The Philadelphia Flyers have gone to lengths the past few seasons to address their defensive depth and now have five very solid blueliners among their top 10 prospects.
The 2014 Fall Top 20 features an influx of recently-drafted talent, as all of Philadelphia’s 2014 NHL Draft picks made the list. Three of those picks, Travis Sanheim, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Mark Friedman, made the top 10. Certain players, including Michael Parks and Jason Akeson, have been moved out of the top 10. Several other players have changed spots, but there were no significant jumps in ranking.
1. (1) Scott Laughton, C, 7.5B
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2012
Laughton retains his number one position in this set of rankings. He is a strong player and the best two-way forward in Philadelphia’s system. He was very productive offensively in the OHL, but his strength is in two-way play, meaning he probably will not be a top-line forward at the NHL level. He is a proven leader who will adapt to a team’s needs and play whatever role he is needed to play. Laughton also brings a good work ethic and is arguably the hardest working prospect in this group.
2. (2) Samuel Morin, D, 7.5B
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2013
Morin remains second on the list, but only by a little bit. Along with Laughton and Shayne Gostisbehere, he is one of Philadelphia’s top-tier prospects. He has the potential to become a good NHL defender, although he does not project to be a big offensive helper. Unlike Gostisbehere, another one of Philadelphia’s talented defensemen, Morin is more of a physical, defensive defenseman and his defensive play is stronger than Gostisbehere’s. Morin can score, and has scored in the QMJHL, but he might not be able to replicate that at the next level. While Morin has little offensive upside, he is a big, solid defender who can shut down opposing lines.
3. (4) Shayne Gostisbehere, D, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2012
Gostisbehere moves up one spot because of a breakout junior campaign with Union. While he has to work on several aspects of his game, especially defensively, the 21-year-old has the potential to become one of the organization’s top defensemen. His defense improved over last season, when he turned in a few good performances to help Union win the national championship. If he can tighten up his play in his own end, he could be a capable NHL defenseman who can quarterback a power play. Gostisbehere has tremendous offensive upside, and he is a fast defenseman who brings a lot of energy and can cut through opposing teams.
Gostisbehere will have a chance to work in his defensive play with the Phantoms this coming season.
4. (NR) Travis Sanheim, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2014
Sanheim takes the fourth spot on this list because the first-round pick has the potential to be an elite defender. He still has a lot of developing left and more experience to add, but the future looks bright for Sanheim. In his first year with the Calgary Hitmen, Sanheim posted five goals and 24 assists in 67 WHL games. He is a two-way defenseman who can read the ice well and move the puck well, and he has the potential to be an offensive defenseman at the next level. He is still fairly raw at the Canadian major junior level and will need to add some weight to his tall frame.
5. (3) Robert Hagg, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2013
Hagg is another one of Philadelphia’s better defensive prospects, but his potential is not as high as Morin, Gostisbehere, or Sanheim. There is a big different in skill between that trio and Hagg, who does not have one particularly dominant aspect of his game. Though he was inconsistent for stretches, Hagg found a solid amount of playing time with MODO in 2013-14. He also played well in the World Junior Championship last year, helping Sweden to a silver medal. Hagg, who came over to the AHL after his season in Sweden finished, will start the 2014-15 season with the Phantoms.
The talent level from Philadelphia’s top-tier defensemen to the next level drops significantly. Alt played well last season, which was his first year in the AHL. Thanks to some other Phantom injuries, he took on a big role with the Philadelphia affiliate and even spent some time as a top-line defenseman. At 6’3, Alt is a big defenseman who skates well for his size. He did improve over his first professional season and he showed that he could score, but he still needs more time to develop if he wants to reach the next level.
7. (NR) Nicolas Aube-Kubel, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2014
Aube-Kubel is a two-way forward who plays with a high amount of energy and grit. He is a fast skater, extremely versatile, and is able to play in a variety of different situations. He is also very solid on the back-check and in his own end. He still needs to improve his offensive game, but his speed and versatility should allow him to find a role at the professional level, even if his offensive game does not develop any more.
8. (5) Nick Cousins, C, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 58th overall, 2011
The Flyers only have two center prospects, which leaves Cousins as the second center behind Laughton. He struggled at times in his AHL campaign last season, but despite the bumps still managed to appear in 70 games and was one of the team leaders in scoring. Cousins, who may not be able to replicate that scoring at an NHL level, is a sound playmaker. Like Laughton and most other Flyers prospects, Cousins is a strong two-way player. He is also willing to play a tough style of hockey, which should fit in well with the Flyers. Because of Cousins’ limited offensive upside, he would probably fill a third-line position.
9. (NR) Mark Friedman, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2014
Like Sanheim and Aube-Kubel, Friedman has limited experience at the next level of hockey. He has only had experience at the junior level with the USHL, but Friedman might have more upside than some of his Flyer prospect counterparts. Similar to some other Philadelphia defensive prospects – such as Gostisbehere – Friedman is on the smaller side but can bring an offensive presence. An extra season in the USHL helped Friedman sharpen his skills on both sides of the puck, and he will have more time to develop during his time with Bowling Green University.
10. (6) Anthony Stolarz, G, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall, 2012
Stolar is by far Philadelphia’s best goalkeeping prospect, and he might the best goalkeeper the organization has had in a while. But for a team like the Flyers, that does not mean much for Stolarz. He has the potential to be a good netminder, especially because of his size, but he is not as talented as some other goaltending prospects. He moves well, can take up space and can take space away – but he still has to work on some technical aspects of his game. Development has not gone as planned for Stolarz, who missed a significant portion of last season after being cut by a skate.
11. (9) Michael Parks, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 149th overall, 2010
Parks’ position dropped because of the inclusion of several recent Flyers draft picks. Parks, one of Philadelphia’s fastest prospects, has used his speed to open up the ice and create opportunities for his teammates. He has improved over his three years at North Dakota, managing a strong junior year after missing most of his sophomore campaign because of injuries. Parks is a very small forward and that might hinder his ability to replicate his offense at the professional level. He will return to North Dakota for his senior season and another year of development, and could be a third or fourth-line talent at a professional level.
12. (16) Taylor Leier, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 117th overall, 2012
Leier is currently the team’s top left-wing prospect, just above Oskar Lindblom and Radel Fazleev. He set career highs in points with Portland last season, a team he also captained. Leier is a two-way forward who would not be able to contribute a lot offensively at the next level, but he plays well defensively. He is a smaller forward at 5’11, but he has excellent leadership qualities and a good work ethic. Last season, Leier attracted attention from Team Canada, and his World Junior appearance with Canada is a testament to just how much he has improved.
13. (13) Reece Willcox, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 141st overall, 2012
Willcox, a fifth-round pick, has also turned into a surprise prospect for the Flyers. He is not the flashiest of players and does not contribute much offensively, but he is a good defensive defenseman who takes up a lot of space. He has improved over his time with Cornell. He started as a top-four defenseman as a freshman, and as a sophomore he took on more responsibility with the Big Red as a first-pair defenseman. He should continue developing and gaining responsibility, as he will return to Cornell for his junior year.
14. (14) Valeri Vasiliev, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 201st overall, 2012
In a prospect group so heavily stacked with defensemen, Vasiliev is in a peculiar situation. He has held his own in the KHL, despite spending last season with an out-of-luck Spartak Moscow. He is a very physical defenseman with little offensive upside, but he should easily be able to make the jump to the North American game. But instead of coming to the Phantoms, Vasiliev has opted to spend another season in Russia, where he will play for Avangard Omsk.
15. (NR) Radel Fazleev, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 168th overall, 2014
Fazleev did not draw too much attention in his first season with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, but he missed part of the season with an injury. So he fell to the sixth round of the NHL draft and seems to be an underrated forward. He did not turn in an extremely productive regular season in the WHL, but he did produce when he returned for the playoffs. The left wing is a smart player who can play well without the puck, which bodes well for his defensive game.
16. (NR) Oskar Lindblom, LW 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2014
Lindblom is one of Philadephia’s most interesting prospects. He has some assets, as he can score if he is close to the net, and he can play defensively. He is not particularly good with the puck in open ice, however, nor does he possess a great deal of speed. He does play a physical game though and is good at competing for pucks in corners. He is also provides a solid net front presence.
If he can get stronger and faster, Lindblom could one day develop into a solid complementary winger for the Flyers.
17. (9) Jason Akeson, RW, 6.0B
Signed as a free agent, March 2nd, 2011
Akeson recorded the biggest fall in the rankings. At the AHL level, he consistently showed he is a skilled playmaker who can score. Akeson finally caught up a break last season, when he was called up by the Philadelphia Flyers. He used his opportunity to play in the first round of the NHL playoffs to score some goals. But despite his call up last year, Akeson does not have a high upside and could turn out to be a career minor league player. He might get more chances with the Flyers, and if he does, he could end up being a lower-level forward at the NHL level. But for now, he appears to be minor-league player.
18. (20) Brandon Alderson, RW 6.0C
Signed as a free agent, March 1st, 2013
Unlike Alderson’s right wing counterparts in Aube-Kubel and Parks, there really is not one thing that stands out about Alderson’s game. He also struggled a little bit last season with the Phantoms, but despite the difficulties still played in almost every game. Alderson is a physical forward and is not afraid to fight for the puck in gritty areas. He also spent time on the power play last season with the Phantoms.
19. (18) Marcel Noebels, LW 6.0C
Signed as a free agent, March 1st, 2013
Noebels, who has dropped in the last few rankings, barely made the top 20. With Lindblom and Fazleev joining the Flyers system, the chances of Noebels making it with the big club are even slimmer. Noebels is a two-way forward with very little offensive upside. He is an asset defensively, and he can play on the penalty kill. But the left winger’s development progress has been limited due to injuries and concussion symptoms. If Noebels could keep the injuries at bay, he might be a lower-line, gritty forward.
20. (NR) Jesper Pettersson, D, 6.0D
Drafted 7th round, 198th overall, 2014
While several other players were under consideration for this last spot, Pettersson earned it because of his potential. Despite being a seventh-round pick, he could end up being a steal for the Flyers. He is small at 5’9, but unlike Philadelphia’s other undersized defenseman, Pettersson is a defensively oriented blueliner. He is also an aggressive player, despite his small frame. While currently he has little offensive upside, there is potential for that aspect of his game to grow. He was signed by the Flyers to and entry-level contract a few weeks after the draft.