CHICAGO  — Based on the Hockey News' prospect rankings, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall made a heist at the two-day NHL draft that ended Saturday in Chicago.

The Flyers chose five players ranked in the publication's top 78  —   and got three of those selections, all left wingers ,  much later than their projected draft slots: Isaac Ratcliffe (ranked 19th)  went 35th; Matthew Strome (ranked 47th) went at No. 106; and Noah Cates (ranked 78th) went at No. 137.

The Hockey News also ranked Nolan Patrick as the draft's best prospect, and the Flyers took him at No. 2 after New Jersey selected Nico Hischier.

According to the publication's rankings, Hextall took center Morgan Frost, which it ranked at No. 40, too early at No. 27. Many thought Hextall would opt for highly regarded winger Eeli Tolvanen, who slipped to Nashville at No. 30.

Craig Button, draft guru for TSN in Canada, ranked  Frost at No. 49.

"But if you like a guy, my advice is go get him," Button said. "There really isn't a lot of difference from a guy ranked, say, from the 20s to the 40s."

Hextall said his scouting staff was unanimous in its admiration for Frost, a quick and cerebral player who probably won't be NHL-ready for about three years.

His staff was also enamored with Ratcliffe, which is why the Flyers traded three draft picks (Nos. 44, 75, and 108) to Arizona to move up nine slots and take the 6-foot-6, 200-pound winger.

"He fit one of our positional needs," Hextall said.

So did Strome and Cates. The knock on the 6-4, 206-pound Strome is his skating, but he is a natural scorer  —   he had 34 goals this season  —   and Ontario Hockey League coaches voted him as the second-smartest player in his conference.

Cates, a Minnesota high school star, is a creative player with an impressive shot, and the Flyers will be keeping close tabs on him as he plays at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Patrick, of course, was the crown jewel of the Flyers' nine selections.

"He's a difference-maker," Button sad. "He knows when it's an important part of the game and that's when he's at his best. If it's a 5-2 game, Nolan know how to manage the game  —  and that's not a negative. But when it needs to be dialed up, he dials it up."

Patrick, who turns 19 on Sept. 19, and Hischier are both centers. Patrick is much better in the faceoff circle. If the Flyers had drafted Hischier, he was more likely to move to wing for a season if he made the team in October.

If Patrick makes the team  —   and that seems likely  —   he figures to play center. The Flyers will consider moving newly acquired Jori Lehtera to wing.

Patrick, who has recovered from two sports hernias and a leg injury, said he'll play "wherever they need me."

Coach Dave Hakstol called the 6-2, 199-pound Patrick a "great physical package in terms of size and strength." He added that "getting himself to 100 percent in health" was a key for Patrick, and that he needs a "great summer of training and development. But he's certainly a real exciting young player who has a pretty good body of work behind him that says he's awful close."

Patrick became the highest-drafted player in his family. His uncle, James Patrick, was selected No. 9 overall by the Rangers in 1981, and his father, Steve, was chosen 20th overall by Buffalo in 1980.

"They've been my two biggest role models through everything," Nolan Patrick said, adding that his father is "a goof who was is always making jokes, and my uncle is a little more serious. They've both been huge for me."

As for Ratcliffe, he is probably a couple of years away from reaching the NHL, but scouts say he has all the ingredients to become a quality power forward. He had 28 goals in 67 games for low-scoring Guelph in the OHL last season.

Ratcliffe was part a strong draft class that gave the Flyers some much-needed offensive talent. When added to an already-formidable pipeline, the team's farm system is among the NHL's best, draft experts say.


Hextall expects all nine draft picks to take part in the team's development camp in Voorhees, which starts with on-ice action July 7. … Frost had 62 points in the OHL this season, making a 35-point improvement from his rookie year. His father, Andy, was the Toronto Maple Leafs' public-address announcer for 17 years until last season. A smiling Hextall said Lou Nolan's job as the Flyers' longtime public-address announcer "is safe." … A total of 217 players from 14 countries were drafted, headed by Canada (77 players), the United States (50), Sweden (27), Finland (23), Russia (18), and the Czech Republic (9).