The NHL Draft has been like a holiday for Flyers fans and this season is really no different. The draft still marks an important offseason event for the Flyers.
But this year, it is different. It is Chuck Fletcher’s first draft as GM of the Flyers. And that means a new approach to the draft for the Flyers.
On the surface, things may not change that much this year. The Flyers are still showing that they value their top pick. They are still going to target the best player available in their eyes. Those are all things of past years.
But the different approach is even having the 11th overall pick on the table for the right price. It’s leaving every option open. It’s being willing to move a mid-round pick -- like Fletcher did with this year’s fifth-round pick to get the rights to Kevin Hayes, who signed with the Flyers this week -- that show that draft picks aren’t everything to building a team. It’s trading a second-round pick and a third-round pick next year for a veteran defenseman.
That’s the difference in the approach from the Ron Hextall era. Hextall preached about the importance of building through the draft. It is important, no doubt. But sometimes you can’t get caught up in keeping a fifth-round pick to select a prospect that might soon be forgotten when an established player is out there and available for that price.
It is the area where Hextall failed. He could draft well -- alongside Flyers draft guru Chris Pryor -- but was never willing to make that defining move, to put the trigger on a big trade or forgo a pick in the later rounds for a player that could add much-needed depth. If he ever did, he did it out of necessity -- like trading a 2018 conditional fourth-round pick (which became a third) and 2019 conditional fourth (which the Flyers retained) for goalie Petr Mrazek in the middle of a playoff push.
For Fletcher, it’s not the draft that gets put under a microscope, but the entire offseason. After all, he has what Hextall never did: cap space and a lot of it to work with.
Fletcher does carry the responsibility this offseason of locking up players that Hextall drafted, the likes of Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Travis Sanheim, who all figure to be key parts of the Flyers future. But his own additions through the draft become rather secondary for now.
There’s a reason trading the 11th overall pick is a hot topic. Fletcher has openly announced he would be aggressive. He has shown it in deals to acquire the rights to Hayes and sign him before free agency, in shipping defenseman Radko Gudas to Washington for veteran blueliner Matt Niskanen and in acquiring Justin Braun for two draft picks. But Fletcher’s work isn’t going to stop there.
The draft is the start of a hectic week-plus in the hockey offseason. There is a lot that can happen on the draft floor that isn’t related to the prospect being picked. With all GMs in one place, there is a lot that can happen. For an aggressive GM like Fletcher, the possibilities are endless.
It is a new beginning for the Flyers at the draft with Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr handling the duties. It may not change the approach on draft strategy early on, but it certainly makes the weekend a lot less predictable for the Flyers than in years past.
It makes draft day feel a lot different for the Flyers. For years, it was always about how the Flyers future would be impacted, and while some of Hextall’s picks have reached the NHL, it hasn’t translated to success. This year, the draft doesn’t feel like the continuation of the Flyers building, but more like go time for Fletcher to really do the work he needs to this offseason.