NHL draft lacks star-power, but still important to Flyers

Ron Hextall is back with the Flyers after helping the Kings win a Stanley Cup in 2012.
Ron Hextall will call the shots in his first NHL draft as Flyers GM this weekend. Credit: Getty Images

You know the way the talk shows are fervently debating the NBA merits of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, after spending weeks trying to calculate where Johnny Football and the rest of his future NFL brethren would wind up? Well, that just doesn’t happen when it comes to hockey and the NHL draft, which takes place here in the Wells Fargo Center Friday night and Saturday.

Unless you’re from Barrie, Ontario you probably wouldn’t know Aaron Ekblad, the defenseman considered by most the plum of the Draft.

And while Flyers fans live and die with their team, probably not even the biggest draft geek was doing high-fives back when the orange and black selected Simon Gagne (No. 22, 1998), Jeff Carter and Mike Richards (Nos. 11 and 24 respectively in 2003), or Claude Giroux (No. 22, 2006).

All of which means whoever new G.M. Ron Hextall goes for when his turn comes up No. 17 tomorrow night — barring a trade to move up — chances are we won’t know a thing about them. Worse, it figures to be at least 3-4 years until we have any idea if they can even play.

“Most of these kids in the draft we’re talking 3,4, 5 years from now,” said Hextall, who thinks the draft — which he describes as “average” — is more loaded with forwards than defensemen and goaltenders. “To sit here and think I’m smart enough to predict exactly who we’re going to have in 3-4-5 years, would be asinine. We’re talking 17-18 year-old kids here. They’ve got a long way to go before they’re going to play in the NHL. So, to do anything but draft the best player. … I’m not going to try and reinvent the wheel.”

That said, the GM admits you usually have a gut feeling about a player pretty quickly.

“I think a lot of times you have an idea which way the kid’s going the very next year,” said Hextall, who recalls his own 1982 draft, where his mother was the one who informed him — to his initial dismay — the hated Flyers had picked him in the sixth round. “These are young kids and they make mistakes. Some of them, quite honestly, get drafted and think that they’ve made the NHL, so sometimes they take a step backwards. Other guys take a step forward. I think, typically looking at the next year you have some idea of which direction they’re going. But, in the end, it’ll take a few years to play out”


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