With NHL shift to ‘quick game,' Flyers aiming for skill, speed in 2016 draft


It’s no secret the Flyers need to get bigger and quicker up front.

Some of that can be achieved during this weekend’s NHL draft in Buffalo, New York.

If you watched the league’s conference finals and Stanley Cup Final between Pittsburgh and San Jose, you saw games that moved at a lightning-quick pace, up and down the ice, minutes on end without stoppage.

Time and space are a premium and the kind of young players who provide or take away such are coveted by every NHL club.

“Years ago, there was so much time and space,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. “Now with the back pressure and taking away a guy’s time and space, it’s a quick game. Don’t forget speed doesn’t only come from the individual player; speed comes from moving the puck quick.”

A little speed changes the perception of how people see your club. The Flyers aren’t slow but they aren’t in the same hemisphere as the Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning in terms of speed or puck movement.

Last June in Sunrise, Florida, Hextall orchestrated a trade with Toronto, moving his pick at No. 29 in the first round and No. 61 (second round) to the Maple Leafs for their pick at No. 24. The Flyers choose fleet-footed forward Travis Konecny.

“I’ll go back to L.A. there when Darryl Sutter came on board and we started moving the puck quick, we went from what people thought was a slow team to a fast team,” Hextall recalled.

“The puck moves faster than players. So if you are a possession team who moves the puck quick and hits people in stride when our team executes, we’re a pretty fast team. When we don’t execute, we’re not.

“If you start putting pucks in people’s feet, it slows everyone’s momentum down, slows your speed down, slows your pressure down. Obviously if you have good players who can execute, you’re going to play a fast game, but it’s an attack game now.”

The Flyers' emphasis this draft will be finding larger, skilled forwards with speed and good puck possession skills.

Within their organization, they are lacking scoring forwards. That can be seen just by the fact that they again didn’t have a single scoring winger to recall from the Phantoms last season.

Regardless of what the organization says publicly at the draft, the Flyers need an impact forward — not a defenseman — this year and it begins Friday when they have the 18th overall pick.

“If you start getting specific and trying to fill needs, you can miss,” Hextall countered. “So we want to take the player that’s got partially the best chance of playing and partially the best player.

“There’s a little bit of a mix there that we talk about among our scouts, and pick the guy with the best chance of playing combined with the highest upside. So there’s a real feel there that our guys have done a good job at, and they’ve got to continue.”

If Hextall could get high enough to pluck Matthew Tkachuk or Pierre-Luc Dubois, he might take a shot. The Flyers have 10 picks in this draft — one more than they had last year. Toronto has 11 picks.

“Last year, we moved up to get Konecny, but if you asked me the day before or quite frankly an hour before, we don’t know if that’s there or not,” Hextall said. “So, it’s really hard to gauge what we’re going to do.

“Yeah, we’ll try and move up. I’d love to acquire [a higher] first, but I don’t think that’s possible.”

The Flyers' best pick ever (and only) at No. 18, incidentally, was none other than current Comcast SportsNet hockey analyst Bill Clement in 1970 — but that was in the second round. Clement won two Stanley Cups.

Historically, the Flyers have done well with picks outside the top 10 and later: Simon Gagne (22) in 1998; Justin Williams (28) in 2000; Jeff Carter (11) and Mike Richards (24) in 2003; and Claude Giroux (22) in 2006.

“There’s still hidden gems,” Hextall said.

And the Flyers need to unearth one.

Contact Us