The Philadelphia Flyers used the 2014 NHL Draft to add to their main area of depth – defense. The Flyers also added some forwards and picked up several underrated players who may turn out to be draft day steals.
While the defensive prospect pool is strong, the Flyers do not have a particularly strong group of left wing prospects. Philadelphia also lacks depth at goalkeeper and center – with only two players in each position. The Flyers have some promising depth and right wing, and certainly have drafted the blue line of the future.
Philadelphia’s left wing prospect pool is not as strong as the other positions. Taylor Leier is the team’s top prospect at the position, and behind him there are a couple of players – Oskar Lindblom and Radel Fazleev – who could turn out to be big pickups from the 2014 NHL Draft.
Leier, the oldest of Philadelphia’s left wing prospects, is in his first season with the Phantoms. The move comes after Leier spent three years in the CHL, and now as Portland’s captain. As a two-way forward, Leier’s defensive play and his leadership are his best qualities, and he has not expected to contribute a lot offensively. As one of Philadelphia’s hardest-working prospects, Leier has been improving each season.
Fazleev is in his second season with the Calgary Hitmen. His rookie season in the WHL was not impressive, but it was his first experience with the North American-style game after playing in Russia. Not to mention he dealt with injuries last season. But he played well after returning from his injuries and has more potential than he has shown. If Fazleev stays healthy and develops properly, he could become Philadelphia’s top left wing prospect.
Lindblom is more of a question mark than Fazleev. Taken in the fifth round, Lindblom is a defensive forward who plays a physical game and can dig for pucks in the corner. But the Swedish struggles with the puck in open ice and has trouble scoring away from the net. He is playing with the SHL this season, and has one goal through five games with Brynas.
With the additions of Fazleev and Lindblom, Marcel Noebels chances of making the NHL club are not very good. Noebels’ development has been halted by numerous concussion problems. When healthy, he has known as a two-way forward who excels defensively.
Also in the system are Tyrell Goulbourne and Andrew Johnston. Johnston has spent the past two years in Philadelphia’s organization, but his development seems to have slowed and he spent most of last season in the ECHL. He started this season with the Phantoms. Golbourne is known as an enforcing forward, but his offensive numbers have grown in the WHL.
Center is one of Philadelphia’s problem positions, as the Flyers only have two prospects at the position in Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins. Laughton, a two-way center, is Philadelphia’s top prospect and the most NHL ready. His defensive play is very strong, and he has proven himself as a leader who is willing to play wherever he is needed. After four years with Oshawa, Laughton is with Lehigh Valley Phantoms for his first professional season.
Cousins might not have Laughton’s potential, but he is still one of Philadelphia’s top prospects. Like Laughton, Cousins is a strong two-way player. Last season was his first full campaign in the AHL, where he recorded 29 points through 74 games and finished as one of the team’s leading scorers.
Philadelphia’s right wing pool is deeper than at center, and there are a couple of prospects who could pay off at the next level. While Nicolas Aube-Kubel, a 2014 draft pick, appears to have a lot of potential, Jason Akeson is at the top of this list. There have been many questions about Akeson’s potential to play at the next level, and many thought he would be a career minor-leaguer. But Akeson played with the Flyers in the playoffs last season and made the roster out of training camp. He seems to fit in with the big club and has played in six games thus far.
Even though he is young, Aube-Kubel is one of Philadelphia’s top-10 prospects. Since there is much room left for Aube-Kubel to develop, he is very difficult to project. But he brings speed, energy. and solid defensive play, and should find a spot in an NHL lineup down the line. Aube-Kubel does need to work on his offensive game, and he will have time to do that. He is in his third season with the Val-d’Or Foreurs.
At the collegiate level, Michael Parks has been moving his way up Philadelphia’s depth chart. After a sophomore slump due to injuries, Parks rebounded for an excellent junior year. His 30 points helped North Dakota to a Frozen Four appearance, and now he is the team’s highest returning scorer. Parks uses his speed to open up the ice and create scoring chances for himself and his teammates. But Parks is a very undersized forward, which might make it hard for him to replicate his scoring at a professional level.
Philadelphia has several other right wing prospects, but none carry as much talent or potential as Aube-Kubel and Parks. One of them is Brandon Alderson, who is known as a gritty forward. Despite some struggles at the AHL last season, Alderson appeared in almost every game for the Phantoms.
Another right wing prospect, Petr Straka, is also playing with the Phantoms. Straka also had his struggles in the AHL, but he spent some games on the team’s second line. He originally projected as a scorer, but his offensive game has not translated to the AHL. Derek Mathers, known as a fighting forward, spent last season in the AHL but started this season in the ECHL with Reading.
Philadelphia has spent a lot of its recent draft picks on defensemen, creating the Flyer blue line of the future. Six of Philadelphia’s top-10 prospects are defensemen, including three of the top four. Leading the way are Samuel Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere, two talented but vastly different defensemen.
Morin epitomizes a physical, shutdown defensive defenseman. He has not expected to be an offensive force, but can be used to shut down top opposing lines – something he has done in the QMJHL. Along with Gostisbehere and Laughton, Morin is in the team’s top-tier group of prospects.
Unlike Morin, Gostisbehere is an offensive defenseman. At the collegiate level, Gostisbehere was known for his scoring. He is fast and used his speed to cut through opposing teams. He helped lead Union to an NCAA championship as a junior, and is now in his first professional season with the Phantoms. He improved his defensive play while with Union, but he still has room to improve, which is something he will work on with the Phantoms.
The talent level drops off from Morin and Gostisbehere to the rest of the defensemen. But Travis Sanheim, Philadelphia’s first round pick in the 2014 draft, is next on the list. While he has a lot of time left to develop, he appears to have a promising future. He’s projected to be an offensive defenseman, and could add scoring to Philadelphia’s blue line. As a rookie in the WHL last season, Sanheim posted 29 points in 67 contests. In addition to adding experience, Sanheim needs to add some more weight.
Robert Hagg is another one of Philadelphia’s better defensive prospects, but he lacks the potential and talent of Gostisbehere and Morin. Hagg spent the last few years playing in Sweden, where he struggled with consistency. But the SHL is a difficult league to play in, especially for a teenager. While nothing in particular stands out about Hagg’s game, he showed his potential while playing for Sweden in the World Junior Championship. This is Hagg’s first season in the AHL.
At the collegiate level, the Flyers have a couple of good defensemen. First is Mark Friedman, who is one of the team’s top-10 prospects. He is just now getting a chance to prove himself at a higher level as a freshman at Bowling Green, and he has a goal through two games. As a smaller defenseman who is projected to perform offensively, Friedman could follow Gostisbehere’s path.
Reece Willcox has also been gathering some attention after a few solid seasons on a strong Cornell blue line. Willcox is not a flashy player, but he is strong in his own end. Each season he has taken on more responsibility with the Big Red, and appeared on the team’s top pairing last year.
In the European pipeline the Flyers have Valeri Vasiliev. He made the best of a difficult situation last season in the KHL. He should not have an issue adjusting to a North American-style game when he makes the jump over, but right now he is still in the KHL. There is no certainty to when he will sign a pro deal with Philadelphia.
Jesper Pettersson is another notable defensemen. The Flyers snagged him in the seventh round of the draft and liked him so much they signed him to an entry-level deal not long after. At 5’9, Pettersson is not tall. But he is not an offensive defensemen either – he is a stocky player who plays a physical style.
At the bottom of the defensemen depth pool are Nick Luukko, Terrance Amorosa, Brandon Manning, Maxim Lamarche, Matt Konan, Mark Alt, and David Drake. Luukko, Amorosa, and Drake are all playing at the collegiate level. Luukko has turned in a few solid seasons on Vermont’s blue line, while Drake and Amorosa are in their first collegiate seasons. Manning is a physical defenseman and has seen several call ups with the Flyers. Last season he took on a role with Adirondack’s top pairing, and is with the Phantoms again this season. Lamarche has spent most of his playing time in the ECHL after four years in the QMJHL. Konan has not had a chance to develop much at a professional level, as concussions have hampered him. He is currently with the Phantoms, but out with a head injury. Alt is in his second full season of minor league hockey.
This is big jump year for both of Philadelphia’s goaltending prospects.
Anthony Stolarz made the jump to professional hockey with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. For his size, Stolarz moves well and knows how to take space away. The past few seasons have shown that Stolarz still needs to develop technical aspects of his game.
Merrick Madsen is now a freshman at Harvard, the youngest of three Crimson goalkeepers. Harvard’s goalkeeping situation is not set yet, but even if they carry a rotation Madsen might not have a chance to play. Last season he appeared in 27 games with the Minot Minotauros.