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February 11, 2016 | 1:37pm ET

Balance between patience and promotion necessary for Hextall, Flyers
By David Strehle, TheFourthPeriod.com

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- From day one when he took over as GM, Ron Hextall has emphasized the fact that the Philadelphia Flyers will stress organizational patience, building strength through the Draft and not rushing prospects along too quickly into their development.

Anything bearing resemblance to 'patience' with the Flyers has become a new experience for a franchise long known for seeking the fastest turnaround when times are tough in their ongoing quest to land Lord Stanley for the first time since 1975.

That ideology many times worked out pretty well in a pre-salary cap NHL, but it was that same unquenchable thirst for a championship that bred an impatience that would leave the well dry with regards to the pipeline supplying young blood for the big club.

When Paul Holmgren took over the position, he cleaned out salary and used his first summer to add veterans to revamp a roster that finished dead last in NHL standings the previous year and watched the Flyers make a run to the Eastern Conference Final.

What followed was a revolving door with continuously changing faces, sacrificing youngsters and draft picks while perpetually straddling the upper reaches of the League's cap limit.

As the level of success for Holmgren's teams gradually dropped off before finally plummeting, the rebuilding process became increasingly difficult without the benefit of younger, affordable NHL-ready prospects ready to step in and contribute.

Fortunately, for the future of Philadelphia hockey, Hextall has remained true to his philosophy, and as a result the depth within the club's developmental system has never been greater.

Entering the current season and for perhaps the first time in Flyers history, the central focus of blue chippers was heavily weighted at the defensive end of the rink:

2015 first-round selection (7th-overall) Ivan Provorov
2014 first-rounder (17th-overall) Travis Sanheim
2013 first-round pick (11th-overall) Sam Morin
2013 second-rounder (41st-overall) Robert Hägg
2012 third-round selection (78th-overall) Shayne Gostisbehere

There were murmurings that Provorov may just make the team out of training camp, but any such talk was rapidly dispelled when the Yaroslavl, Russia-native was returned to the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings. Sanheim was sent back to the Calgary Hitmen that same day, while Morin, Hägg and Gostisbehere were all eventually assigned to the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Gostisbehere -- who was recalled for a pair of games early last year before being sent back to the Phantoms and tearing an ACL -- appeared ready to make the jump when the club opened their 49th regular season in Tampa Bay on October 8.

His combination of speed and rare offensive arsenal made him an automatic curiosity, and his three goals in three exhibition contests -- including a two-goal effort against the New York Rangers in the latter stages of camp -- didn't hurt the sentiment that the Flyers should be seeing a "Ghost" on opening night.

The club felt otherwise, however, that the 22-year-old needed more work on his game in the defensive end, and he was sent up the Northeast extension up to Allentown to hone his trade.

In 14 outings with Lehigh Valley, Gostisbehere notched 2 goals and 8 assists for 10 points, ranking him fifth in scoring among AHL defenders before fate decided to step in and intervene.

As the calendar moved into mid-November Mark Streit was stricken with a "pubic plate detachment," and the Flyers would be without the team's Barry Ashbee Award winner from a year ago for six weeks.

Going against Hextall's prevailing credo and with a few other veteran options at the team's disposal, Gostisbehere was the blueliner who instead got the call.

There were a couple of likely reasons for the choice:

With salary cap issues still lingering from a couple of bad contracts carrying over from Holmgren's tenure, Gostisbehere's $925,000 hit was one of the most attractive to fit into the constraints of the payroll situation

Streit was the powerplay quarterback on Philly's top man advantage unit, so "Ghost's" skill set was probably the closest match for the club's needs

From day one, the native of Pembroke Pines, Florida has proven he belongs.

After a relatively quiet beginning in his season debut against the Hurricanes in Raleigh, Gostisbehere dazzled late in regulation with a stop-on-a-dime and shift offensive move at the point that created space for himself and ended with his shot being tipped by Wayne Simmonds past Cam Ward for the game-tying goal in a contest the Flyers went on to claim in overtime.

Gostisbehere has not missed a beat since, and continues to grow in confidence and thrive at the NHL level:

  • Scored three overtime goals in his first 17 league games, obliterating the old record of 64, set by Pittsburgh's Ryan Malone in 2003/04.
  • At the time of publishing, he has a current nine game point scoring streak, which includes assists in eight consecutive outings. His nine-game run is only one short of tying the franchise mark for all Flyers rookies, set by Mikael Renberg in 1994.
  • With 9 goals and 19 assists for 28 points in 34 games, has boldly entered into the Calder Trophy conversation, one that was viewed by many as a closed invitation race between Chicago's Artemi Panarin and Detroit's Dylan Larkin. No Flyer has ever won the award as the preeminent rookie-of-the-year, but that fact could possibly be getting a Ghost-ly rewrite by next June.

If you notice, all of the scoring records the defenseman has already topped or is on the verge of challenging are that of forwards.

As a matter of fact, his 0.82 points-per-game is third-best of any of this season's NHL rookie class, behind just Edmonton's Connor McDavid (19 points in 18 games, 1.05 PPG) and Panarin (52 points in 56 contests, 0.92), both highly-touted forward favorites in the Calder discussion.

At the time of his promotion, Philadelphia's offense was once again ranked in the bottom couple in the league, making the club tough to watch as they saved money for power companies in every NHL city with their goal-scoring futility.

It's hard to imagine just how far without his production just how far into the League's basement the Flyers would be submerged at this point in the schedule.

It's also tough to make any kind of blanket statement that there are others ready to make the jump to the big club right now, but maybe it's time to amend the prevailing policy of "patience over anything else, regardless" and make it a case-by-case review.

Gostisbehere's continued success should be cause enough to do so.

At the forefront is Petr Straka -- who netted a team-leading 17 goals over his first 38 games with the Phantoms before suffering an injury -- and may have warranted a look during the Flyers horrific offensive start.

The winger did not look out of place when recalled last January, recording assists in each of the last two of his three-game stint. Straka turns 24 in June, just before the expiration of his entry-level contract when he becomes a restricted free agent.

We've seen other youngsters not get much of a chance in Philly and go onto become regular contributors in other NHL cities.

With some of the Flyers higher-paid, less productive veterans being moved, with head coach Dave Hakstol finally making others in that category healthy scratches, and the team slipping in their pursuit of one of the wild card spots in the East, there's no reason there shouldn't be some chance to get a glimpse of the future down the stretch.

Unfortunately, the NHL is not like baseball where rosters are greatly expanded late in the season to accommodate any such promotion of younger players, so the Flyers would have to get creative in viewing their list of potentials. There's no reason to tank the campaign, but it's blatantly obvious to anyone keeping tabs on the prospects on the way that the team's lineup is set for a tremendous makeover in the next couple of years and their future is blindingly bright.

The trade deadline should provide Hextall with the opportunity to make room on the roster as well as creating additional cap space. Players such as Streit may be in high demand -- just as defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn were at this time last year -- and with Streit's age (38) and cap hit ($5.25 million) and the emergence of Gostisbehere and Michael Del Zotto, this may be the ideal time to attempt to move him before his value begins to diminish.

Nick Schultz could be another defender to draw interest from contenders. He gave Hextall the gift of playing better than expected last season, but instead of taking advantage and moving the 32-year-old for a decent draft pick, the Flyers instead extended him for another two years.

There's no doubt that Schultz's value has dropped off dramatically from that point last year, but it's time to make the move as younger, quicker legs are pushing their way towards Philly.

Any such moves, barring receiving an NHL defenseman in return, could pave the way for Morin or Hägg -- or even Mark Alt -- to get a chance to show what they can do on the NHL stage and give them something of a head start moving towards the fall.

With hardly any production coming from their bottom-six forwards, continued scratches of unproductive vets and a demotion or two should create spots for Nick Cousins -- who has impressed in his second recall in as many years and should stay with the big club -- as well as Straka or others deserving of a look like Danick Martel and Taylor Leier.

There's no question that Gostisbehere is performing beyond anyone's wildest expectations, but it raises an interesting point.

If Streit had never been injured, Ghost would almost certainly still be toiling in the AHL instead of quickly proving to be one of Philadelphia's most important core players.

This is not to say the Flyers should go back to their old ways of going business and rushing their prospects, but it should be reason enough for management to reconsider their stringent stance on patience and provide a balance with promotion.

David Strehle is the Philadelphia Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.


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