, the worst team in the NHL, nor Vegas, the newcomer to the NHL, made the top three.

The Flyers bucked enormous odds to advance from 13th to No. 2. They had a 2.4 percent chance of pulling it off. They were nearly 89 percent certain to remain at 13.

Maybe their luck is changing.

"We had a lot of bad luck this year," Hextall said. "I'm hoping this is a turning point for some of that to be turned around. This is a big point for our franchise. We're obviously going to get a very good player and hopefully in years, we'll look back on this as a turning point for us."

Depending on what the Devils do, the Flyers, who need offensive pop, are expected to select either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, both promising forwards who are considered impact players.

While this draft is nowhere near as deep as last year's with Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine, it still holds quality in the first round and the Flyers are guaranteed a player who should make a difference.

"This isn't as bad as a draft as people say it is," Hextall said. "We felt with the 13th pick, we would get a good player. It's probably an average draft.

"The last couple drafts have been bumper but this is a good draft. Obviously, moving up to No. 2, we're going to get an even better player."

Patrick, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, played for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League and was named the top skater by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau despite missing parts of the season with a lingering groin/abdominal injury.

The 6-foot-2, 198-pound center had 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games and still was a consensus No. 1 or 2 player by most scouts. His lineage is excellent, as his uncle, James Patrick, played 1,280 games.

Hischier is trying to become the highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history. Nino Niederreiter was taken fifth overall by the New York Islanders in 2010.

The 6-foot, 176-pound Hischier led the QMJHL rookie class with 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games this season.

Can either Patrick or Hischier play right now?

"I don't know who that player is going to be," Hextall said. "Any player, as you know from my history, they've got to come in and earn it.

"If we draft a player at No. 2 and he comes in and earns it, then he'll be on our team. If he needs more time, he needs more time."

That said, Hextall admitted his scouting staff had paid attention to pick anywhere from No. 1 to 13th or worse, especially after things started going south for the Flyers in late winter and the playoffs began slipping away.

Hextall would not compare this year's draft-eligible players, talk about them individually or indicate which player he felt might be available at No. 2.

For now, Hextall envisions keeping the second pick but wouldn't rule out trading down if the right offer was there.

"You can't say no to anything because you don't know what will come your way," Hextall said.

The Avalanche, who had the best shot at winning the No. 1 pick, will draft fourth. Vancouver is fifth and Vegas will pick sixth.

Hextall watched the draft lottery on TV after returning home from Finland.

"Sometimes you get some good luck and sometimes you get some bad luck," Hextall said. "This was a fortunate day for our franchise. This was a big one."

Flyers sign 2016 4th-round center Connor Bunnaman

Flyers sign 2016 4th-round center Connor Bunnaman

Center Connor Bunnaman, the Flyers' fourth-round pick (109th overall) from the 2016 NHL draft, signed an entry-level contract with the team on Friday.

The 19-year-old prospect has spent the past three seasons with the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL. He scored 37 goals and compiled 52 points in 64 games this season.

That's his best offensive output with the Rangers so far. His 37 goals led Kitchener, as did his 16 power-play goals.

His 52 points were third best on the club.

Ivan Provorov provides Flyers a timely reminder of their mission

Ivan Provorov provides Flyers a timely reminder of their mission

Shayne Gostisbehere laughed in sheer wonderment.

He was talking about 20-year-old defenseman Ivan Provorov.

Gostisbehere, only 24 and no slouch himself on the blue line, was trying to comprehend Provorov's ability, which doesn't quite match the player's age.

"Ivan's game is so mature -- he has no risk in his game, he's just so sound and the way he plays, makes it look so easy and it pisses people off," Gostisbehere said last week with a smile. "But just the things he does is unbelievable. He's awesome to watch.

"He's only 19 or 20 and I'm like, 'This guy makes me look bad sometimes because he's so smooth.' He's a great player. I don't see Provy having any problems next year. If he does, they'll be minor."

Provorov had that type of impact in his first NHL season, one that saw him jump from the junior ranks right to the big boys as a teenager.

How did he fare?

Well, considering he played all 82 games, led the Flyers in ice time at 21:58 per night -- a franchise rookie record -- and took home the Barry Ashbee Award as the team's top defenseman, he acquitted himself just fine.

With the Flyers' failure to make the playoffs and an offseason bubbling with unanswered questions, Provorov is the team's surest bet moving forward -- a reassuring positive about the organization becoming younger and building through the draft.

"You get a sense of a kid in his draft year," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last Thursday at his end-of-the-season press conference. "You watch him and you get a sense of the kid. You start meeting with him up to the draft, meet with his parents, you start to get a sense that this kid is really, really dialed in. Most kids, they're out playing video games and doing this and doing that. Provy, it's like he's 30. He's a very mature kid."

The native of Russia has become the poster child for the Flyers' youth plunge on defense. Two more rookies are likely to carve out roster spots alongside Provorov and Gostisbehere in 2017-18.

"Provy, I hope he's one of the guys next year where young kids come in and watch him," Hextall said. "Kid's a pro."

Last training camp, Provorov convinced Hextall there was no more junior play needed. At 19 years old, Provorov had to either go back to his junior league or make the Flyers' roster.

He made Hextall's decision look easy.

"For a 19-year-old defenseman to come in and provide the minutes, the hard minutes, steady play, composure, professionalism -- I mean, it's unique," Hextall said. "He's a special kid in terms of his whole focus in life is hockey. He's 24/7. He watches hockey, he studies hockey, he thinks hockey. He trains a ridiculous amount of time in the summer. He's a hockey player and it's special."

Provorov was quickly anointed to a crucial role on the Flyers' special teams units. He led the Flyers in shorthanded ice time and was Gostisbehere's backup running the power-play point, especially once veteran Mark Streit was traded at the March 1 deadline. Overall, Provorov finished with 30 points -- six goals and 24 assists.

More impressively, the 2015 seventh overall draft pick showed he's a quick study. In his third NHL game, Provorov made an embarrassing tumble and turnover during a 7-4 loss to the Blackhawks at the United Center. Provorov finished a minus-5 that game and was a minus-9 through his first 11 outings.

Those struggles did not last long and the next time he saw the Blackhawks, he scored two goals in a 3-1 win to put his Chicago nightmare in the past.

"I think after 15, 20 games, I started to play my game," Provorov said, "and I think I got better as the season went on, both on and off the ice.

"The guys and the coaches said, and I knew myself, it's a long year. Sometimes you forget about games and then you go back and learn from mistakes and you get better."

Provorov said he learned to make the simple play sometimes instead of always swinging for the home run.

"That was my biggest adjustment," he said. "You can't make the most out of every possession you have. So it probably took a little bit. In juniors, if there was no play, I could have just kept it myself or held onto the puck as long as I wanted to. You can't do that here. All the teams are well-structured and pressured hard."

While Provorov learned, the Flyers did, too.

"I think it's fair to say he's one of the guys we're going to build around here," Hextall said.

And Gostisbehere is looking forward to it.

"You can look at Ivan, and you think he's a young man -- he is, but the way he carries himself, he's a great kid, great player and his game is mature beyond his age," Gostisbehere said. "It's just the swagger these younger guys have. And it's not cockiness at all, it's just confidence and that's the biggest thing."