Rebuild appears underway for Philadelphia Flyers blue line

By Tony Piscotta

Mark Alt - Philadelphia Flyers

Photo: Defenseman Mark Alt is in his first full year of professional hockey following three seasons at the University of Minnesota. (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Flyers have generally taken an ambivalent approach to developing prospects, preferring to focus their resources on the NHL club and procuring more established young talent through trades or free agent signings.

When it comes to the NHL Draft, the Flyers have generally drafted high end offensive talent when they have had a first round pick (the club did not have a pick until the third round in 2009 and 2010). However, aside from Claude Giroux, those players are now skating elsewhere. In later rounds the Flyers have generally focused on size and character-type physical players to fit the organization's traditional style.

The organization's philosophy may be changing a bit – as evidenced by last summer's prospect camp and the players taken in the past two NHL Drafts.

With former Flyer Ian Laperriere serving as director of player development, their prospect camp was more targeted towards skills development and teaching. Laperriere was named an assistant coach after the firing of head coach Peter Laviolette, but the emphasis on young talent seems to be an organizational aim.

The Flyers also frequently tap free agents for their prospect pool, most recently bringing in Michael Raffl and Petr Straka.

Left Wing

Perhaps no position epitomizes the status of the Flyers' prospect pool more than the left wing. With the possible exception of Portland Winterhawks forward Taylor Leier and maybe Marcel Noebels, the left wings in the Philadelphia organization are generally sound and tough two-way players with limited offensive upside.

With a dearth of high end scorers at the NHL level, Matt Read has spent time playing on the wing for the Flyers, with veterans Scott Hartnell and Jay Rosehill also seeing significant ice time.

Joining them is Raffl, a 25-year-old rookie who was signed by the Flyers after a big season with Leksands in Sweden's Allsvenskan league. A native of Austria, Raffl has appeared in 20 NHL games this year and has managed two goals and three assists.

Tye McGinn, 23, has shuffled between the Flyers and AHL Adirondack and skated in six games for the Flyers. He is a big winger who is in the final year of his entry-level contract.

Tyler Brown, signed in 2011 as a free agent, is now in his third season with the Phantoms and has skated on the left wing after playing center previously. He has yet to see any time in the NHL.

Noebels is the youngest member of the Flyers professional left wing prospects. Now in his second season, the 21-year-old was a point-per-game scorer in the ECHL while splitting last season between Trenton and Adirondack. Capable of playing both center and wing, Noebels' offensive game has been limited thus far.

Andrew Johnston is another winger who was signed as a free agent. The 22-year-old is in his second pro season and is skating for former Trenton Titans coach Vince Williams with Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL.

Leier, a skilled but undersized forward, continues to put up big points with the defending WHL champion Winterhawks, and is among the players in Team Canada's camp for the World Junior Championship. He will be challenged to prove he can score at that same pace at the pro level.

Tyrell Goulbourne, a third round pick in 2013, leads the Kelowna Rockets in penalty minutes and fits the player archetype that Flyers' brass and fans appreciate.

Eric Wellwood, 23, saw time with the Flyers in each of his first three pro seasons but at this time continues to recuperate from a horrific lower leg injury suffered at the end of last season. Wellwood appeared in 11 playoff games during the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2011-12. There is no timetable for his return.

Center

The off-season acquisition of Vincent Lecavalier added to an already well-stocked center position at the NHL level for Philadelphia as Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Brayden Schenn all figure to be with the Flyers long-term barring trades or injury.

Veteran Adam Hall has slipped into Maxime Talbot's lower line role after Talbot was traded to the Colorado Avalanche as part of a deal that brought in former Flyer Steve Downie. Meanwhile, Kris Newbury has shuffled between Philadelphia and Adirondack and adds experience with limited offense, solid positional play and a physical presence.

Now in his first season of professional hockey, the high-scoring Nick Cousins is expected to provide both offense and toughness at the NHL level.

Free agent signing Kyle Flanagan is also with the Phantoms. Signed out of St. Lawrence University last year, Flanagan is a two-way type who can provide a little offense.

Scott Laughton, The 20th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, made his NHL debut last year following the lockout and is considered the top Flyers' prospect. Back in the OHL for his final season of junior hockey, the 19-year-old has 50 points in his first 29 games with Oshawa and is expected to skate for Canada in the upcoming World Junior Championship.

Right Wing

Downie's return to the organization, along with Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek, provide the Flyers with three high caliber right wings at the NHL level. The depth behind them however is suspect at this point.

Below the NHL level the Flyers pool of right wing prospects is comprised of undrafted free agents and late round picks whose NHL potential is far from certain.

Jason Akeson and Straka both fit in the first category and have been among the top scorers for Adirondack. Signed after a big overage season in the OHL in 2010-11, Akeson is the Phantoms' leading scorer in his third pro season and has played both wing and center, but his two-way play remains a concern.

Straka was the 55th player selected in the 2010 NHL Draft when he was selected by Columbus, but was never signed by the Blue Jackets. He was signed by the Flyers this summer after scoring 41 goals last season for Baie-Comeau as a 20-year-old. His skillset and speed are impressive, but he has to prove himself at the pro level.

Second-year pro Matt Mangene, who was converted from defense to forward during his college career at Maine, and AHL rookie Brandon Alderson, who skated for Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL as a 20-year-old last year, were also signed as free agents and are both with the Phantoms.

Rookie Derek Mathers, a seventh-round pick in 2011, has been almost exclusively an enforcer/energy line player for Adirondack.

Michael Parks, now a junior at North Dakota, is a skilled offensive player and continues to work his way back from an injury last year after an impressive freshman season two years ago.

Petr Placek, 20, a sixth-round pick in 2011, has played in just one game for Harvard this year as a junior.

Defensemen

Philadelphia's inability to consistently draft and develop defensemen has forced the Flyers to rely on older veterans through the years. The club currently has three defensemen over the age of 35 on its roster (Hal Gill, Kimmo Timonen, and Mark Streit). In addition to those three, Niklas Grossman and Andrej Meszaros are both 28 and began their careers in other organizations.

The organization has begun to address these issues however, and used eight of their 13 picks in the past two drafts on defensemen; five of whom are on the NCAA development track and appear to be long-term prospects.

The Flyers have several defensemen playing in minor pro hockey who may have lower pairing potential, but the real excitement appears to be in the recently drafted prospects who are playing either junior or college hockey.

Samuel Morin, the 11th player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, has drawn comparisons to many of the top defensemen in hockey due to his combination of size, skating ability, and a nasty disposition. His game is still fairly raw however and he is a long-term prospect.

Shayne Gostisbehere, now a junior at Union College, plays a non-traditional game and likes to join the rush. Some scouts question his defensive play, but his speed and skill level are no less impressive.

Robert Hagg and Valeri Vasiliev are two teenagers in Europe who are playing in the pro leagues in Sweden and Russia respectively and are candidates for their country's entries at the World Junior Championship. Hagg, the Flyers' second round pick in 2013, is playing in Sweden's SHL as an 18-year-old while Vasiliev, a 7th round pick in 2012, is playing for Moscow Spartak as a 19-year-old.

Among the defensemen playing for Adirondack, Oliver Lauridsen (24) appeared in 15 games for the Flyers last season and his calling card is his size and reach. Brandon Manning is a tough customer with play-making ability while rookie Mark Alt, acquired from Carolina last season and signed following his junior year at Minnesota, is an intriguing prospect due to his skating ability.

California native Matt Konan is in his second pro season after an impressive junior career with Medicine Hat. The 22-year-old appeared in two games for the Flyers last year.

Cullen Eddy is a depth defenseman who earned an NHL contract after several strong seasons in the Flyers minor league system. Eddy has limited upside at this point in his career.

Marc-Andre Bourdon showed promise two years ago but has been hampered by concussion issues and has not yet skated this season after playing just 17 games with Adirondack a year ago.

Maxim Lamarche, a teammate of Straka's with Baie-Comeau last year and the team's top scoring defenseman as a 20-year-old, was signed as a free agent over the summer and is beginning his pro career in the ECHL with Elmira.

Tyler Hostetter, a native of suburban Philadelphia, is in the final year of his three-year entry-level deal and is skating for Wichita in the Central Hockey League.

Like Gostisbehere, Reece Willcox (Cornell) and Nick Luukko (Vermont) are playing college hockey and both have shown promise. Willcox, who is now a sophomore, is a big, defensive defenseman who plays a lot of minutes for the Big Red.

Luuko, who is in his junior year with Vermont, is also a big, defensive defenseman, though he does not play as prominent a role for his team.

Fredric Larsson, a 2012 draft pick from Sweden, is playing in the USHL as are 2013 late round picks Terrance Amorosa and David Drake.

Larsson, now with the Youngstown Phantoms, plays a physical game that is expected to be a better fit on the smaller North American rinks.

Sioux City's Amorosa, who played at the Holderness School, is committed to playing college hockey at Providence while Drake, who is with Des Moines, has yet to decide on a college.

Goaltending

Steve Mason, acquired in a late season trade with Columbus in 2012-13, appears to have solidified the goaltending situation at the NHL level for now, and the Flyers went back to the future – signing former starter Ray Emery from the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks over the summer – giving the team a capable tandem.

Down the road, the Flyers do have a bon a fide prospect in New Jersey native Anthony Stolarz, though he is still early in his development curve. After leaving Nebraska-Omaha to play for London in the OHL last season, Stolarz took over the starter's role and led the Knights to a Memorial Cup appearance. He has made great strides the past two seasons and will back up Jon Gillies (CAL) for Team USA at the World Junior Championship.

Merrick Madsen is an intriguing low risk/high reward prospect that the Flyers selected in the sixth round in 2013. The 18-year-old has prototypical size and athleticism for his position though he is considered a long-term project. Madsen is playing for the Minot Minotaurs in the NAHL and is committed to Harvard for 2014-15.

Former Ohio State goalie Cal Heeter is with Adirondack in his second pro season and has played well in tandem with veteran Yann Danis.

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