If there has ever been a test of the Flyers organizational depth, it has been the 2008-09 season. On pace to finish third in the league in man-games lost to injury, the Philadelphia Flyers have remained competitive thanks to inexperienced players stepping up to fill key roles. The team has not skipped a beat, currently fourth in the Eastern Conference with seven of the players listed on this edition of the Flyers Top 20 having appeared in at least one game so far this season.
Top 20 at a glance
1. James vanRiemsdyk
2. Claude Giroux
3. Luca Sbisa
4. Kevin Marshall
5. Ryan Parent
6. Andreas Nodl
7. Michael Ratchuk
8. Marc-Andre Bourdon
9. Denis Bodrov
10. Jonathan Matsumoto
11. Joonas Lehtivuori
12. Patrick Maroon
13. Danny Syvret
14. Jon Kalinski
15. Joacim Eriksson
16. Jacob Deserres
17. Nathan Guenin
18. Jakub Kovar
19. Mario Kempe
20. Rob Bellamy
1. James vanRiemsdyk, LW – 8.5C
Drafted 2nd overall, 1st round in 2007
vanRiemsdyk led the University of New Hampshire in scoring this year with a modest improvement over his previous season’s numbers. He also finished second in scoring on Team USA at the 2009 World Juniors. But despite these strides, the New Jersey native’s 2008-09 season is being viewed by some as a bit of a disappointment, including the Flyers’ brass.
Philadelphia would prefer to have the big winger in a Flyers uniform as soon as possible — the question is whether he’s ready and able. Currently, vanRiemsdyk and the Wildcats are competing in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. He has 40 points in 35 games.
2. Claude Giroux, RW – 8.0B
Drafted 22nd overall, 1st round in 2006
It did not take long for Giroux’s scoring skills to adapt to the NHL. Giroux made the leap to pro hockey out of the QMJHL. Starting with the Philadelphia Phantoms, the former first rounder worked hard to show he belonged in the big show. In 33 AHL games this season, Giroux had 17 goals and 34 points and at the time of his call-up to the NHL, he led AHL rookies in scoring.
After breaking into the Flyers lineup in late December, Giroux started off a bit rocky. A concussion on Jan. 2 had him missing five games and salary cap concerns placed him back in the AHL for a handful of games. However, Giroux has not disappointed on the score sheet, with five goals and 19 points in 34 games, prompting some to wonder if their French Canadian winger would have been a Calder candidate had he spent the whole season with the big club.
3. Luca Sbisa, D – 8.0B
Drafted 19th overall, 1st round in 2008
The Flyers were left in a tough situation to start the 2008-09 season when defensemen Ryan Parent and Randy Jones were set to miss significant time recovering from injuries. Faced with the loss of two regulars, Philadelphia scrambled to fill the void and they found a solution sitting right in front of them with Sbisa.
The team’s first-round pick in 2008, Sbisa played a safe and simple game for the Flyers for 39 games to start the season, recording seven assists. Sometimes seeing as much as 20 minutes of ice time a night, Sbisa was returned to his junior club in Lethbridge in early February after playing only sporadically through January. The benefits of the NHL experience have paid dividends for both Sbisa and the Hurricanes, with the defender scoring 15 points in the final 18 games and leading his team into the WHL playoffs.
4. Kevin Marshall, D – 7.5C
Drafted 41st overall, 2nd round in 2007
A bruising defender in the Quebec league, Marshall epitomizes the old Broad Street Bullies image by toeing and sometimes crossing the line of rough and tumble play on the ice. Punishing any opponent who crosses his sights in the defensive end (his 129 hits led his team), Marshall also has the skills to inflict pain through the score sheet as can be seen by his nine goals and 38 points in 61 games for the Quebec Remparts this season.
Marshall is currently competing in the playoffs, attempting to win his second QMJHL championship after garnering a trip to the Memorial Cup in 2007 as a member of the Lewiston MAINEiacs. In four playoff games for the Remparts, he has three assists.
5. Ryan Parent, D – 6.5B
Acquired by trade with Nashville, 2007
Under any normal circumstances, this all-around defender would no longer be considered a prospect. Indeed, he’s currently seeing a regular shift with the Flyers and averaging around 19 minutes of ice time a night, a role quite similar to the one he stepped into at the end of the 2007-08 season. However, unfortunately for Parent, the 2008-09 season has been far from normal circumstances.
The former Nashville draft pick barely got his season started before the end of the 2008 calendar year. A shoulder injury and the ensuing rehab left him out of the game until Dec. 30, when he stepped onto the ice for the Phantoms. Parent stayed in the AHL for 15 games, recording a single assist before finally returning to the Flyers. In 25 games for the Flyers, Parent has three assists.
6. Andreas Nodl, RW – 7.0C
Drafted 39th overall, 2nd round in 2006
Yet another Flyer prospect who has seen time both at the NHL and the AHL levels, Nodl has had an exciting first season of professional hockey. After opting to leave college at St. Cloud State early, Nodl joined the Phantoms to finish the 2007-08 season. Although he was unable to break the Flyers lineup to start the 2008-09 year, Nodl was soon called back to the NHL club early in the season.
In 31 games for the Flyers, Nodl scored his first career NHL goal and had four points. Currently with the Phantoms, the Austrian has six goals and 20 points in 39 games.
7. Michael Ratchuk, D – 6.5C
Drafted 42nd overall, 2nd round in 2006
Like fellow 2006 second rounder Nodl above, Ratchuk chose to leave the NCAA, in this case Michigan State, after two seasons to turn pro. An offensive blue liner, he showed plenty of promise by scoring three points in a three-game appearance with the Phantoms to end the 2007-08 season.
However, the Buffalo native still has plenty of work to do in filling out his game. In 70 games for the Phantoms this season, Ratchuk has tallied three goals and has 14 points. Like many college-trained players, the smooth-skating blue liner is adapting to a longer schedule, with just two points to his name since the end of January.
8. Marc-Andre Bourdon, D – 7.0C
Drafted 67th overall, 3rd round in 2008
Although Bourdon plays defense, it’s primarily his offensive game that draws attention. His scoring tendencies sometimes get him into trouble in his own end, but his shot, puck skills and offensive savvy mean he’s a valuable member of the power play.
Acquired in a mid-season trade by the Rimouski Oceanic, Bourdon finished the season with 18 goals and 60 points in 54 games. He’s also guaranteed a trip to the 2009 Memorial Cup, as the Oceanic are this year’s host. So far, he has a goal and six points in four playoff games.
9. Denis Bodrov, D – 7.0C
Drafted 55th overall, 2nd round in 2006
An all-around blue liner who has spent his entire career playing in his homeland of Russia, Bodrov was thought to be considering coming to Philadelphia’s camp prior to this season before finally deciding to spend an additional year playing in the KHL. But the Flyers remain very interested in this solid defenseman and he remains interested in trying his fortune in North America.
In the meantime, Bodrov split the 2008-09 season between Lada Togliatti and Atlant Mytische, totaling two goals and 12 points in 45 games. Of some concern might be the reports that Bodrov’s trade to Atlant was caused by some friction between the 22-year-old and his coach, but this becomes a non-issue if he comes to North America.
10. Jonathan Matsumoto, C – 6.5C
Drafted 79th overall, 3rd round in 2006
With the Phantoms icing an ever-changing lineup, in part due to the needs of the Flyers and in part due to injuries of their own, Matsumoto has been a consistent forward with the AHL club all season long.
A second-year pro with the Phantoms after three seasons with Bowling Green, Matsumoto has improved across the board in his offensive totals compared to his rookie season. He currently sits with 26 goals and 52 points in 70 games with the Phantoms, placing him second on the club in scoring.
11. Joonas Lehtivuori, D – 6.5C
Drafted 101st overall, 4th round in 2006
With Lehtivuori’s three-year deal with Ilves Tampere set to expire at the end of the 2008-09 season, now is the perfect time for the puck-moving defenseman to try his luck in North America. Although his season was hampered somewhat by injury and military service obligations, the 21-year-old finished the year with four goals and 12 points in 44 games. This is down slightly from the previous season which saw him tally 21 points in 48 games for Ilves Tampere.
A puck moving blue liner, Lehtivuori joined the Philadelphia Phantoms on an amateur try-out contract after his season ended in Europe. Lehtivuori played the role of power-play quarterback for Ilves, but will likely need some seasoning in the AHL if he does choose to come to North America. A smaller defenseman, he will need to improve his strength to succeed.
12. Patrick Maroon, LW – 6.5C
Drafted 161st overall, 6th round in 2007
Making the jump to professional hockey after a season of OHL hockey, Maroon is one of only four of Phantoms players to appear in all 72 games played by the club this year. The former NAHL star is enjoying a strong rookie season, with 22 goals and 48 points, placing him fourth on the team in scoring.
Ten of his goals have come with the man advantage, tying Matsumoto for the team lead. Meanwhile, Maroon is tied for sixth in the AHL in rookie scoring. Despite concerns about his approach to the game, Maroon’s pro debut is coming along nicely.
13. Danny Syvret, D – 6.0B
Acquired by trade with Edmonton, 2008
One of the latest players to make the trip from the Phantoms to the Flyers, Syvret has been bouncing between the AHL and the NHL for the past three seasons. Originally an Edmonton draft pick, the puck-moving defender has 28 career NHL games to his name, including two so far this season with the Flyers.
Besides the NHL exposure, the Ontario native is enjoying his best season statistically since he made the jump to pro hockey. In 68 games for the Phantoms, Syvret has 11 goals and 48 points, enough to place him third on the team in scoring and tied for second among all AHL defenders. While Syvret may never become a full-time NHL player, he will continue to be a useful contributor at both levels.
14. Jon Kalinski, LW – 6.0C
Drafted 152nd overall, 6th round in 2007
Another player who saw some time at the NHL level, Kalinski might have been one of the more unlikely candidates for promotion, but his sandpaper style fit the Flyers perfectly. In his rookie season of professional hockey after three years at Minnesota State-Mankato, Kalinski’s agitating style works at any level.
In 12 games for the Flyers, Kalinski was able to score his first NHL goal and finished with three points. Unfortunately for the hard-skating Alberta native, a thigh injury in early January prevented him from having a further impact with the Flyers. After recovering from the injury, Kalinski returned to the AHL at the end of February. All told, he has seven goals and 14 points in 38 AHL games with the Phantoms.
15. Joacim Eriksson, G – 6.5C
Drafted 196th overall, 7th round in 2008
The last player selected by the Flyers in the 2008 draft, Eriksson might have been a shrewd pick by the Philadelphia scouting department.
After performing solidly in his draft year with the J18 and J20 teams in the Brynas program in Sweden, Eriksson stepped into a full-time starter role with Brynas’ J20 squad for 2008-09. He appeared in 33 games with a 1.99 goals-against-average and a save percentage of .930.
With Florida prospect Jacob Markstrom due to return to duty between the pipes for Brynas’ top team in 2009-10, Eriksson will be looking to move up to the Swedish Elite League as Markstrom’s backup now that former backup Anders Lindback (NAS) has moved on to Timra.
16. Jacob Deserres, G – 6.5C
Drafted 84th overall, 3rd round in 2008
Much was expected after Deserres put together an outstanding draft season with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. Having split time with Tampa Bay prospect Riku Helenius, Deserres was thought to be ready to take over starting duties for the Thunderbirds in 2008-09, but was unable to fulfill those expectations.
Instead, Deserres found himself giving up starts to Calvin Pickard, a 16-year-old rookie and watched his numbers drop in nearly every statistical category. He finished the year with a record of 11-16 over 32 games along with a goals-against-average of 3.41, a save percentage of .883 and a single shutout.
The Thunderbirds finished fifth in the WHL‘s Western Conference and are currently competing in the WHL playoffs. Deserres has yet to see time in the 2009 playoffs.
17. Nathan Guenin, D – 5.5B
Signed as a free agent, 2006
At 26 years of age, Guenin is the elder statesman of the Flyers prospect pipeline. Originally a Rangers draft pick, Guenin was picked up by Philadelphia after finishing his four years of college with Ohio State. Since then, he’s appeared in almost 200 AHL games with the Philadelphia Phantoms and also played in a dozen NHL games over the past three seasons.
The 2008-09 season has been no exception with Guenin again stepping in to play one game with the Flyers after defenseman Ossi Vaananen was waived to make room for the return of Daniel Briere to the Philadelphia lineup. Meanwhile with the Phantoms, the hard-nosed defender has appeared in 55 games and has 10 assists. Although Guenin will never be mistaken for an offensive threat, his importance to the Phantoms is unmistakable. When Guenin went down in mid-December with injury, the club immediately fell into a six-game losing streak.
18. Jakub Kovar, G – 6.0C
Drafted 109th overall, 4th round in 2006
After coming to North America for the 2007-08 season and splitting the year between the Oshawa Generals and the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL, Kovar returned to Czech Republic for the 2008-09 season. Despite remaining unsigned by the Flyers, Kovar’s pedigree is still notable. He strapped on the pads to represent his country at both the 2007 and 2008 World Juniors and spent most of the 2008-09 season at the top level of competition in Czech pro hockey.
Playing for HC Ceske Budejovice of the Czech Extraliga, Kovar appeared in 24 games, splitting time with former NHL goaltender Roman Turek. Kovar finished the year with a 2.79 goals-against-average and a .912 save percentage. After finishing atop the Extraliga regular season last year and competing in the inaugural edition for the IIHF’s Champions Hockey League, HC Ceske Budejovice took a step back, finishing 11th in the 14-team league.
19. Mario Kempe, RW – 6.0C
Drafted 122nd overall, 5th round in 2007
When Swedish-born Kempe decided to return to his homeland for the 2008-09 season after two seasons in the QMJHL, some may have thought that the speedy winger was saying goodbye to North America for good. But after a season split between the Swedish Elite League and the country’s second-tier league, Kempe returned to join the AHL Phantoms after play in Europe came to an end.
Kempe initially joined Rogle of the SEL and played in 20 games, tallying two goals and 10 points. He also saw time with Mora, a team in Allsvenskan, the second highest-level Swedish hockey league. He had nine goals and 13 points in 17 games for Mora. He has now joined the Phantoms on an amateur try-out deal to finish the season. Should he perform well, he should receive a contract.
20. Rob Bellamy, RW – 6.0C
Drafted 92nd overall, 3rd round in 2004
Another rookie with college ties on the Phantoms, Bellamy joins the squad after completing all four years with the University of Maine. Not known for his offensive skills, Bellamy makes a name for himself with his hard-nosed play.
His physical tendencies do come at a price, with the Massachusetts native missing time throughout the season due to injuries. All told, Bellamy has played in 50 games for the Phantoms and has tallied two goals and five points.