The first round of the NHL Draft was easy for Ron Hextall last year.
With the second pick in the draft, the Flyers GM was guaranteed one of two projected superstars, Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick. When the Devils took Hischier, Patrick was the no-brainer pick for Hextall.
This year’s draft, which will be held later this week in Dallas, won’t be as straightforward for Hextall. The Flyers have the 14th and 19th picks in the first round, and nine overall in the draft.
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For the second straight year, we caught up with prospect and draft expert Russ Cohen for his thoughts on what the Flyers will do. Cohen is a co-host on “Hockey Prospect Radio” which airs on Sirius/XM NHL Network and all TSN radio affiliates, a guest on two other Sirius/XM shows, and is the author of “Flyers Images of Sports.”
Here is Part 1 of our interview:
First, do you anticipate the Flyers keeping both picks or trading them to move up in the draft?
I think a lot of teams want to trade up. If you start taking a poll a couple of days before the draft of how many teams are trying to trade up, it’s going to be a ton. It’s not going to be as easy to trade up. Ultimately, I think they keep the picks.
If the Flyers were to move up, who do you think they would target and where might they need to move to?
If they move up, they would do it for an elite defenseman or center. There aren’t as many first line centers in this draft. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is one name, but I don’t think he would be there at 14.
I think they would need to trade up to get him, possibly in the top 10. I think what would have to happen is they would have to trade one of their first-round picks, a pick in the second or fourth round, and a lower level decent prospect – someone a few years away from making it to the NHL like a Wade Allison (who is still in college).
Does Hextall flip the picks for NHL-proven young players or are the players available at 14 and 19 more valuable?
No, I don’t think they will do that. In free agency, I think they are interested in players who are in their 20s. John Tavares still fits with the plan. However, I don’t think they trade two picks for a young veteran.
They will want at least one pick in this draft. Their picks are more valuable than a veteran player. After No. 20 there is a fair drop off. Those two picks can land pretty good players.
For the top 20, to have two picks is the key. You have to figure that in the next year or two when they become more successful and begin picking later again, this might be last shot to get two first-round picks. Even though they have a stocked system, nothing set in stone.
College players might not sign, and you have players get injured like defensemen Sam Morin and Phillipe Myers. So, you might earmark certain guys to play for you at the NHL but until they’re ready to do it, you still need to stock the system. This will be last time to get two picks.
Let's say Hextall decides to keep both picks, who are some potential players at No. 14?
They’d love to get center Barrett Hayton. However, he might not be there at 14.
Hayton is a greasy and good two-way center. He played for and had a lot of success with, Sault Ste. Marie and was a teammate of Morgan Frost (the Flyers No. 27 pick last year). All those things are important. They’d love to get him but I don’t think he will be there. There is such need for centers in the NHL that other teams will say, ‘We need to get this guy.’
The guy I think could be there is K’Andre Miller. He’s a big defenseman (6-foot-3, 199 pounds) and very strong. If you stand next to this guy, he’s a big athlete that could put on even more muscle. He was a forward who switched to defense two years ago but you wouldn’t know it by watching him. His brain still needs to catch up as a defenseman, but I think that he’s a guy with a ton of potential.
They might get him at 19. You never know what is going to happen. If there is a run on defensemen taken and you can’t get Hayton, they might take Miller at 14 because he might not be there at 19. I love his puck retrieval and his speed is really good. I think he can be better than Darnell Nurse – that is his upside.
Anyone else at No. 19?
It could be defenseman Jared McIsaac (6-1, 194). He played in the Quebec Hockey League and is a great defender. Some feel his offense will not be great at the NHL and I don’t disagree. However, he can move the puck and plays intelligent hockey. He can be one of those guys who could be part of a very good second pairing and can be an enticing pick.
More defensemen added to the system?
I know the knee-jerk reaction of fans is we have a ton of defensemen. But with all of the injuries, do you really have a ton of D or are you in a situation where you can get one more guy like this?
Defensemen and centers are the most valuable players in NHL now. You can take one with that kind of talent (like McIsaac), or sit on one you already have. What happens if injuries occur and you eventually need to go to free agency to get a defenseman in a couple of years? It’s going to cost you a lot more money instead of paying a young defenseman much less money. That is why I think you still get a defenseman – just to make sure.
No one gets criticized for having too much of one thing. Look at Nashville. Does anyone say they have too much defense? No. McIsaac is one of those guys who gets the puck out of and then into the zone quickly. I think that guy is still very valuable. He plays the way you want a defenseman to play in the NHL.
Defenseman Johnny Tychonik (5-11, 177) is another name to keep an eye on. He is going to North Dakota, where current Flyers coach Dave Hakstol coached. Hak will surely give a call to his former assistant, who now is the head coach, to get some information. They watched him at the combine, and I watched him in an all-star game and thought he was really good. He’s very offensive, has an aloof personality, and a great one-timer and wrist shot. If they are looking for that very offensive guy, they might go after him.
Martin Kaut (6-1, 185) is another guy. He is a right winger and Czech native who does a lot of things well. He got diagnosed with a heart ailment but they fixed it and everyone says he is fine. Still, he may drop. He is also another guy that may not take as long as others to get to the NHL since he’s been playing vs. men in Czech elite league.