Philadelphia Flyers prospects will use 2014-15 season to prove they can play at next level

By Jashvina Shah
Shayne Gostisbehere - Philadelphia Flyers

Photo: Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is one of several Philadelphia prospects making their professional debut with the Flyers organization. (courtesy of Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

 

Several of the Philadelphia Flyers‘ top prospects will begin their professional careers in 2014-15, including former NCAA standout Shayne Gostisbehere.

In addition to Gostisbehere, the AHL will welcome Scott Laughton and Anthony Stolarz. Those players impacted their previous teams, but will now have to prove they can replicate those performances at the professional level. Other players like Michael Parks and Samuel Morin are looking to build off solid seasons, while other prospects will try to bounce back from sub-par years in 2013-14.

This will be an interesting year for Philadelphia’s prospects, with so many players lacing up in a different level of hockey. It will be a trying year for all of them, with many adjustments to come.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Scott Laughton, C, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)

Philadelphia’s top four prospects are very closely ranked, and there is drop off from the top few to the rest of the group. But Scott Laughton has stayed in the top spot for the past few years and is one of the strongest, most NHL-ready prospects. Laughton finished his time in the OHL with respectable offensive numbers, but he is primarily a two-way forward. He lacks the offensive skills to make a top line at the NHL level, but he will be able to find a role in Philadelphia’s organization as a defensive forward who can chip in offensively.

Laughton is an effective leader who will help the team in any way he can. The center, who also brings a strong work ethic, will be starting his first pro season. It will be interesting, as he spent the past few seasons in the OHL and will now join a Phantoms team that struggled last season. The team in Lehigh Valley emphasizes defensive play, so Laughton should fit in. But there will be an adjustment period for Laughton, who appeared in several games with the Phantoms in 2012-13 before being returned to his OHL team. Even if Laughton does not make the NHL this season, he will have a chance to play with a majority of Philadelphia’s offensive prospects this season.

NHL-Bound
Scott Laughton, C, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)

Laughton is one of the most NHL-ready players in Philadelphia’s prospect pool and could easily be a top pick for a call up if needed this season. Although he has limited offensive upside, he is Philadelphia’s best center prospect. Laughton also brings a solid work ethic and leadership qualities, which he showed for team Canada at the World Junior Championship.

There are several other prospects at the AHL level with more experience than Laughton, most notably Nick Cousins. But, Laughton’s NHL future projects to be far better than Cousins’. Laughton will try to win a job with the Flyers at the season’s start, but he could be returned to the Phantoms. The only question is where and when he will fit into the Flyers lineup depends on the impact of his offensive production.

Bounceback Prospect
Anthony Stolarz, G, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)

This will be a pivotal season for Stolarz. He is the best goalkeeper in Philadelphia’s organization and has been for some time, but that does not say too much about Stolarz. He has several defining aspects – especially his size. He moves well despite his 6’6 frame and can take up a lot of space. But Stolarz’ technical aspects still need to be fine-tuned, and he has not had as much time as planned to work on those skills.

Stolarz left Nebraska-Omaha after eight games his freshman year for the OHL in search of more playing time. He appeared in 55 games over portions of two seasons with the London Knights, but missed playing time last year after he was cut by a skate. Stolarz also underwent hip surgery in May, but seems to be recovering well. Unfortunately for Stolarz, he missed the playing time needed to improve his skills. But this season, his first in the pros, will give the goalkeeper a chance to earn quality playing time.

Offensive Breakout
Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)

Of Philadelphia’s top four prospects, Gostisbehere is the one with the highest offensive potential. In his last season with Union, he finished top-four in the country in scoring among defensemen and helped Union win the National Championship. The defenseman’s best assets are his energy and speed. He can easily cut through opposing teams and open up the ice to create plays for his teammates. While last season was an offensive breakout for Gostisbehere, he also showed improvement in his defensive play, which is still in question. It may be the weakest part of his game, but if he continues improving in his own end, he is capable of becoming one of the organization’s top defenseman.

Gostisbehere is not quite NHL ready yet, and will enter his first professional season with the Phantoms. He spent three years playing in the NCAA, and it will probably take him time to adjust at the AHL level. But if Gostisbehere adjusts well, he should be able to bring an offensive burst to a Lehigh Valley team that lacked sharp offensive numbers last season. Play in his own end should improve as well, with the Phantoms’ defensive-minded system. If and when his defensive play improves, he could be a second-pair defenseman who could quarterback a team’s power play unit.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Samuel Morin, D, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)

Morin rounds out a trio of elite Flyers prospects, which also includes Gostisbehere and Laughton. Since Laughton has moved on to the professional level, Morin inherits the position of top junior prospect. Morin, along with Gostisbehere, make up the organization’s two elite defenseman. At 203 pounds, Morin has room to add some weight to his 6’6 frame. He is an extremely physical defensive defenseman and projects to have little offensive upside. But he is a shutdown defender and could be an asset to Philadelphia’s blue line in the future. While Morin needs to improve offensively, he is known to make smart plays on the blue line and has logged playing time against opposing team top units.

The Flyers have several other prospects at the CHL level including Travis Sanheim and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, but none are as seasoned as Morin. He has been putting up respectable offensive numbers in the QMJHL, and recorded a career high last season. His point total has improved in each season with the Rimouski Oceanic, so look to Morin to surpass his previous QMJHL career high. At 19, Morin will be appearing in his fourth season in the QMJHL. He is almost NHL ready, and should easily be able to turn in a strong season with the Oceanic.

Offensive Breakout
Nicolas Aube-Kubel, RW, Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

Drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft, Nicolas Aube-Kubel is already one of Philadelphia’s top prospects. He has spent the past three seasons with the Val-d’Or Foreurs, where the right wing’s offensive production has been lacking. Currently, Aube-Kubel is a two-way forward and plays well in his own end. But in the future, he could potentially fill a variety of roles. He is energetic, versatile, and quick, which makes him a top choice for the Flyers at left wing.

With his fourth season approaching, this is a good season for Aube-Kubel to up his offensive production. His point total has increased with each passing season, but he still averages less than a point per game in the QMJHL. Aube-Kubel’s upside is high enough that he will find a role at the next level – but there is no guarantee what that role will be. Look for his point production to rise this season, and possibly hint at the player he will be in the future.

Bounceback Prospect
Radel Fazleev, LW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

Fazleev showed promise at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament last season, but never had a chance to continue that success. He arrived in Calgary last season for his first year in the WHL. His number were less than impressive, but he missed many games with an injury. It was also Fazleev’s first season playing the North American game. Those factors account for his unimpressive offensive production, and why Fazleev was taken in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

His numbers last season were skewed because of the injury, but once Fazleev returned, he recorded seven points in six playoff games. It was just a small piece of what Fazleev is capable of. He is a two-way forward and a versatile player. This season, Fazleev just needs to stay healthy, and his numbers should jump from last year’s totals.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Michael Parks, RW, North Dakota (NCHC)

With Gostisbehere leaving NCAA hockey for a professional contract, Philadelphia’s prospects at the amateur level have slimmed considerably. But the Flyers have some talent at this level, including Michael Parks. At 6′, Parks is an undersized forward. But he has not let that stop him from turning in a stellar performance with North Dakota. Last season, Parks finished second on the team in scoring, helping bring North Dakota to the Frozen Four.

It was an impressive season from Parks, who had turned in a sub-par performance his sophomore year due to injuries. He is an extremely speedy forward – the fastest amongst Philadelphia prospects – and has used his speed to open up the ice and create opportunities for his teammates. Parks will be back with North Dakota for his senior season, as many of his teammates are also returning. He will have an opportunity to put together another strong season for a North Dakota team that has a promising chance at replicating its Frozen Four berth.

Freshman to Watch
Mark Friedman, D, Bowling Green Falcons (WCHA)

Originally, Friedman was supposed to join Bowling Green for the 2013-14 season. But academic issues kept the defenseman in the USHL for one more season, where he helped lead the Waterloo Blackhawks to a Clark Cup final appearance. Friedman was the team’s second-highest scoring defenseman, in the regular season and both the playoffs. During his extra year of junior hockey, Friedman improved his skills on both sides of the ice. Friedman is a small defenseman at 5’11, but he could have more offensive upside than some of his counterparts.

Friedman joins Bowling Green as one of the team’s 16 underclassmen, and this will also be a season of adjustment for the young defenseman. He may have to fight for his playing time amongst a team with five upperclassmen defenseman. But of all of Philadelphia’s prospects entering college, Friedman has the highest potential. If he earns playing time this season, he could be a good surprise for the Falcons.

Unsigned for 2015-16
Michael Parks, RW, North Dakota (NCHC)

Michael Parks is entering his senior season with North Dakota, which also means he will be unsigned for the next season. If Parks keeps progressing the way he has over the past couple of seasons, he will be poised to turn in the best season of his collegiate career. Each season he has been better than the last, save a sophomore slump brought on by an injury and missed playing time.

Parks’ best attribute is his speed, which he uses to create opportunities for his teammates. It would also be a great asset to a prospect pool that lacks much offensive production.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Valeri Vasiliev, D, Avangard Omsk (KHL)

Robert Hagg was Philadelphia’s top prospect at the European level, but the spot opened after he joined the Phantoms. The Flyers have one other prospect in Europe, and that is Oskar Lindblom. Vasiliev falls just outside the top-tier of Flyers defensive prospects, but he has played well in the KHL. Vasiliev is a physical defenseman whom many believe will have no trouble adapting to the North American game when he chooses to make the jump.

Last season as a 19-year-old in the KHL, Vasiliev produced a good campaign despite playing for financially-troubled Spartak Moscow. He should turn in a much better year this coming season, as his situation in the KHL has changed and he will play with the Avangard Omsk.

Offensive Breakout
Oskar Lindblom, LW, Brynas (SHL)

Taken in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, Lindblom already could become one of Philadelphia’s top left wing prospects, aside from Radel Fazleev. What role, if any, Lindblom would be able to fill at the next level is a question mark. His assets include physicality and his ability to score when he is around the net. He can battle for pucks in the corners but is not extremely speedy, and his offensive upside has been questioned.

He will enter his second season with the Brynas organization in Sweden. Last year he spent majority of season with their junior affiliate, where he served as an alternate captain. He also played four games at the next level in the SHL. In each season with Brynas, Lindblom has moved up another level and still turned out a decent offensive output. This season he could surpass his previous career totals and may even churn out some points in the SHL.