For several years, the draft has been an important part of the Flyers blueprint to building a contending team. Ron Hextall made sure of it, almost to a fault. His focus on the future caused him to lose sight on the team at the present, and it led to his demise as GM.

With Chuck Fletcher taking over nearly two years ago, he stated time and again that he didn’t want to undo what Hextall had done to that point. The pieces were in place and it was time to start to give those prospects a chance. Enter Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers and Carter Hart and Joel Farabee and a number of others who have received even just a taste of the NHL.

So the draft doesn’t lose its importance to the Flyers, even if they are now turning the corner from the building stages to the contending years. The Flyers pick 23rd overall in this week’s draft. It’s the latest they have picked in the first round since 2012, when Scott Laughton was selected 20th overall – German Rubtsov was picked 22nd overall in 2016, but the Flyers traded down from 18th overall that year.

Despite the later selection, the Flyers feel confident they are going to not only use the pick, but get talent with it.

“It’s a pretty good first round. We should have the ability to draft a pretty talented player with that pick,” Fletcher said last week. “I think we’re going in with the mindset that we are using the pick, but obviously when you talk to teams, if there’s something that we can do that would make our team better that would make sense, we’ll look at that.”

There are a few areas the Flyers could look to address. They have drafted a lot of centermen over the years and started to shift toward winger at forward in the last couple of years. There’s always a need to pad the blue line as well. So will the Flyers draft for need or will they just focus on best player available no matter the position? Fletcher said it would be about finding the best player in that spot, but isn’t opposed to moving around if things shake out differently.

“It’s really going to depend on how our list shapes up. You sort of look at it. There’s different groupings of players, even more so in how you number them. If you have a chance to move up into a higher group, you’ve got to look at it,” Fletcher said. “Having said that, based on our preliminary thoughts at 23, we think there’s going to be somebody we fall to us that we like. There may be several players that fall to us that we like, in which case we can entertain moving back. I don’t want to handicap it, but you’re more likely to move back than you are to move up, just based on how we feel the draft will break with respect to our list. It only takes one or two players to still be there that you thought might go in the top 12 or 15 and then you are looking for ways to get up. It’s a deep enough draft where I anticipate we’re going to be pretty happy with some of the players that are on the board.”

“If players are equal, we may look for different positions, different needs,” assistant GM Brent Flahr said. “At the same time, I think we have to go with best player going forward. We’ll look at a number of different scenarios and what falls to us. In reality, we’ll go with best player at 23.”

Fletcher also added that the later rounds of the draft are where you may see more focus on positional needs in the organization.

It’s certainly been an interesting year for the draft. Many prospects didn’t get to finish out the season, unlike the NHL, in the midst of a pandemic. Some of the junior leagues are getting started with their 2020-21 seasons or making preparations to begin in the near future.

In addition, the meat of the NHL offseason is being packed into one week. The NHL Draft is Tuesday and Wednesday and the Flyers have seven picks to make. In the middle of that, they have internal free agents they need to re-sign and the open free-agency period begins on Friday. There is usually about a one-week gap between the two headlining events of the offseason. There are two days this time and it’s going to create a lot of activity.

The Flyers are just going to focus on themselves and keeping the team as prepared as possible for the future. That starts this week with the draft and taking the best player they can get in a strong first-round group and filling out other needs later in the draft with prospects that can hopefully make a difference down the road.

“I think every year, the first round you typically go with the best player. After that, sometimes you go with maybe more positional needs if the players are equal,” Flahr said. “Obviously with our depth chart, you can take a look at it. In left defense, we have some players coming. In right-shot defense, we’re getting a little thinner. We can maybe address that if it makes sense. Sometimes there’s just not players available when you are picking. Obviously up front, whether it’s scoring, would be something you want to address and it’s something you like to address every year. I don’t think it changes much. We’ll see how it plays out. We have guys targeted at each tier of the draft. We’ll try to do the best we can based on that.”

Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.

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