Time will tell if passing on Kieffer Bellows for German Rubtsov will be right or wrong move


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Most times, it takes several years to properly gauge whether an NHL club had a good, bad or even great draft.
Yet even Ron Hextall admitted after this year’s draft ended Saturday that it would difficult to think the Flyers' top two picks this weekend — forwards German Rubtsov and Pascal Laberge — measure up equally to last year’s top two, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.
“We were [No.] 7 last year and now 18 to 22,” the Flyers' general manager said. “Given where we were at, we did really well. The first four guys — shocked they were there that deep. We thought maybe two of three we get or one for sure.
“So we were happy with our whole draft. I am not focusing on our top four guys … you are kind of holding your breath and those two guys were there. We felt we did pretty well.”
Hextall’s goal was to stock up on bigger, more skilled forwards, which the organization is sorely lacking.
The Flyers went in with 11 picks, flipped one for a pick next year and came away with seven forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. They added size and skill, but they didn’t pluck a pure goal scorer.
Rubstov is an all-around center. He’s not Kieffer Bellows, a 50-goal left winger the Flyers should have taken. Both Hextall and Chris Pryor, the club’s director of scouting, said going into the draft that “all Bellows does is score goals.”
Exactly. He’s one-dimensional.
And goal scoring is the one dimension the Flyers desperately needed. All Danny Briere did was score goals, as well. Where does it say every forward on your team has to be a complete, two-way player?
That’s why Hextall stunned people by trading down from No. 18 to 22, thereby leaving Bellows for the Islanders to select at No. 19.
Time will tell whether the Flyers' drop-down trade with Winnipeg was the right move.
Hextall believes the team got everything it wanted in this draft, regardless of how people feel about bypassing Bellows. Rubtsov was ranked the fifth best international skater by NHL Central Registry.
“We wanted speed, we wanted size,” Hextall said. “We wanted skill. Obviously, it’s not in every player. But we feel like we got all three elements. We had enough picks.
“It was a lot easier to zero in on. Some of it is combinations like Laberge and Rubtsov and [Wade] Allison. Big guys. Good skaters with speed and skill. We’re excited. Excited about the draft. I say it every year.”
The top four Hextall referenced were Rubtsov, plus his three picks in the second round. Laberge, taken at No. 36, is a 6-foot-1 center/winger who overcame personal tragedy to become a mentally-tough, top U-18 prospect at the world juniors.
Allison, taken at No. 52, is a 6-2 right wing, who had 25 goals in 56 games for Tri-City in the USHL. He’s enrolled at Western Michigan University for the fall.
Carter Hart, taken before him at No. 48, was the Flyers' lone goalie selection. He’s 6-1. Central Registry had him ranked second among North American goalies and he ended up being the first goalie taken in the draft.
Hart played in 63 of his club’s 72 games — the Everett Silvertips of the WHL — with a 2.14 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
Hextall said he envisions him as a No. 1 goaltender in the near future. 
Every club tries to locate a sleeper and the Flyers think they might have found one with their last pick. Defenseman David Bernhardt, taken in the seventh round at 199, played for Djurgardens IF in the Swedish Hockey League.
European scout Joakim Grundberg spotted him.
“Those kids in the back part of your draft, there are certain elements to their game you grab onto and certain things they need to get better at,” Pryor said.
“Whether it be getting stronger or a little more consistent. Some of those kids at the back part of our draft, our guys have seen a lot of those guys and usually have a real good feel for them.
“Sometimes those kids slide back a bit and you grab onto them. Like the Bernhardt kid. Joakim saw a lot of him. You know there are some inconsistencies there, but a lot there to like. The Swedes invited him to their Under-20 camp this summer. They think there is something there.”
In a few years, the Flyers should find out if their hunch paid off.
Free agency
It opens on Friday — July 1. The interview period has begun and Hextall said he might sit down with a few people.
Hextall again emphasized that given he still has not re-signed some of his own key players, such as Brayden Schenn and Ryan White, he has salary cap restraints. He was unable to move any veteran players at this draft to create cap space.
Schenn, who had a breakout season (26 goals, 59 points) should get close to $5 million even though he is restricted. The Flyers have less than $12 million cap space. When it’s all said and done, they might have just $6 million left and Hextall wants at least $2 million reserve on his cap.
Barring moving salary via a trade that implies the most the Flyers can spend in free agency is $4 million on a top nine forward.
“If we can add someone for the right term and right price, we’ll do it,” Hextall said.

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