Flyers Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Kevin Forbes

After a 2008-09 season that saw nine rookies suit up over the course of the year, including four from the list below, the Flyers organization will enter the 2009-10 season with 14 of their top 20 prospects playing hockey at the professional level. This bodes well for the immediate future, with the gems of the organizational pipeline rapidly reaching maturity and the expectation that they will soon be knocking on the door for full-time roles in the NHL. On the other hand, the Flyers have drafted 11 players over the past two seasons and only one of those players was picked in the first two rounds (Luca Sbisa, who has since been traded to the Anaheim Ducks). Once this class of young prospects graduates to the next level, Philadelphia will desperately need to restock the cupboard.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Claude Giroux
2. James vanRiemsdyk
3. Ryan Parent
4. Kevin Marshall
5. Patrick Maroon
6. Marc-Andre Bourdon
7. Andreas Nodl
8. Denis Bodrov
9. Joonas Lehtivuori
10. Joacim Eriksson
11. Jonathan Matsumoto
12. Michael Ratchuk
13. Adam Morrison
14. Simon Bertilsson
15. Oskars Bartulis
16. Nicola Riopel
17. Dave Labrecque
18. Jon Kalinski
19. David Laliberte
20. Jacob Deserres

1. Claude Giroux, RW – 8.0B
Drafted 22nd overall, 1st round in 2006

Some speculate that if Giroux played the entire 2008-09 season with the Flyers, he may have been a serious candidate for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. In any case, his production in his first year is a sign of good things to come. In 42 games with the club, Giroux tallied nine goals and 27 points. He also spent some time with the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms, potting 17 goals and finishing with 34 points in 33 games. For context, his AHL production placed him second on the team in points per game for players who appeared in more than 10 games with the Phantoms.

Considering this strong debut in his first full year of professional hockey, it was Giroux’s play down the stretch and into the post season that really got the Flyers organization buzzing. Over the last 19 games of the Flyers regular season, Giroux posted five goals and 16 points. He followed that performance with two goals and five points in six playoff games for the club. It was enough for Flyers to decide to make permanent room for the former QMJHL star. Over the off season, Philadelphia said goodbye to scoring forwards Joffrey Lupul (25 goals and 50 points last season) and Mike Knuble (27 goals and 47 points last season). Giroux will be called upon to replace a fair share of that missing offense. Opportunity awaits.

2. James vanRiemsdyk, LW – 8.0C
Drafted 2nd overall, 1st round in 2007

The wait is over. After two seasons with the University of New Hampshire, vanRiemsdyk decided to forgo the rest of his college career and sign a pro contract with Philadelphia. He finished his sophomore year with the Wildcats as their top scorer with 17 goals and 40 points in 36 games for the team. In his professional debut, he appeared in seven regular season games with the Phantoms and tallied a goal and an assist. He then was scoreless in four playoff matches for the Phantoms.

Most expect the second overall pick in 2007 to continue in the AHL for the beginning of the 2009-10, but now that Philadelphia has vanRiemsdyk’s name on a contract, it’s another waiting game: how long before he establishes himself in the NHL.

3. Ryan Parent, D – 7.0B
Acquired by trade with Nashville, 2007

If not for a shoulder injury that hampered the first half of the 2008-09 season, Parent would have been graduated as an NHL regular. Indeed, the stay-at-home defender has appeared in 54 NHL regular season games so far and averaged just over 18 minutes of ice-time per game last season. Acquired from the Predators at the 2007 trade deadline, Parent appeared in 31 games last season for the Flyers, tallying four assists. He also played in 15 AHL games with the Phantoms, putting up one assist. Healthy for the playoffs, he was held pointless in six postseason appearances with the Flyers.

Not known as an offensive dynamo by any stretch of the imagination, Parent is already penciled into the starting lineup for the Flyers in 2009-10. He is expected to continue to provide shut-down defensive performances and help out on the penalty kill. He’s already proven his worth to the franchise.

4. Kevin Marshall, D – 7.0C
Drafted 41st overall, 2nd round in 2007

Finishing his junior career, Marshall is bringing his hard-nosed game to the professional ranks. A bruising defenseman from Boucherville, Quebec, Marshall led his Quebec Remparts in hits in 2008-09 with 129, while also proving he was no slouch offensively. His 38 points, nine of them goals, were third among blue liners on the club.

Already a Memorial Cup winner with Lewiston in 2007, Marshall raised his game considerably when the post season rolled around. In 17 playoff games, he posted a goal and 11 points to lead the Remparts defense in scoring. Now making his way to the professional hockey world. Marshall is quickly elbowing his way into being one of the top call-ups for openings on the blueline, thanks to strong performances at the Flyers summer prospect camp.
 
5. Patrick Maroon, LW – 7.0C
Drafted 161st overall, 6th round in 2007

Another player who has benefited from a strong showing at the Flyers summer prospect camp, Maroon is finally beginning to show that he is putting all the pieces together and living up to his potential. A junior scoring sensation, Maroon appeared in all 80 games for the AHL Phantoms in 2008-09 and posted 23 goals and 54 points, finishing fourth on the squad in scoring.

After showcasing a new-found dedication to fitness and the game at the Flyers prospect camp and opening the eyes of many with his overall play, Maroon may have very quickly established himself as being on the cusp of breaking through the NHL ranks. Although competition for an NHL roster spot may be tight, Maroon could see some time with the Flyers during the 2009-10 season.

6. Marc-Andre Bourdon, D – 7.0C
Drafted 67th overall, 3rd round in 2008

Finishing his junior career in style by competing in the Memorial Cup, offensive blue liner Bourdon is now focused on the next challenge: the adjustment to pro hockey. After being traded midway through the 2008-09 season, Bourdon finished the year with the Rimouski Oceanic and had a total of 18 goals and 60 points in 54 games, good enough for fourth on the team in scoring. As host of the Memorial Cup, Rimouski was guaranteed a berth in the championship and in 13 playoff games; Bourdon posted 13 points followed by four assists in four Memorial Cup games.

Known mainly for his offensive output, Bourdon also is a tough customer in his own end as can be seen by his 140 hits during the regular season, which placed him third on the Oceanic. Expected to start his professional career in the AHL, Bourdon needs to continue refining his skating and his play away from the puck to improve.

7. Andreas Nodl, RW – 6.5C
Drafted 39th overall, 2nd round in 2006

Quickly making his impact in his first year of professional hockey, Nodl is looking to build on last year’s advancement without being pigeon-holed in a role not befitting his skill set. After two seasons in the college ranks, Nodl, an Austrian native, split the 2008-09 season between the NHL and the AHL. With the Flyers, he posted a goal and four points in 38 games, while playing mainly a checking role. Meanwhile, with the Phantoms, he tallied six goals and 20 points in 39 games.

Opinions are mixed on Nodl, especially when discussing his future. As a young player who has proven that he can handle the NHL grind, some believe he would be better suited playing a role on the Flyers third or fourth line. But as a skater who has shown offensive talent by scoring over a point per game in both his years with St. Cloud State, others feel he would benefit from being developed further, perhaps with more time in the AHL, before being given a role on a scoring line. Nodl may already be at a crossroads in his career.

8. Denis Bodrov, D – 7.0D
Drafted 55th overall, 2nd round in 2006

Not attending the club’s summer prospect camp, questions continue to swirl on and when and if Bodrov will make an appearance in North America. A bruising blue liner, Bodrov finished another season in the KHL with a goal and six points in 21 games. He coupled that output with an assist in four post-season match-ups.

Although all are anxious to get the Moscow native signed to a professional contract, at present, it appears that the compensation offered by the KHL is proving to be a much more attractive option when compared to an NHL entry-level contract and the prospect of spending time in the AHL.

9. Joonas Lehtivuori, D – 6.5C
Drafted 101st overall, 4th round in 2006

After three seasons in SM-Liiga as a member of Ilves Tampere, the wait is over for Lehtivuori‘s trip to Philadelphia. Signed by the squad to a three-year entry-level contract, Lehtivuori is coming off a season that saw him post four goals and 12 points in 44 games and being held pointless in three playoff matches. Although those totals may not appear that strong, the Finnish blue liner was hampered by injury and military obligations for much of the year.

Expected to join the Phantoms for his first year in North America, the puck-moving defenseman will require some time to transition to the differences between the North American game and the one he is used to in Finland. However, his skill set is undeniable.

10. Joacim Eriksson, G – 6.5C
Drafted 196th overall, 7th round in 2008

For a team that has drawn some attention as a goaltending carousel over the years, it is a necessity in the salary-capped NHL to develop quality netminding prospects within the organization. Luckily, the Flyers found 19-year-old Eriksson late in the 2008 draft. Playing a starring role for Brynas’ J20 squad in 2008-09, Eriksson appeared in 33 games with a sparkling 1.99 goals-against-average and a sterling .930 save percentage. He followed this with a strong performance at the Flyers summer prospect camp.

The Flyers already have six goaltenders signed to professional contracts, so Eriksson will return to Sweden to continue to hone his craft. He will play the 2009-10 season with Leksand in Allsvenskan, the second highest Swedish hockey league, where he is expected to be the starting net minder.

11. Jonathan Matsumoto, C – 6.5C
Drafted 79th overall, 3rd round in 2006

Given the amount of injuries and call-ups that the Flyers saw in 2008-09, some have to wonder why Matsumoto, a two-year veteran of the AHL has yet to see a cup of coffee in the NHL ranks. After posting 29 goals and 63 points in 78 games for the Phantoms, good enough to be second on the squad in scoring and following that up with a goal and three points in four playoff games for the Phantoms, one has to wonder what more the former Bowling Green State University star has to do.

In any case, Matsumoto will once again find himself in competition with players like Maroon, Nodl, vanRiemsdyk and newly-signed Finnish star Miko Pyorala among others for some of the precious final NHL roster spots. Should Matsumoto once again find himself on the outside looking in, expect him to be counted on to be one of the top scoring stars in the AHL.

12. Michael Ratchuk, D – 6.0C
Drafted 42nd overall, 2nd round in 2006

Expected to be an offensive weapon for the Phantoms in his first full season of professional hockey, Ratchuk has all the skills, but needs further seasoning before he can realize his full potential. With five goals and 17 points in 77 games for the Phantoms, Ratchuk’s play was far from dreadful, but he has the tools to be so much more.

Unfortunately for the Buffalo native, he will soon be pushed by other defenders like Marshall, Bourdon and Lehtivuori, who will all first challenge him for ice-time in the AHL before also competing with him for attention at the NHL level. A fleet-footed defenseman with strong puck skills, the depth of the Flyers organization may not work in Ratchuk’s favor if he cannot put it all together quickly.

13. Adam Morrison, G – 6.5C
Drafted 81st overall, 3rd round in 2009

The first of Philadelphia’s selections in 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Morrison addresses a continual weakness of the Flyers: goaltending. Appearing in 13 games for the Saskatoon Blades as a rookie, Morrison caught the eye of the Flyers brass. He posted a 2.49 goals-against-average and a .907 save percentage, along with a record of 9-1-1.

Playing behind Washington Capitals prospect Braden Holtby in his first year in the WHL, Morrison is poised to inherit the starting role from the Saskatchewan native as Holtby makes the jump to the professional ranks. With Saskatchewan expected to once again have a strong team in 2009-10, Morrison will be counted on to carry the lion’s share of the net minding load. A late inclusion to Hockey Canada’s goaltending camp in June, much is expected of the young goaltender.

14. Simon Bertilsson, D – 6.5C
Drafted 87th overall, 3rd round in 2009

It is possible that while watching their goaltending prospect Eriksson play for Brynas, Flyers scouts got their first look at Bertilsson. Bertilsson split his 2008-09 season between Brynas’s Swedish Elite League team and their junior squad with each assignment being a study in contrasts. Asked to mainly play a defensive role for the Swedish Elite League team, Bertilsson appeared in 21 games and posted a single assist. But with the J20 team, the defenseman was given much more freedom to prosper and responded with nine goals and 31 points in 30 games.

Expected to return to Sweden for the 2009-10 season, Bertilsson will likely be given time to develop in his native country for the time being, especially while the Flyers take the time to evaluate the glut of defensemen that they currently have signed to pro contracts. Having already shown he can handle the demands of the SEL as a 17-year-old, expect Bertilsson to begin to showcase more of skills as he develops.

15. Oskars Bartulis, D – 6.0C
Drafted 91st overall, 3rd round in 2005

A veteran of two AHL seasons, Bartulis is still trying to make his mark at the professional level within the Flyers organization. After posting 21 points in an injury-filled rookie season that saw him play in 57 games, Bartulis appeared in a full 80 games for the Phantoms in 2008-09, but he also saw his totals drop to 13 points.

With players like Marshall, Bourdon and Lehtivuori all making the jump to the pros for 2009-10, Bartulis, a QMJHL grad, will need to continue to establish himself as a viable NHL prospect or risk being passed over for both ice-time and future opportunities.

16. Nicola Riopel – 6.5D
Drafted 142nd overall, 5th round in 2009

The third selection and the second goaltender picked by the Flyers in 2009, Riopel passed through the 2008 draft without being selected. To add insult to injury, Riopel attended the Montreal Canadiens training camp but saw his fellow goaltending invitee (Robert Mayer) receive a contract instead of him. How did the QMJHL netminder respond? Simply by posting record-setting totals in his 2008-09 season. He back stopped the Moncton Wildcats to a Atlantic Division title with 43 wins, a .930 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against-average (a league record). In return, Riopel received the Jacques Plante Memorial Trophy for the QMJHL‘s lowest GAA as well as the Michel Briere Memorial Trophy as the QMJHL‘s player of the year.

Signed to an entry-level deal by the Flyers, Riopel will join an organization suddenly burgeoning with depth between the pipes. Although newly-signed veteran Swedish goaltender Johan Backlund is expected to have the inside shot at the starting job with the Adirondack Phantoms, Riopel will compete with Michael Teslak and Jeremy Duchesne for the backup duty in the AHL. Though it is hard to speculate prior to training camp, Riopel is the likely choice to win that battle.
 
17. Dave Labrecque, C – 7.0D
Drafted 153rd overall, 6th round in 2009

Splitting his first year of draft eligibility between the QMJHL and Junior A, Labrecque waited until the 2008-09 season to showcase his full abilities and to hear his name called on draft day. Posting 13 goals and 61 points in 59 games for the Shawinigan Cataractes in his first full season with the QMJHL, Labrecque followed up that performance with another three goals and 19 points in 20 post-season matches.

Undoubtedly talented, Labrecque will be asked to carry an even larger load on the score sheet in what may be his final year of junior hockey. Shawinigan is saying goodbye to offensive weapons like Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll, Nicholas Petersen and Matthew Pistilli and Labrecque will be one of the first in line to replace their offensive production.

18. Jon Kalinski, LW – 5.5B
Drafted 152nd overall, 6th round in 2007

Some may be a bit surprised, that Kalinski, a former NCAA player in his first season of pro hockey last year, spent a handful of games at the NHL level, but that is more a testament to his style of play than anything else. Never one to be mistaken for an offensive star, the Alberta native’s work-horse style led to him potting a goal and three points in 12 NHL games with the Flyers. He followed that up with 10 goals and 17 points in 46 games with the Phantoms, as well as a goal and three points in four AHL playoff matches.

In the mix for a spot on the Flyers’ third or fourth line, it is hard to imagine that the agitating forward will ever be much more at the NHL level. However, now that he has established himself, Kalinski could be just steps away from carving out a long and prosperous role as an agitator in Philadelphia’s bottom-six forwards.

19. David Laliberte, RW – 6.0C
Drafted 124th overall, 4th round in 2004

After splitting the 2007-08 season between the AHL and the ECHL, Laliberte established himself as an AHL regular in his second year of pro hockey. With 28 goals and 48 points in 70 games, the former QMJHL star finished fifth on the team in scoring and his all-zone play was a welcome addition to the AHL squad.

Playing the full five years in the QMJHL, Laliberte wasn’t signed to an NHL deal until after his 20-year-old season, but has worked hard to make up for lost time. He figures to once again be counted on as a key contributor with the Adirondack Phantoms.

20. Jacob Deserres, G – 6.5D
Drafted 84th overall, 3rd round in 2008

Splashing onto the scene with a strong 2007-08 campaign as a member of the Seattle Thunderbirds, much was expected from Deserres in his first season as a full-fledged starter in the WHL. Unfortunately, Deserres did not live up to expectations, far from it in fact, and he watched his goals-against-average balloon as his save percentage dropped and he lost his starting job to a 16-year-old rookie.

Finishing the year with a record of 11-16 and a GAA of 3.41 with a save percentage of .883, Deserres was a shadow of the player who posted a 20-11 record with a 2.28 GAA and a .922 save percentage in his draft year. So dramatic was his fall from grace that he finished the year watching all five of Seattle’s playoff matches from the bench. Although Deserres has shown that he has talent, he desperately needs to rebound, especially with a sudden influx of goaltending depth in the organization thanks to the addition of players like Backlund, Morrison and Riopel.