As a player, Ron Hextall was combative, a goalie who was not shy about going after an opposing player (see Chelios, Chris) if he felt it was warranted.

As a general manager, Hextall is measured in his words and extremely soft-spoken and analytical, but you can sense the same burning desire to bring a Stanley Cup to the Flyers and their fans.

In an interview last week, the second-year general manager, coming off a disappointing 33-31-18 season, said he believes the Flyers are a playoff team, that he needs more from several of his players - including captain Claude Giroux - and that the door is open (but not very wide) for a rookie to earn a roster spot.

Q Dave Hakstol is only the third person in history to go directly from the college ranks to his first head-coaching job in the NHL. Was it time to think outside the box? Was it a gamble?

A Of course it's a gamble. But one thing I know about Dave is that he has all the intangibles to be a very good NHL coach. I'm extremely comfortable with that. Does he know the league as well as he could? No. Does he know the travel as well as he could? No. Does he know the ins and outs of the NHL game? No. Clearly. It's no different than bringing a rookie in and [asking,] "Does he know the league, does he know the players?" No. It takes a while, it takes experience.

But I'm very comfortable saying Dave has all the intangibles. He's an extremely intelligent guy. He deals with people extremely well. Everybody knows where they stand; he's a very good communicator. So I'm really excited. It's almost like when you look at a player and you say Player X is a great skater and he reads the ice well and he's got really good skills. He's still got to put it together and play. It's the same with Hak. He has to prove now that he's an NHL coach, and like I said, the things he has - a level of intelligence with regard to the game of hockey - is elite. His work ethic is elite. His focus is elite.

Q Out of the three new players - Sam Gagner, Evgeni Medvedev, and Michal Neuvirth - which one do you expect to make the biggest impact?

AIt's really hard to say. We expect them all to make an impact. Sam gives us another skilled forward, which we felt we needed. He'll give us a little bit of help, hopefully, in shootouts, and he's a playmaker by nature. We need to make more plays, so we like that.

Evgeni is a big, solid defenseman who moves the puck well, defends well. His transition - from the big ice to the small ice to the culture - that's the hardest part to kind of gauge. We're hoping he makes a quick transition. I think the steps he's kind of shown by coming here early and taking English lessons [are a positive]. He was actually talking English the other day to [Radko] Gudas. [Smile.] I had to go check with Radko to see if he knew Russian or if the languages kind of collided. He said they were speaking English, so he does understand more than he can speak. So he's coming along, and I like the commitment he has shown.

And Michal I think is an underrated goalie. He's had some really good spots in his career. I mean, a guy wins back-to-back championships in the American League - as much as it's the American League, that's pretty special. Not many guys have done that. We really like his pedigree, and we think he's going to give us a real solid one-two with Mase [Steve Mason]. How many games he plays, who knows? But I think he's going to make an impact for us.

Q Is Gagner the leading candidate to play left wing on the first line?

AIt's going to play out in camp. It's a coaching question, and once we get to camp [veterans report Sept. 17 and are on the ice the next day] Dave's hardest part of his job right now is probably figuring out the lines and the [defense] pairs. There's obviously some symmetry and chemistry from last year that he'll build on, but in talking to him, he's not sitting there saying, "OK, these are the lines and that's it."

Q As far as rookies, on paper it looks like you don't have a lot of room. But if someone shines in camp, will you have a spot for him?

AYou can't sit and say, "We'll make room," because you don't know until you get there. If a guy comes in and we think he's going to make us a better team throughout the course of the year - and not just for two weeks - we'll look at options. But we're not going to put a kid in the lineup that is not ready.

Q Some scouts thought Ivan Provorov was the most NHL-ready defenseman in the draft. Is there a fine line in your thinking - you don't want to have him here too soon, but if he's ready, do you want him here?

A Yeah. I think there's always going to be a lot of tough decisions. There always is. The track record with 18-year-olds [reaching the NHL] is not very good. Even 19-year-olds. He's going to have to come in here like every other young guy and really impress, because don't forget, the preseason is the preseason. It's not the NHL regular season. Sometimes kids come in and shine and make an impact, and you go: "Whoa, an NHL player." He didn't play an NHL game yet. He played with 10 or 12 NHL players who are trying to get ready for the season more [than anything].

Q There aren't many Aaron Ekblads out there that just step in, right?

AIf you look at the history, there are very few. And Ekblad, I think most hockey people would have said he's going to play [right away], and he's probably going to be a pretty good player. I'm not sure everybody would have said he would have the impact he did, but I think most hockey people would have said he'd be a real good player.

Q How do you see Scott Laughton's development, and does he have a shot to make the team?

AWe know Scotty, the player. . . . Scotty had some good times last year, he had some not-so-good times, and he needs to kind of level that out and be more consistent. Bring more to the table on a daily basis. I can't say we were disappointed in Scotty last year, but can he be better? Yeah, he can be better."

Q A lot of people think that if the team is going to make strides this year Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn are really going to have to step up their games. Is that a fair evaluation?

AI think it's fair. We talked about it last year. I think they made maybe minimal gains, but not quite as much as we would have hoped. But there's other guys, too. You look at [Giroux]. I think "G" can be better than he was last year. I think some of the injuries we had took away from our lineup. . . . We have little areas we can pick up this year. Hopefully, Mase has a healthy year and Michal gives us solid goaltending.

Q How do you see Vinny Lecavalier coming into camp? Can he still be a productive player?

AVinny has to come in and show us he can do that. That's the bottom line. We can all sit here and say this or that, but Vinny has to come into the season in great shape, and he has to show in the preseason that he's ready to go and ready to take a bigger chunk of the pie.

Q What do you want the identity of this team to be?

AThis team is built on hard work and passion. The game has changed somewhat, for sure, but the hard work and passion that you see in top teams hasn't changed. And that's what I expect us to be.

Q Do you expect this team to make the playoffs?

AI do. I do. When you look at it, there's a few teams you call elite teams in the East, and after that you say these chunk of teams, 60 or 70 percent, are going to make the playoffs. And we're in that group. To me, there's no excuse for us not to make the playoffs.

@BroadStBull

philly.com/broadstreetbull