PHILADELPHIA -- The Los Angeles Kings are known as Flyers West. They have key people who were with the Flyers in one capacity or another -- on the ice, behind the bench, and in the front office.
Maybe the Flyers should be called Los Angeles Lite, because it has become clear that new general manager Ron Hextall -- a former assistant GM with the Kings -- plans to adopt some of L.A.'s building strategy. That means a heavy emphasis on the draft.
The Kings won the Stanley Cup with 11 homegrown players this season (the Flyers had three), including Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, and Dustin Brown.
The draft is the launching point for Hextall, a time when he gets to put his fingerprints on the blueprints. It starts with the opening round Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center and concludes with Rounds 2-7 on Saturday.
"I think every experience you go through in life, you can learn things," Hextall said. "Did I learn things in L.A.? Absolutely. ... I put in seven years there and I learned a lot in my seven years in Philly before that, and my 15 years as a player. ... There is a wealth of information out there and you would be crazy not to use it."
Among the highly rated forwards who could be available when the Flyers pick 17th in the first round are Sonny Milano, Dylan Larkin, Alex Tuch, Nikolaj Ehlers, Joshua Ho-Sang, and Kasperi Kapanen. Hextall is trying to move up in the draft because he thinks there are eight to 10 standouts.
If Hextall could somehow package a deal with Florida, owner of the No. 1 pick, the Flyers probably would take Aaron Ekblad, a 6-foot-3, 213-pounder who is regarded as a franchise defenseman.
Hextall will also be busy talking with the other 29 general managers at the draft. He is trying to free salary-cap space by dealing Vinny Lecavalier, who has four years left on a deal that has an annual $4.5 million cap hit. Hextall is also thinking about acquiring a left winger and Winnipeg's speedy Evander Kane is available.
A onetime 30-goal scorer, Kane, 22, had 19 goals last season, when he completed the second year of a six-year, $31.5 million deal.
A man filed a lawsuit against the 6-2, 195-pound Kane last year, claiming the left winger assaulted him in Vancouver. Kane told the Canadian Press that he threw punches at the man but that it was in self defense.
As for how he approaches his first draft as Flyers GM, Hextall said, "We're talking 17- to 18-year-old kids here. They've got a long way to go before they're going to play in the National Hockey League, so to do anything but draft the best player ... I'm not going to try and reinvent the wheel."
Does Hextall think he can get a difference-maker with the 17th pick?
"I think it's a good draft, but not a great draft," he said. "With our pick this year at 17, we've got a small range of players that we (like); we think we're going to get a good player. Impact player? It's hard to say impact, but I think we're going to get a good player at 17."
In past years, the Flyers have selected high-quality players late in the first round, including Simon Gagne (22d in 1998) Justin Williams (28th in 2000), Mike Richards (24th in 2003), and Claude Giroux (22d in 2006).
The secret to finding a gem, Hextall said, is drafting someone who has "the commitment to becoming a player. ... A lot of the guys who are drafted later 1/8in the first round3/8 are typically guys that are willing to put in the time and the effort and do what it takes to be an NHL player. And Justin Williams is a good example. He's always put the time in. He's dedicated and quite honestly loves to play the game. That's the type of character we will be looking for."
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