Flyers still building, but Hextall’s blueprint taking shape

It's been a week since Ron Hextall completed his fifth trade on the path to freeing up cap space and starting to help the Flyers turn the corner from building the future to watching it progress to the NHL and form what is hoped to become a contender.

But in order to fully understand where everything is now, you have to go back to the first trade that started it all and the result of that trade.

It was on Feb. 27 when the Flyers traded Kimmo Timonen to the Chicago Blackhawks. It proved to be a win-win deal. The Flyers got a second-round pick in 2015, which they used to move up to draft Travis Konecny, and also acquired a fourth-round pick in 2016, which conditionally became a second-round pick with the Blackhawks Stanley Cup run.

Timonen got to end his career with the highest of highs.

But in doing so, Flyers fans, who intently watched and cheered as Timonen got the farewell he deserved, also saw a glimpse of Hextall's vision, to construct a team that could be there, hoisting the Stanley Cup someday.

Picture this: it's the start of the 2017-18 season. The Flyers are still led by Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Sean CouturierMatt Read and Steve Mason. These are the veterans, the core pieces that will have been long-time members of the Flyers and through the entire building process with the big club.

Now add in a whole host of other names: Shayne Gostisbehere, Scott Laughton, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Anthony Stolarz, Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier and Konecny.

What do all of those names have in common? Every single one was a Flyers draft pick, some under Hextall's watchful eye. That's 10 prospects, only two of which are playing at the NHL level now, that could be on the roster in less than two years. And if you're keeping score at home, that's 16 names out a possible 23 maximum that you should see sometime in the next two years at the NHL level.

The future is coming to Philadelphia and fast.

When you look at the Eastern Conference champions from a season ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning, you not only find a team that was built primarily through the draft, but a team that made selections in the late rounds that paid off as well.

Nikita Kucherov was drafted 58th overall. Alex Killorn was drafted 77th overall. Ben Bishop was drafted 85th overall. Nikita Nesterov was selected 148th overall. Ondrej Palat was taken with the 208th overall pick. Tyler Johnson went undrafted.

Of the 10 Flyers prospects listed above, five are not first-round picks. In fact, the Flyers had only two first-round picks between 2006 — when they selected Giroux — and 2011 — when they selected Couturier: 2007 when they selected James van Riemsdyk, now with the Toronto Maple Leafs, second overall and 2008, when they selected Luca Sbisa, now with the Vancouver Canucks, 19th overall.

Back to the 2015 Chicago Blackhawks, who had 11 players they originally drafted on the roster.

Making key pickups — whether for a star free-agent scorer or for a key cog to the machine like Timonen — is bound to happen, which is why you limit the number of players here as part of the blueprint and leave certain ones with less than certain futures off it. But it is through the draft and development that champions are formed.

To that point, look at what Hextall has done already. He's got the current core in players who were drafted and developed by the time he arrived. He's got the years after in players who were drafted — some by him, some not — but developed by him under the oft-preached method of patience. And, through wise trades, he has 10 draft picks this season and nine next season already lined up, in an effort to continue molding a future that could be prosperous for a long time.

It is a blueprint that Hextall learned as an assistant GM under Dean Lombardi, ironically his trading partner on the trade last Wednesday that sent Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to Los Angeles and has continued to mold as teams like the Kings, Blackhawks and Lightning have found ways to make it work.

And if Hextall keeps the plans in motion, perhaps the Flyers are next to join that group.

Kevin Durso is managing editor for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.