GM Paul Holmgren has done quite a bit to bring a new kind of hockey to the city of Philadelphia. In three years since taking over for Bobby Clarke, Holmgren has brought both the organization as well as the prospect pool into a new era of post-lockout hockey.
The pool is now filled with quite a few prospects from both regimes who are knocking on the NHL’s doorstep. Holmgren so far has shown that he is willing to move not only picks but also prospects in order put his team in the best position to win, not unlike his mentor.
Though the pool may suffer in the next couple of seasons given some graduations, there is plenty of talent to compliment an already emerging young core in the NHL.
One thing the organization seems to be doing better with since the turnover is finding potential sleepers in the draft. Starting with Holmgren’s first draft day in 2007, there are more potential NHL players taken in later rounds creeping up the board.
This offseason though has been one of upheaval for the Flyers affiliated teams in other leagues. Since the Wachovia Spectrum is set to be torn down, the Philadelphia Phantoms have temporarily changed locations to Glens Falls, NY as the Adirondack Phantoms with no permanent destination settled on. This summer, the Flyers also added a new ECHL affiliate, the Kalamazoo Wings, since the Mississippi Sea Wolves folded, as well as an IHL affiliate, the Quad City Mallards.
The Flyers have considerable talent at the top end of all three forward positions, but the strongest is the left side. The gem of Holmgren’s early drafting career as General Manager, James vanRiemsdyk, has made a leap to the NHL sooner than many expected. Despite being chosen second overall, he has received plenty of criticism for his style of hockey. Even so, at 20 he has stepped onto the Flyers roster without missing a step.
Waiting in the wings is also Patrick Maroon, a sixth rounder from vanRiemsdyk’s draft class. Maroon struggled with weight issues and poor skating early in his career. In the Flyers system, the 21-year-old has been successful at getting his weight down, correcting his skating issues, and refining his world-class hands. He was looking to make Philadelphia’s NHL roster when an injury sidelined him for training camp, but with his size at 6’4, he remains a potential high-end crease bully who can use his hands to rack up goals.
Also on the left side are Garrett Klotz, a 20-year-old also from the 2007 draft class, and Matt Clackson, a 25-year-old from the 2005 draft class. The 6’5, 235 lb. monster of a scrapper has yet to score more than three goals in a season since his freshman year at Western Michigan University. While he is currently playing on the Phantoms, it will be tough for him to make the NHL roster since the Flyers already have sufficient role players. The much smaller Klotz, as another scrapper in the AHL lineup, is in much the same situation.
Outside of the two power forwards headlining the group, there is not much in the way of proven future NHLers on the left side. This, however, is not a cause for concern for the Flyers who already have a deep NHL lineup.
There is some hope though that Eric Wellwood and Zac Rinaldo, both sixth rounders taken in the last two drafts currently playing in the OHL, will turn into solid, two-way wingers. Wellwood, the 19-year-old brother of Kyle Wellwood of the Vancouver Canucks, has gotten off to a very good start in his third season with the league-champion Windsor Spitfires. Rinaldo, a 19-year-old, hard-nosed forward with plenty of penalty minutes to show for it, is looking for a breakout season during his first full year with the London Knights.
The two of them may have limited offensive careers in the NHL, but the hope is that they will bring other elements to fill out the left side in years to come. If they cannot, once Maroon and vanRiemsdyk have graduated, the left side could become the biggest weakness in the Flyers prospect pool.
The organization has not drafted a center in the first couple of rounds since 2003 when both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were taken in the first round. In order to fill out the unit, the team has begun moving versatile wingers into the position. There may be none more versatile than Claude Giroux, the Flyers top prospect.
Out of camp, the 21-year-old was centering vanRiemsdyk, but has shown the versatility to play anywhere in the lineup. As the need arises, he has been used on the wing during the power play or when the team needs an extra jolt of offense. His steady defensive capabilities have allowed him to take control of his own scoring line while his incredible vision and passing have been at times able to turn grinders into snipers.
Because the prospect pool is thin in natural centers, the team relies heavily on such versatile wingers to take control of face-off duties. Jonathan Kalinski, yet another skater from the 2007 draft class, is such player as well and has already seen NHL time. Though the 22-year-old was beaten outright for the fourth line center position by training camp invitee and NHL veteran, Blair Betts, he is good at taking face-offs. If the need arises, his versatility allows him to fill in any hole among the Flyers bottom-tier forwards at the NHL level.
Also down the middle for the Phantoms are Jonathan Matsumoto, the Flyers 2006 third-round selection, and Ryan Dingle, who was acquired by trade with Anaheim along with Chris Pronger during the 2009 draft. Matsumoto finished second on the Phantoms in scoring last season, but now at 22, that is about all he has proven. With the depth the organization has at center, it could be a very hard sell for Matsumoto to make the Flyers roster regardless of how well he continues to progress. Dingle, on the other hand, went undrafted and is well -traveled already. If it is hard for Matsumoto to find room on the Flyers roster, it will be nearly impossible for the 25-year-old Dingle.
The only prospect down the middle that the Flyers currently have in the minors is Dave Labrecque, a 19-year-old playing for the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL. He was drafted in the sixth round during this past summer and is expected to play a key production role on the team as a QMJHL veteran.
Labrecque performed very well in training camp and may be someone the organization tries out a little more on the outside. At the moment, he and Matsumoto offer a solid safety net at center for the prospect pool while Kalinski offers versatility.
The right side of the prospect pool may be the least top-heavy position right now, but Andreas Nodl certainly has his fair share of potential as a scoring winger. The Austrian-born forward performed well in college, but during lengthy stints with both the Flyers and Phantoms last season he failed to recapture his scoring touch. This training camp, he was one of the early cuts after playing 38 NHL games in 2008-09. He will remain with the Phantoms to see if he can improve on his game though there are certainly high expectations for him as a second-round selection. He is only 22 and still has time to find his offense.
Nodl’s biggest competition on the right side came on as a surprise. 2004 fourth-round selection David Laliberte spent much of his QMJHL career injured before breaking out in a big way during his final season with the Prince Edward Island Rocket. In 2007-08, he spent time in the ECHL and AHL. It was at the end of his 2008-09 season with the Phantoms that he started to get into a scoring rhythm. During this summer’s training camp, he lasted with the team for quite a while before finally being sent back down. If this is any indication of what the 23-year-old Laliberte is capable of, then health-permitting, he could make a serious push for the Flyers roster down the road.
The newest member of the organization, Stefan Legein, will also add to the depth on the right side. In the trade the Flyers worked from a strength, defense, to fill a hole in the offensive side of the prospect pool. Legein, at 20, was one of Columbus’ top prospects before taking a half-year hiatus from hockey all-together saying that he was "burnt out." He has returned this fall with vigor and no less talent. If a change of scenery helps him along, he could turn into an important agitator and scoring winger on the Flyers roster.
Just like Klotz and Clackson on the left side, the right side of the Phantoms line-up has its own pair of scrappers. Rob Bellamy, a 24-year-old third-round selection from 2004, is willing to drop the gloves with any willing participant. Josh Beaulieu, a 22-year-old fifth-round selection from the following draft, may also be stuck in the minors since there will not likely be a need for fourth-line energy players on the Flyers any time soon.
While the right side is filled with surprises, none may be as big as the Flyers seventh -round selection from 2006, Andrei Popov. The 21-year-old Russian finished with only nine points in 54 games played with Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL last year. In 13 games this season, he has already matched that with the potential for far more. As another possible sleeper, if he continues his pace he will likely be turning heads very soon.
While the Flyers may not have any true top-pairing defenseman threats in the prospect pool after trading Luca Sbisa as part of a package to obtain Chris Pronger, there is certainly more than enough high-end depth to fill out the talented unit already in the NHL for a number of years.
The pool on the blueline is led by Ryan Parent, a 22-year-old who was chosen 18th overall in 2005 by the Nashville Predators. He has performed very well in the past for the Flyers and was even on the top pairing with Kimmo Timonen at the end of the 2008-09 season. Though he will be seeing less time on a much improved blueline, he continues to prove that he can be a valuable asset in a shut-down role despite his lack of offensive potential.
Also at the top of the group are a couple of QMJHL graduates making their professional debuts with the Adirondack Phantoms. The now 20-year-old Kevin Marshall, chosen in the second round behind vanRiemsdyk, helped lead the Lewiston MAINEiacs to a championship in 2007. Marshall’s mean streak on the blueline as well as his shut-down capabilities and strong shot from the point compliment his new teammate, Marc-Andre Bourdon very well. Bourdon, like Marshall, comes with his own nasty edge but offers far more offensively. During the 2008-09 season he was traded from the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to the Rimouski Oceanic on his way to winning the title of the QMJHL defenseman of the year. Though Rimouski failed to capture the Memorial Cup while hosting the tournament, Bourdon, the 19-year-old third round selection from 2008, showed why the Flyers could afford to lose Sbisa, who was taken ahead of Bourdon in the first round.
The Flyers continue to wait on 23-year-old, former second-round selection, Denis Bodrov, though there have been attempts to bring him to North America. The organization believes that he is NHL-ready, but he seems to have hit a rut since being traded to Mytishchi Atlant of the KHL.
Also on the Phantoms roster are the 22-year-old Oskars Bartulis and the 21-year-old Joonas Lehtivuori. While both stood out during training camp, Bartulis, chosen in the third round of the 2005 draft, is ready for his second full season with the Phantoms. Lehtivuori, another defensive product of the 2006 draft, has been a healthy scratch for some games in the AHL despite his brand new entry-level contract. That is more a testament to the depth on the Phantoms roster than to Lehtivuori’s play so far. With the recent trade of Michael Ratchuk to the Columbus Blue Jackets, it is expected that Lehtivuori will get much more ice time with Adirondack.
Despite the defensive group being the strongest that the Flyers have in place, they added three more defensiveprospects this offseason. Tyler Hostetter, a training camp invitee this year, impressed enough to earn an entry-level contract and was returned to the Erie Otters of the OHL. Oliver Lauridsen, chosen in the seventh round last June, is returning to St. Cloud State for his sophomore season. As a 6’6, 220-pound shut-down defenseman at the age of 20, he still has time to develop. The highlight of the recent additions though may be Simon Bertilsson, who was chosen in the third round this year. Despite being only 18, he has nearly a half season of Elitserien minutes with Brynas IF under his belt already. This year he remains with his SEL club.
The loss of Sbisa hurts the unit, but the defense remains the deepest of the Flyers’ prospect core from top to bottom.
Though the Flyers traditionally have terrible outcomes when it comes to drafting goaltenders, they are slowly working their way to a decent group with high hopes for Joacim Eriksson and Adam Morrison.
Eriksson, chosen in the seventh round of 2008, was a standout for Brynas IF’s junior team. Now at 19, he has earned the starting job with Leksands IF of the Allsvenskan. As he continues to perform well in Europe, there are plenty of eyes on him as well as Morrison who, after being the Flyers first draft choice of this past summer though in the third round, has been given the go-ahead to start between the pipes for the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. So far the 18-year-old has not disappointed.
Nicola Riopel was another selection from this year’s draft. While he struggled early in his QMJHL career with the Moncton Wildcats, his breakout and final season in the league caught the attention of the organization. He is currently in the backup role on the Phantoms behind another Flyers project, Johan Backlund.
Behind those three are another three who may have a hard time making an impact in the organization. The 21-year-old, 2006 selection Jakub Kovar is playing as the backup for Ceske Budejovice HC of the Czech league for another season. Twenty-year-old, 2007 selection Brad Phillips has returned from an injury that caused him to miss the entire 2008-09 season at Notre Dame. And 20-year-old 2008 selection, Jacob DeSerres, had a promising start to his career but completely imploded after being drafted. He has since been traded from the Seattle Thunderbirds to the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL where he hopes a change a scenery will help him get back on track.
On the outside looking in is 22-year-old, 2005 selection Jeremy Duchesne, who will continue his career with the Flyers’ new ECHL affiliate, the Kalamazoo Wings. Joining him in the league once again is also the 23-year-old undrafted Michael Teslak, who returns to the Elmira Jackals, where he played last year.