The time is now.
While the Philadelphia Flyers are still in the midst of a major franchise transition, they have reached the pinnacle of the youth movement. Nolan Patrick (18), Oskar Lindblom (21), Sam Morin (22), Robert Hagg (22), Travis Sanheim (21) and even potentially Philippe Myers (20) will be gunning for the holes purposely left unfilled on the roster heading into training camp.
Add in Travis Konecny (20), sure-bet Jordan Weal (24), the improved Scott Laughton (23) and Mike Vecchione (24) on the front end and studs Shayne Gostisbehere (24) and Ivan Provorov (20) on the blue line, and you’ve got yourself a full-on youth movement.
One thing that GM Ron Hextall has preached since his arrival is patience. It takes time to build a perennial contender in today’s National Hockey League, as stocking up on prospects and draft picks and giving them time to grow is really the only way to do it. Hextall has done just that while also stripping the club of a lot of dead weight over the last few years and avoiding the expensive mistake.
Heading into camp this year, the savvy front office exec has the Flyers in a perfect position to allow the prospects to earn their stay at the NHL level. It’s not just for the sake of doing it, though; there are a handful of young players that he thinks are ready to provide valuable minutes for the Flyers and won’t harm their own development in the process.
“Our feeling is now that our young guys have shown enough where they’re going to get an opportunity to make our team,” Hextall said via NHL.com “There was a point a couple years ago we had some young names but they weren’t ready to play, not ready to make us a better team. We feel like we’re at that point where they’re going to get an opportunity now.”
He may be directly referring to Morin and his strong training camp three years back, or he may not be. Morin was one of the final cuts before the season began that year, almost convincing Hextall and the rest of the Flyers front office to keep him with the big club to start that season. (Fun fact: Jay Rosehill, Chris VandeVelde and Rob Zepp rounded out the rest of the final cuts that year. God bless.)
In the end, Morin went back to juniors and had another successful season that ended in him being crowned a QMJHL champion along with his Rimouski Océanic teammates. He spent the next two -aka the last two- seasons sculpting his game in the professional ranks with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and now seems poised for his full-time opportunity with the Flyers.
He’s not alone from the 2013 draft class, either.
Robert Hagg, a second-round pick from Paul Holmgren’s final draft class that year, has also taken the longer road of development but is better for it. Unlike Morin, though, the Swedish defenseman had to adjust to the North American game over the last few years.
Hagg isn’t as hyped as a lot of the other prospects in the system, but the 22-year-old is now one of the frontrunners to land a spot on the NHL roster should he have a strong training camp. He will be competing against the Morin and guys like Sanheim and Myers, who are set to make their run at spots as well.
Sanheim was Hextall’s first-ever draft pick as GM of the Flyers and may have already outgrown his role in the American Hockey League after just one full season. Add in the undrafted talents of Myers and you have yourself one hell of a group to watch battle for spots that are actually open at training camp this year.
Once you consider Patrick’s surefire talent and chances of making the roster and Lindblom’s arrival in North America after growing his game dramatically in Sweden over the last two years, it’s easy to get excited about hitting fast forward into the future this offseason.
“We have a number of guys for two spots,” said Hextall. “Who’s going to step up? I don’t know who’s going to step up, it’s up to them to do it. We’ve got a spot or two up front, we’ve got a spot or two on defense. It’s up to our kids to come in and prove that they can help make us a better team.”
And those spots opened up at the perfect time by design.
While it was frustrating as hell to watch guys like VandeVelde, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning get every opportunity while a load of young talent was waiting in the wings, the prospects all getting a chance to develop under the organization’s guide but at their own pace is important.
Now, with a handful of the most seasoned, talented prospects ready for their chance, Hextall has left the door open for them in hopes that several of them barge through it at the same time. Will there be growing pains with four or five rookies on the roster? Sure. Hell, even Provorov needed some time to adjust before quickly becoming the best defenseman on the Flyers. However, outside of Patrick, these aren’t teenagers.
These are young men in their early 20’s that were allotted “extra” time to grow physically, mentally and on the ice. And now, mostly by design with the help of a little lottery luck this summer, the Flyers are ready to let the prospects loose upon the NHL and push this franchise into the future with an injection of youth.
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