Re-Drafting Ron Hextall’s First Round Picks

There are many ways to describe Ron Hextall’s tenure as the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, but very few of them positive. One of the more controversial aspects of his run was his drafting ability. He postured as the smartest man in the room when it came to selecting players, often looking for a diamond in the rough instead of the smart play.

With the benefit of hindsight, Hextall’s drafting isn’t exactly aging well. He had some hits, which is expected when you have 41 picks over five seasons, but his first round picks, despite most cracking the NHL, left much to be desired. Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but what if he could do it all again? What are better options at the positions the Flyers picked?

2014- Travis Sanheim (17)

Travis Sanheim has become a regular defenseman in the Flyers’ lineup as he closes in on 300 NHL games, but he’s nothing more than an average defenseman at best and a complete disaster at worst. The 2014 draft wasn’t packed with all-star talent, but it was filled with many players that are regulars in the NHL today, and quite a few were better options than Sanheim at 17.

Other options at 17- Alex Tuch (18) David Pastrnak (25) Thatcher Demko (36)

-Forward Alex Tuch was drafted by then-Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and famously traded to Vegas during the expansion draft. He made his full-time NHL debut with the Golden Knights and has been a solid middle-six forward, hitting the 20-goal, 50-point plateau during the 2018-19 season.

-David Pastrnak would’ve been by far the best pick after Sanheim. He was taken 25th and has gone on to score four 30+ goal seasons including a 48-goal, 95-point season in 2019-20. He was the number five ranked European skater in 2014 and probably fell a few spots due to his smaller size at just 5’10, 165lbs.

-Ron Hextall eventually filled up the goaltending pipeline, but didn’t start drafting the position until the following year. Thatcher Demko was the second goalie taken in the draft and is one of the best at the NHL level. Demko is now the guy in Vancouver after slowly being worked into the role over the last few seasons. He has a career 2.89 goals against average and .912 save percentage in 81 NHL games.

2015- Ivan Provorov (7) and Travis Konecny (24)

2015 was undoubtedly Hextall’s best draft year when it came to first round picks. Both Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny have become staples in the Flyers’ lineup over the last few seasons, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

Other options at 7- Mikko Rantanen (10) Matt Barzal (16) Thomas Chabot (18)

-Rantanen would probably be the next best player drafted after Provorov. He has become an offensive force in his six NHL seasons hitting the 30-goal plateau twice and coming close with 29 in another. He’s a very good player in his own right, but there is argument to be made than he has a bit of extra success being aligned with Nathan MacKinnon on a top-heavy Colorado Avalanche team.

-Barzal may be the best value pick in the first round at 16th overall. His game is incredibly dynamic when it comes to producing offense, and there’s a good chance we haven’t seen the best of him yet. He’s only hit the 20-goal mark once, but has 256 points in 297 games.

-If the Flyers were looking for another top defenseman in that draft, Thomas Chabot is your guy. He’s been the leader of an otherwise abysmal Senators blueline. All things considered, he’s as close to duplicating Ivan Provorov as you can get, both size, offensively, and overall playing style.

Other option at 24- Anthony Beauvillier (28) Sebastian Aho (35) Mackenzie Blackwood (42)

-In terms of offensive output, Anthony Beauvillier may be a slight step behind Konecny, but his playoff numbers are where he truly shines, 29 points in 49 games, something that has been TK’s weakness so far, with just one goal and eight points in 22 games.

-Sebastian Aho, taken at 35, is the latest drafted all-star in 2015. He’s found great success as the star of the Carolina Hurricanes. He’s a two-time 30+ goal scorer and has finished over a point-per-game pace in two different seasons. As the Hurricanes continue to improve, so does Aho, and at just 24 years old, there’s a good chance he hasn’t played his best hockey yet.

-MacKenzie Blackwood is one of the highest touted young goalies in the league. He was the number one ranked North American goaltender entering the 2015 draft. He has been a stud for an otherwise underwhelming Devils team posting a career 2.81 goals against average and .912 save percentage in 108 career games.

2016- German Rubtsov (22)

2016 was an intersting draft year. It wasn’t exactly a deep draft, and some talent fell further than expected due to their smaller size. Ron Hextall drafted Russian forward German Rubtsov, who was involved in a doping scandal for Team Russia’s U18 team. He was a generally liked prospect at the time and was projected to go in the late first round, which he did, but there was mystery surrounding Rubtsov and what he was without the meldonium in his system.

Other options at 22- Jordan Kyrou (35) Alex DeBrincat (39) Samuel Girard (47)

– Jordan Kyrou just continues to get better for the St. Louis Blues. He spent parts of parts of two seasons in the AHL before making the Blues’ roster on a full-time basis during the 2020-21 season and posted 35 points in 55 games, and has become of the the top forwards in St. Louis during the 2021-22 season.

-The Flyers passed over DeBrincat twice, more famously when they picked Pascal Laberge at 36. DeBrincat, who rode shotgun with Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome during parts of his junior career, became a top scorer in the league on the Blackhawks with Patrick Kane. He comes in at just 5’7 and 165lbs, which ultimately led to his draft stock falling, but he has proved everyone wrong at the NHL level with a 30-goal season, a 40-goal season and 239 points in 301 games.

-Girard was the 38th ranked North American skater heading into the draft and likely fell a few spots thanks to his smaller size for a defenseman at 5’10 162lbs. He was originally drafted by the Predators but was traded to the Avalanche where he joined a young, very good blueline led by Cale Makar. He has succeeded riding shotgun with the Avs and found a bit of an offensive touch as well with 121 points in 282 games.

2017- Nolan Patrick (2) and Morgan Frost (27)

The 2017 draft was supposed to be the saving grace and turning point of the Flyers’ rebuild jumping from 13 to 2 thanks to the draft lottery. Not only have both picks fallen flat, but the quality of players surrounding them makes the failures an even harder pill to swallow. Nolan Patrick had plenty of positives as the consensus number one overall pick, but there were many question marks about his game as well, including injury concerns and his true love for the game, all of which the Flyers would find out about first hand over the following few years. Frost was a big producer during his junior campaign, but has struggled to find his footing at the professional level.

Other options at 2- Miro Heiskanen (3) Cale Makar (4) Elias Pettersson (5)

-Heiskanen was selected immediately after Patrick and has gone on to be one of the more promising young defensemen in the league. He was the top-ranked European skater entering the draft. Heiskanen has developed his game into one of the best all around defenseman in the league, with a solid presence in his own zone and a scoring touch.

-Makar has had some injury struggles in his young career, but when he’s healthy he is one of the best two-way defenseman in the game today. With 102 points in 110 games, he has become an elite player on the powerplay. If he can stay healthy for long stretches, at just 23 years old, he could be one of the best offensive defenseman of our era.

-Pettersson is a walking highlight reel as one of the league’s top goal scorers. He has yet to touch the 30-goal mark in his young career, but does have 68 goals and 162 points in 179 career games.

Other Options at 27- Henri Jokiharju (29) Eeli Tolvanen (30) Jason Robertson (35)

-Jokiharju may not be the most well known player, but he’s playing in his fourth NHL season already, something Morgan Frost can’t say. He’s still a work in progress, but had both an offensive and defensive upside and could be a top defenseman for the Sabres when all is said and done.

-Tolvanen is starting to find his footing after struggling to adapt to the NHL level after taking a few years to learn the North American game. He gained notoriety as a goalscorer in both juniors and the KHL. Upon his North American professional debut he scored 36 goals and 71 points in 121 games on the Predators’ AHL team. If he can rekindle his past offensive success in the NHL, he has a very high ceiling.

-Robertson burst onto the scene last season when he logged 17 goals and 45 points in 51 games during his rookie campaign and finished as the runner up in Calder voting. His size (6’3, 210lbs) and hockey IQ make him a formidable winger and in just his second NHL season at 22 years old, he hasn’t shown the best he has to offer yet.

2018- Joel Farabee (14) and Jay O’Brien (19)

One awesome pick and one not so awesome pick was the story of 2018. A lot of the players drafted this year are just starting to make their presence felt in the NHL, so the full scope of talent hasn’t been seen just yet.

Other options at 14- Ty Smith (17)

There aren’t many better options between Farabee at 14 and O’Brien at 19, but Devils defenseman Ty Smith would be the only suitable replacement. Smith was off to an impressive rookie season before a bout with covid, along with most of his Devils teammates, struggled to return to form when they returned to the ice. He’s a modern, undersized yet skilled defenseman who will post a decent amout of offense but could struggle on the defensive side. Time will tell how he will ultimately pan out.

Other options at 19- Ryan Merkley (21) K’Andre Miller (22) Alexander Romanov (38)

-Miller should’ve been the obvious choice at 19, but Hextall’s final first round pick encapsulated his entire draft history- trying to be the smartest man in room and falling flat on his face. Miller is in his second NHL season and, albeit struggling a bit, still possess a ton of potential as his skating is elite and has offensive upside. His ceiling is still a bit murky, but he has the opportunity to be one of the better two-way d-men in the league.

-Merkley had an outstanding junior career as an offensive defenseman highlighted by his 15-goal, 76-point campaign in 2019-20. He’s getting his first taste of NHL action this season with the Sharks and has one goal in six games. There is clearly a ton of upside to his game, but is far too raw to see the benefits just yet.

-Romanov was considered a reach at 38 in his draft year as he was ranked 115 in European skaters. He came over from Russia last season and proved he’s ready for the NHL. His physicality is impressive and his stay-at-home defensive talent is a lost art in the modern-day NHL. Romanov is not know for his scoring, but takes plenty of shots on net. He could be a top defenseman for the Canadiens for years to come.

By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

photo credit: nhl.com / bleacherreport.com

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