Ever since Ron Hextall was named the new general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers in May of 2014, the blueprint for the organization was revamped.
“The Flyer Way” of life changed. The pathway that has kept the organization Stanley Cup-less for 40 plus years was gone. The short term approach, trading away draft picks and prospects at the trade deadline in hopes of creating a brighter today instead of a brighter tomorrow, is now past history.
Under Hextall, it has been evident that the approach for the Flyers will be long term. It will be creating a stockpile of draft picks, a slew of young talent, allowing younger players to mature in hopes of building a team that will be consistently good year after year.
One man responsible for this long term approach is player development coach, John Riley.
Riley, a player development coach for the Flyers since 2014, spoke to Sports Administration majors at Lock Haven on Friday. The speaking engagement was set up by Dr. Justin Wartella.
Before becoming a member of the player development staff for the Flyers, Riley served as an amateur scout for the organization from 2008-2014. He also is the Director of Player Development for USA Hockey, a position he’s held since 2008.
The main message of Riley’s presentation was how important it is to go out of one’s comfort zone when it comes to finding a job. In a life full of hockey, Riley was also a math and science teacher at different points of his life.
As it pertains to hockey, Riley has been around some of the game’s youngest and most intriguing talents, including Flyers rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. Riley has been credited with finding the young player they call “Ghost,” as Flyers fans rejoice.
Gostisbehere leads all NHL rookie defensemen with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) and all NHL rookies in powerplay points with 13. If that isn’t good enough, Gostisbehere also leads all NHL rookies in overtime winning goals with three.
“I think the proof is in the pudding (with Gostisbehere),” Riley said. “He’s been able to, in a short period of time, play, get bigger, stronger, and faster and we’ll see where it goes.”
Riley’s current job includes dealing with eight young forwards that the Flyers “own the rights” to. Riley maintains relationships with his eight guys, speaks to them regularly, watches them play and gives pointers on what areas to improve on.
Among those players is 2015 first round pick Travis Konecny. The Flyers traded up in the first round to take Konecny with the 24th pick.
During his speech, Riley stressed the importance of a long term approach in the NHL.
“To win in the NHL, you have to build through the draft and acquire young talent,” he said. “It’s not about going out and spending big time money on free agents.”
An organization once prided on making moves for veterans at the deadline and hoping to ride a hot goaltender into the playoffs is now looking long term. With the Flyers under Hextall, it’s about building for the future and making sure that tomorrow shines brighter than today.
No one will ever know if this course would have been taken with a former general manager such as Paul Holmgren.
When asked about the switch and differences between Holmgren, the Flyers last GM and Hextall, Riley said, “There was definitely a lot of synergy within the transition. There was no dramatic shift there.
But we still look for Flyers.”