With their playoff odds abysmal and the season winding to a disappointing close, the clamoring for youth on the Philadelphia Flyers roster has become louder.
Fans watched Ivan Provorov snipe the game’s first goal last night, then got to celebrate as Travis Konecny scored the game-tying goal with less than 45 seconds left in the third period. The two rookies injected a ton of life into this offseason and training camp, hyping up a fan base searching for some positive change to grasp onto after a mostly frustrating, at times embarrassing, playoff series loss to the Washington Capitals.
The hunger for youth and talent was satisfied for the evening, but remains a big topic in any conversation about the team these days. Ron Hextall’s rebuilding of the franchise is well underway, but at a pace that has many impatient despite the need for the opposite from the faithful who are finally freed from the days of overspending on every aging free agent or trading assets for post-prime bodies.
The Flyers aren’t going for the Cup every season right now like they used to; instead they are methodically rebuilding the organization so that youth will grow into the core and be continuously replaced by other homegrown youth.
“We’re in a cap world. There’s 30 teams. There’s not a lot of players sitting out there that are going to come in at a low number,” Hextall told reporters on Monday. “That’s the game today and that is why I believe in building an organization through draft and development and bring your players up.”
“Have your depth players be your young players. You get two or three injuries, your young players come up and fill in and hopefully you don’t lose anything, and that is the direction we are headed. That is where we are right now. The Taylor Leiers of the world. If a defenseman, God forbid, gets hurt, we have our young guys coming up.”
As has been and will be the case with him, Hextall preaches patience. It’s definitely not always easy, particularly through some of the tougher, nearly unwatchable stretches of this season, but the reinforcements are in training with the affiliate that has finally returned to prominence in the American Hockey League.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are 40-19-4 and are looking for their first playoff berth in seven seasons.
“It’s very important to let your kids develop in a winning atmosphere,” Hextall said. “It’s important. The other side of that is you want your kids to have a big chunk of the pie and that’s how it is in Allentown. We’ve got a good team, but there’s quite a few kids down there with a big chunk of the pie.”
That chunk of the pie is the playing time and game situations that the young guys just wouldn’t see at the NHL level for some time.
“They’re playing regular shifts, power play, penalty kill. That’s important. You don’t want to overload too much with veterans so that the kids get pushed down and don’t get in roles. There’s that fine line with handing it to them and making them earn it,” explained Hextall.
Guys like Leier, Scott Laughton, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim and several other young guns are thriving together as a unit. While it’s enticing to think about and a lot more enjoyable to watch, tearing apart a good thing with the Phantoms in the thick of playoff hunt and throwing them to the wolves with the fading Flyers might not be the best move.
Trust me, I want to see what the kids can do.
I want Leier and Laughton and Bardreau to be the guys filling depth spots, not Chris VandeVelde or the form of Dale Weise that we’ve seen for most of the season. But as we inch further and further down the timeline of the rebuild, those younger names will begin to pop up more and more as replacements and, eventually, full-time role players or better at the NHL level (Jordan Weal and Nick Cousins come to mind).
For now, they are likely better served winning hockey games in a good, ultra-competitive environment where they can play a ton of minutes and gain that crucial experience in the right spot in the lineup instead of being forced into a more harsh situation up top.
Here’s the rest of the video of Hextall’s meeting with the media this afternoon.
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