10 observations from the 2016 NHL draft


Another year, another draft well done by Flyers general manager Ron Hextall.

Hextall entered the weekend with 11 picks, including five in the first three rounds. By the time the Flyers' name was called at No. 18, he'd traded down and added another second-rounder.

The trade: No. 18 and No. 79 to Winnipeg for No. 22 and No. 36. More on this later.

In all, the Flyers made 10 selections this weekend. They needed to stock the cupboard with forward talent, and they accomplished their goal by adding seven (see story).

It was another eventful draft for the orange and black and the league. It's always a fun weekend for hockey's die-hard fans. Now, the offseason moves on to free agency (July 1).

But before we get there, let's break down the 2016 NHL draft with 10 observations.

1. I fell in love with the idea of the Flyers' drafting Kieffer Bellows at 18.

So when their name came up in the first round and Bellows was still on the board, I thought it was best case scenario for the Flyers. They'll finally get a scoring winger.

Bellows, the son of former NHL sniper, Brian Bellows, fit the mold of what the orange and black needed. He plays wing, has size and is a power scorer. Sounded like a perfect fit.

But it's clear Hextall didn't see Bellows head and shoulders above the available prospects and saw more value in moving down four spots and adding another second-rounder.

The initial disappointment of the Flyers' passing up Bellows was quickly swallowed up by reason. Sometimes we fall in love with certain players and forget the bigger picture.

In the mid-to-late first round — where the Flyers were picking — it's a crapshoot, so the difference between a Kieffer Bellows, a Julien Gauthier and a German Rubtsov isn't much.

Hextall's decision to step back to No. 22 and pick up another second-rounder carried more value than drafting one prospect at No. 18. Reason outweighs emotion all the time.

2. When the Flyers' name came up again at 22, all the pins were lined up.

It appeared the orange and black were going to grab Max Jones, a power forward who was linked to the team heading into the draft.

Both Gauthier and Jones were possible at 18, so to think the Flyers were able to move back to 22, pick up another second-rounder and still grab one of them was intriguing. (Gauthier was drafted at No. 21 by Carolina.)

Instead, Hextall called the name of German Rubtsov, a center whose stock may have fallen because of the Russian doping scandal. It was yet another best player available pick.

Rubstov is a unique Russian prospect because he plays a much more North American game. He's strong on the puck, wins puck battles, skates well and plays a 200-foot game.

He's going to fit in well with what Hextall is building and sounds like a fit for head coach Dave Hakstol's system, which is important to remember here, too.

It's another exciting piece of the Flyers' future. We know about the defensive prospects. We know about Travis Konecny. And now we'll quickly find out about Rubtsov, too.

3. Some initial worry about the Rubtsov pick was the Flyers' glut of centers, which is a fair assessment. There can be a situation where you have too many centers.

But there shouldn't be much concern about Rubtsov's position. Konecny plays center and wing, and the Flyers envision him playing right wing in the NHL.

If the Flyers view Konecny as a winger at the NHL level, then Rubtsov's being a center doesn't really matter. Let's take a look down the road a few years here.

Say Rubtsov doesn't come over for two more seasons — when his contract in the KHL expires. That gives the Flyers Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Rubtsov as their 1-2-3 centers.

Who's on the wing? Konecny, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek and Brayden Schenn — assuming he signs a long-term extension here this summer. That's a really promising top six.

And then Rubtsov gives you a third-line center who can score. Depth is big, and with the BPA at the Flyers' pick this year being a forward, it's all coming together for Hextall.

4. We have to applaud the Flyers' first of three second-round picks. Pascal Laberge was considered a first-round talent by many but fell into the orange and black's hands at 36.

Laberge penned an essay for The Players' Tribute on Thursday that shed some details on how difficult of a year it has been for the 18-year-old. It puts things into perspective.

You can read it here. Laberge's stepmother died last September because of metastatic cancer, and then his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer shortly after. All of this while Laberge was working hard to accomplish his dream of playing in the NHL.

As for the hockey side, Laberge is a good fit with the Flyers. He swarms the puck and plays with a bit of a physical edge. He's got some good offensive instincts, too.

In a few years, I have a feeling we'll look back at this pick as a steal.

5. Wade Allison is a bit of a project, but one Flyers fans should be excited about.

Allison, the Flyers' third second-round pick (52nd overall), is a big, power forward type who describes himself as a player who likes to drive to the net and shoot the puck.

The one knock on Allison that needs improvement is his skating, which he admitted Saturday. If his skating improves and he continues to grow, the Flyers can strike here.

He'll do so under Andy Murray at Western Michigan University. The Flyers hope their former assistant coach can help groom Allison into an NHL player during his time at WMU.

6. It didn't take long for the first surprise of the draft, when Columbus drafted Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi at No. 3. Dubois should shake out as a quality NHL player, but the Blue Jackets needed a superstar and Puljujarvi is going to be that.

Maybe Puljujarvi's minor knee surgery scared Jarmo Kekäläinen away. But the feeling here is Columbus completely whiffed at an opportunity to greatly improve its organization.

Edmonton strikes gold again. Puljujarvi goes to the Oilers to play with Connor McDavid. That's scary.

7. The draft has the reputation of being a place where blockbusters happen, but in recent years, it hasn't really been that way. There have been a few, but more smoke than fire.

Still, there was some movement in the first round Friday night. Washington acquired Lars Eller from Montreal and the Canadiens got Andrew Shaw from Chicago in a separate move.

We didn't see the blockbuster this year, but we saw seven trades in the first round and nine on Day 2, none of which fall under the blockbuster category.

There's always next year.

8. Sometimes a step backward is the best step forward. Calgary had a disappointing 2015-16 campaign after making the playoffs in the season before, but make no mistake here. The future is bright in Calgary. Last season, the Flames finished 26th in the league and earned themselves the No. 6 pick. It was a step backward for a rebuilding organization.

But let's look at perspective. It's important because of the Flyers' situation. The 2014-15 Flames team was not a playoff team yet squeaked its way into the postseason.

Sound familiar? It should. It's an accurate general description of the 2015-16 Flyers.

Now, Calgary adds a big, goal-scoring winger in Matthew Tkachuk, who adds size to a team that needs it and some flare, too. Tkachuk was expected to be a top-five pick but fell to the Flames. In this space last year, I praised Calgary for a strong draft, too. This team is on the rise.

And Tkachuk wasn't even the best news for Calgary this weekend. Moments after drafting the winger from London, the Flames acquired goalie Brian Elliot from the St. Louis Blues.

Book it. The Calgary Flames will be a playoff team in 2016-17 and may even win a series.

9. One of my favorite parts of professional sports drafts in today's age of social media is seeing people retweet old tweets from players. It happens in all four sports.

This weekend's NHL draft featured the more of the same. My personal favorite comes from Boston Bruins first-round pick Charlie McAvoy, who "hates the bruins so much," according to a now-deleted tweet from 2013.

A runner-up comes from the Flyers' Allison. He doesn't like people who pour milk before pouring cereal, which I agree with. Who does that?

10. The Steven Stamkos watch is officially on. Get your popcorn ready, sit back and watch the Sabres throw "geography" at Stamkos because that is always the deciding factor when superstars decide to leave their original team. But seriously, I think he goes to Buffalo.

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