IF WE'VE learned one thing about Ron Hextall in his 13-month reign as Flyers general manager, it's that he craves outside-the-box thinking.
Last month, he hired Dave Hakstol, plucking him from North Dakota as the first college coach to make the jump directly to an NHL bench since 1982.
Last June, Hextall pulled the trigger on drafting defenseman Travis Sanheim at No. 17 overall, a player who ranked 167th in the January midterm standing by the NHL's Central Scouting service.
Sanheim, now 19, is considered the Flyers' best overall prospect.
Hextall seeks value where others aren't looking.
That's left many around the league wondering: What does Hextall have up his sleeve this week at the NHL draft in Florida?
Talk to any NHL scout about this year's draft crop and it's hard not to elicit a smile. Flyers director of scouting Chris Pryor said he's never seen a draft class dominate like this one against older players at the World Junior Championships, including the class of 2003, which is considered to be the deepest draft in recent history.
Only six of the 30 players from 2003's first round have failed to crack 400 games in the NHL. That's the year the Flyers grabbed Jeff Carter at 11th overall and Mike Richards at 24th; Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Dion Phaneuf, Dustin Brown, Braydon Coburn, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry are a few of the other names from that banner year.
"This group might be as good as that group," Pryor said a few weeks back. "That was a strong draft. It stems from the guys at the very top. You would assume [Connor] McDavid and [Jack] Eichel [go first and second]. When you've got players of that caliber, sometimes the trickle-down tells you what kind of year it is, and it's lived up to expectations."
Slotted at No. 7 overall, the Flyers hold their own first-round pick inside the top 10 for just the second time since 1992.
Conventional wisdom, particularly in such a loaded year, would dictate drafting as close to No. 1 overall as possible. Higher pick usually equates to a better player, right? But instead, Hextall might consider trading down a few slots. He said at a press conference last week that he wouldn't trade down unless somebody offered him something "stupid," and that is fine. Still, you wonder.
Scouts do not often agree about much. This year, they nearly all agree that there are at least two (maybe three) clear classes of prospects within the first dozen or so picks.
It is McDavid and Eichel. Then it's everyone else.
"I think after [No.] 2, the group itself from 3 back is pretty close right now," Pryor said. "It is such a deep group from 3 if you want to go back to 10 or 12. It's an interesting group. We're going to spend a lot of time . . . to try to get to where we feel we're comfortable going into the draft.
"Three-12 or 3-10, whatever number you want to put for the back, it's a pretty close group. It does speak volumes to the quality of the picks you're talking about and the quality of the talent."
Certainly, the Flyers could trade up to ensure they nab their player, but that would seem to go against most of what Hextall has preached. Arizona's Don Maloney already said the Coyotes are "open for business" with regard to the No. 3 pick. The Maple Leafs (No. 4) are also perceived to be interested in moving back.
But let's say, on draft night tomorrow, the player perceived to be No. 1 on the Flyers' list - defenseman Ivan Provorov - is off the board by the time they are on the clock.
Would it then make sense for the Flyers to slide down a few spots if say, Columbus (8), San Jose (9), Colorado (10), Florida (11) or Dallas (12) is hot for a particular player? That would enable the Flyers to add another pick, if they could be reasonably confident the player at the top of their list would still be available.
It's almost hard to think about the Flyers acquiring more "assets" without hearing the voice of Sam Hinkie.
What could the Flyers get in return?
Ex-BroadStreetHockey.com blogger Eric Tulsky, who now handles analytics for the Carolina Hurricanes, evaluated 46 draft-day trades from 2006 to 2012 to determine historical value for picks. According to Tulsky, moving back one spot from seventh to eighth has historically brought back an early-third-round pick. From seventh to ninth garnered a late-second-round pick. A three-spot move in that range would require a mid-second-round pick. And swapping a total of five slots, say, from seventh to 12th, would involve an early-second-rounder.
One team unlikely to make such a move would be San Jose. Doug Wilson has traded down in each of the last two drafts (from 18 to 20 in 2013 and from 20 to 27 last year) to pick up extra picks. But Columbus is reportedly itching for a defenseman.
Would it be worth it?
In 2008, the Predators traded the ninth and 40th overall selections to the New York Islanders to slide up two spots to No. 7 overall - exactly where the Flyers are today. Nashville drafted Colin Wilson. The Islanders took Josh Bailey.
The two 25-year-olds have almost-identical career point production in the NHL. In fact, they were within one point of each other last season.
What became of the 40th pick? The Islanders selected Aaron Ness, a forward out of the University of Minnesota. He has played 29 NHL games but is safely slotted to be a career AHL player.
The Flyers pick seven times in the first 99. Ness didn't quite work out. But if the Flyers could swap two players with nearly identical talent and upside, like Wilson and Bailey, for one more shot at finding a diamond in the rough in the second round, it might be worth the gamble.
In fact, it sounds like the Hextall thing to do.