When Ron Hextall took over the Philadelphia Flyers in 2014, he set out to rebuild this team from the ground up. He began with the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, one in which he made selections across the board that could positively impact this franchise for years to come.
The fruits of Hextall’s first draft are finally blooming. Hextall made some noise when he selected Travis Sanheim with his first pick as general manager and the Sanheim pick sent a message to Flyers fans and to the rest of the league. As long as Hextall was in charge, he would be unafraid to go with a player he believed was the right one. He would build a team based on skill, speed and smarts.
But he didn’t just apply this philosophy to his first-round picks, though; he kept it going in the later rounds too.
Late-round gems are tough to find, but Hextall and his staff seem to find at least one in every year. During the 2014 Draft, Hextall snatched up a defenseman bound for Bowling Green and a teenager from Sweden. One of the stories of this year’s training camp involved those two picks.
Mark Friedman was a player who flew under the radar a bit until the Rookie Game this fall. The former Bowling Green blue liner showed that Philippe Myers is not the only young, up and coming defenseman playing in Lehigh Valley.
Friedman played three years for the Falcons before he signed an entry-level deal with the Flyers. He is by no means a big defenseman- the tale of the tape puts him at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds- but don’t mistake his size for his style of play. Friedman brings it every shift.
“I like to think of myself as pretty strong. I like to jump into plays as well, but people don’t expect me to be physical and when I do they’re caught by surprise, that’s who I am.”
He steadily increased his role into a well-rounded defenseman and became an all-situations type of player for Bowling Green. Friedman also showed great progression during his past two development camps and has thrown himself into a crowded discussion involving defensive prospects in the Flyers organization.
You may have figured out by now that the aforementioned “teenager from Sweden” that Hextall drafted is Oskar Lindblom.
Lindblom’s talents are no stranger to Flyers fans at this point. There’s not a doubt in my mind he’ll be back in Philadelphia at some point before the season is over. His stint with the Phantoms will mostly benefit his transition to the smaller rinks of the North American game, and it’s doubtful that he needs much time down in the AHL. A couple of years ago, Lindblom pointed out how an increased role helped his development in Sweden, and that could be the case early on this year as he’ll see a big role with the Phantoms.
“Last year, I played maybe a maximum of 13 minutes per game,” Lindblom said. “Now I can play 18 minutes and get time in powerplay. The more you play, the more you develop, and the more experience you get. I feel physically stronger and can hold off better in the close control along the borders also. It gives confidence.”
As a encore to his first draft, Hextall came back and selected Mikhail Vorobyev in the fourth round of the 2015 Entry Draft. Vorobyev – an under-the-radar prospect for years – asserted himself as a player to watch for the Phantoms and as a potential call up this season.
Despite less than stellar numbers, Vorobyev only impressed when he played among his peers. His coming out party as the assist king at the World Junior Championships only furthered the excitement for Vorobyev’s first season in North America. He has displayed excellent vision and passing ability during his limited playing time.
Vorobyev had an assist in his debut over the weekend. He helped create a turnover in the neutral zone, which led to a goal by Greg Carey.
He’s been given opportunities to thrive on the power play with the Phantoms and has done well with that so far, including an assist in his first two games with the team. Ron Hextall told reporters that it was an incredibly tough decision to send Vorobyev packing, but hinted that the fans would likely see him later this season.
Any team with Stanley Cup aspirations has to find those hidden gems in the draft. Look at each of the championship teams from the past few years. Each of them has mid to late-round players contributing in a big way. With the push the prospects have given this year, the Flyers are well on their way to becoming a legit contender.