For Hextall and Flyers, a 1st-Round First with Winger Selection
Ron Hextall and the Flyers have been building through the draft for the last several seasons, but like many of the teams that are scooping up prospects at the draft, there is typically two areas of attention.
One is defensemen, and this draft class offered a few highly talented players at the position. The other is generically categorized as forwards, but so many of these players are listed as centers.
In Hextall's time as GM, the Flyers have selected two defensemen and four forwards in the first round, all listed as centers. So Friday night presented a first from the Flyers, a natural winger being selected in the first round.
Joel Farabee was the Flyers first pick of the night at 14th overall, a natural left winger with a great combination of smarts, skill and two-way ability.
"He’s a real attention to detail player," Hextall said. "He competes hard, he’s got speed, he’s got skill. He can score, he’s a good player. He’s also got size in his family, so I still think there’s a chance he can grow but he’s certainly going to put a lot of beef on."
While some of the prospects listed as centermen have shifted in position over time -- Travis Konecny was drafted as a center with wing experience and has played the wing throughout his NHL career -- the Flyers have never really targeted the scoring-type forward in the first round.
In a sense, they still have not, even with the selection of Farabee. He's got scoring ability and can put up numbers, but that's not the entirety of his game by any stretch. He's just as good in his own zone or on the penalty kill or setting up teammates.
Still, it was a different pick from Hextall than in the past. Even entering the draft, Hextall spoke about targeting centers and defensemen in the first round. Farabee was arguably the best player available when the Flyers were on the clock at 14th overall, and as is the Flyers usual philosophy in these situations, that overruled anything else.
With the team's second first-round pick, the Flyers did address center with Jay O'Brien. As with Morgan Frost a season ago, it was a pick that was a bit off the board at the time, but that's not Hextall's focus when making the selection.
O'Brien has many similar qualities to Farabee and both are American-born players who got experience with the USA U18 National Development Team.
While O'Brien may not have necessary been predicted to go in the Top 20, his hockey sense is what won over the Flyers and gives him a chance to develop into a worthy talent.
"He just has all the traits of a hockey player," Hextall said. "His hockey sense, his timing of passes, when to shoot, when to pass. He just has a hockey sense. If you want to say there’s a concern that he hasn’t played at a high level. People call that a risky pick because he hasn’t played at a high level and quite honestly, it’s a tough evaluation, there’s no doubt about it. I feel confident. Our scouts do a great job and we felt really strong about him."
In recent years, the Flyers have gone through the Canadian ranks and selected a number of potential quality NHL players -- Travis Sanheim, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick, Frost, Carter Hart -- just to name a few. They've gone overseas and selected European players with great talent as well -- Ivan Provorov, German Rubtsov, Oskar Lindblom, Felix Sandstrom.
In this draft, things have shifted to American players. Both Farabee and O'Brien are American kids and four others were also taken in Friday's first round. There are a few more that drew first-round buzz still remaining on the board as the draft shifts to Day 2.
The real work begins on Day 2 when teams are looking for finds in the middle and later rounds, but the Flyers have built a foundation on draft picks, particularly in the first round, and continued to add to that on Friday.
Kevin Durso is Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.