Flyers enter 2016 NHL draft with 11 picks, open mind to make moves

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — It’s one thing to advance five spots in the NHL draft.

It’s another to catapult 13 places into the top five.

Yet that’s what Flyers general manager Ron Hextall — along with a half-dozen far more desperate clubs — has been trying to do this week in advance of Friday’s first round.

Recall last June at the draft, the Flyers traded with Toronto to move up five slots from No. 29 to No. 24 to select forward Travis Konecny.

Hextall knows that getting into the top five is a long shot. Given the relative sameness of players after the No. 5 spot, however, he could stay or drop back.

“We’ll look at everything,” Hextall said. “Depending who’s on the board, do we move back? That’s the question that I don’t know myself right now.

“I don’t know how the board is going to fall. I believe we’ll pick at 18. That’s my belief. You never know.”

His scouts believe there will be an excellent player at No. 18 regardless.

“Our feeling is at 18 we’re going to get a real good prospect and I believe beyond our pick there’s still good players there,” Hextall said.

“So no matter what, we feel like we’re going to get a good player no matter what the order goes and a lot of it is to see how the board falls.”

Hextall said Thursday night that attempts to move up had failed.

“If I were a betting man," he said, "I’d say nothing is going to happen.”

Among those players who could be available at 18: forwards Kieffer Bellows, Luke Kunin, Riley Tufte and Julien Gauthier.

Keep in mind, the Flyers have never drafted a collegian with their first-round pick, but they have drafted players from the U.S. National program (James van Riemsdyk in 2007), which Bellows is part of.

Then again, given Shayne Gostisbehere’s performance this past season, you have to wonder if the Flyers' draft thinking has changed in regards to collegians.

“We’re drafting the best player whether college or a junior, high school,” Hextall said. “We’re still taking the best player. Doesn’t matter.”

With the addition of Arizona’s fourth-round pick to complete the Chris Pronger/Sam Gagner deal from last summer, the Flyers have 11 picks, the most Hextall has had during the short time he’s been the club’s GM (see story).

Six of those picks are jammed between the second and fourth rounds.

Gostisbehere was a third-rounder (78th overall) in 2012, and he blossomed quickly into a Calder Trophy finalist, finishing runner-up to Chicago’s Artemi Panarin (see story).

Left wing Oskar Lindblom, taken in the fifth round (138th) in 2014, had a productive season in Europe last year with Brynas IF in the Swedish Elite League, plus the U-20 World Junior Championship. He then came over here to play eight games with the Phantoms and recorded seven points off an amateur tryout contract.  

Hextall is hoping that with so many picks, he discovers another future NHLer buried.

“There’s not a lot hidden, but they are there,” he said. “Lindblom is an example. He was a later-round pick right now that looks like he’s got a pretty good chance of playing. He’s a really good prospect that was picked late in the draft.

“There are players out there that you could hit on. Our guys lately I feel have done a pretty good job. Look at Ghost, he was a third-round pick. Pretty darn good third-round pick. So there are guys out there. Our [scouts] have to try to be better than everybody else.”

Last summer, the Flyers went into the draft knowing they needed goalie depth. What they didn’t foresee was drafting three of them.

They’re already overstocked on defense and need forwards, particularly wingers, out of this draft (see story). With 11 picks, unearthing one truly skilled winger shouldn’t be an issue.

“In a perfect world, maybe we pick one goalie, two or three defensemen and the rest forwards,” Hextall said. “Well, we don’t live in a perfect world, but that’s kind of the outline going in.

“But again if there’s a defenseman there late in the draft, and we’ve drafted a couple already or three or four already, and he’s there and we like him that much, you can’t go by guys you like that much.”

No one is quite sure of the drop-off in this draft after 18. Unlike last year, when there were so many quality first-rounders that the trickle-down effect carried into the second round.

Whether those later players become impact players is another unknown.

“It depends on what you call impact, but yeah, we believe we’re going to get a good player,” Hextall said. “We really do. We’ve got a group of four or five guys. It’s a big group.

“We’re at 18 and someone’s going to jump out and get picked before everybody thinks they’re going to get picked. Guys will fall. There’s probably more guys that will fall than we have in our group.”

One thing that Hextall would not mind doing is orchestrating a trade at the draft for a proven, scoring winger, even though it will likely require parting with one of his coveted defensive prospects.

Hextall said last week he would entertain such offers and might even be willing to roll the dice and trade for the negotiating rights to a potential free agent.

"I got a couple calls," Hextall said, adding nothing piqued his interest. "I'm not going to tell you about them."

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