With no prospects graduating to the pro ranks, Philadelphia’s prospect core remains intact. Scott Laughton has kept his spot as the team’s best prospect due to his reputation for hard work. While Laughton has continued to be the go-to performer, Nick Cousins showed the most improvement, bouncing back from a struggling year. Brandon Manning exceeded expectations, earning another call up to the Flyers. Meanwhile, goaltender Anthony Stolarz has struggled in his first professional year.
Prospect of the Year: Scott Laughton, C, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
Laughton has been Philadelphia’s top prospect for a long time. He’s the organization’s best depth forward, earning elite prospect status in a very defense-heavy group. This was Laughton’s first professional season, and the former Oshawa General earned his second stint in the NHL, playing in 31 games. He netted 27 points in 39 games at the AHL but couldn’t bring that offense to the next level.
Because he failed to produce offensively, Laughton was sent back to the AHL. But for a player his age, Laughton still fared well. He started as a fourth line center for the Flyers, but often found himself centering the second line. Struggling to adapt to the NHL level is normal for young players, and has been a theme with this Flyer prospect group.
Hardest Worker: Scott Laughton, C, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
After spending four seasons with the Oshawa Generals, where Laughton was known for his hard-working attitude, the forward joined the pro ranks for good. He started in the AHL, and after a short stint was recalled to the NHL. Laughton embodies a prototypical Flyers forward, excelling in two-way play as a defensive forward.
Last season, Laughton failed to make the Flyers team just before the season started. So he returned to Oshawa as a captain, and made Canada’s World Junior Championship team. Now, Laughton is on his way to becoming a full-time Flyers forward. Despite only playing in 39 games, Laughton still had 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) at the AHL level. His scoring didn’t translate over to the NHL side, as he recorded six points (two goals, four assists) in 31 NHL games, but his hard work made him a prospect to be noticed with the big club.
Hardest Shot: Oliver Lauridsen, D, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
The former St. Cloud State defenseman has held this title amongst Flyers prospects for a while. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound defenseman completed his fourth full season with the Phantoms since leaving college. He also earned his second NHL call up this year, playing in one game. It was his first call up since 2012-13, when he played in 15 games and had three points (two goals, one assist). As he has gotten stronger, he has put more weight into his shot. With the Phantoms this season, Lauridsen played in 75 games and recorded 10 points (four goals, six assists).
Best Defensive Prospect: Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
The Flyers have two excellent, but vastly different, defensemen in Gostisbehere and Samuel Morin. Morin is very defensive, while Gostisbehere is offensive. This slot goes to Gostisbehere, who’s had the chance to play at a professional level—although not for long.
In his first full season with the Phantoms, he played in five games, recording five assists before being called up to the Flyers. They wanted to let him develop in the AHL, but blueline injuries forced the Flyers to call on Gostisbehere. A fast skater, he needs to improve the defensive side of his game before he can be an NHL-caliber defenseman.
Unfortunately for Gostisbehere, he played in two games but suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Seeing how he bounces back will be key, but the former World Junior Championships gold-medallist is Philadelphia’s best defensive prospect.
Fastest Skater: Michael Parks, RW, North Dakota (NCAA)
Parks and Gostisbehere are the two fastest skaters in Philadelphia’s prospect pool, but Parks benefitted from another year of development. In his senior season with North Dakota, he worked on his shot and getting to the net. He’s known for wraparound attempts, but also for the speed he uses to create plays for his teammates. He played in all 41 games for North Dakota, who fell to Boston University in the semifinals. Parks netted 32 points – a career high.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Mark Friedman, D, Bowling Green (NCAA)
Friedman is the best defensive prospect the Flyers have in the NCAA. Adjusting to the collegiate level is difficult for most freshmen, as they must adapt to playing a faster game against stronger competition. But Friedman adapted well. He still needs to adjust to the higher pace of play, but offensively he already made an impact with a Bowling Green team that came close to making the NCAA playoffs.
Freidman finished with 19 points (two goals, 17 assists), tied for second in scoring amongst freshmen defensemen at Bowling Green. Nationally, Friedman’s scoring output was tied for sixth amongst rookie blueliners. He developed monumentally in his second year in the USHL, and if he sticks to the pattern could be poised for a breakout season for the Falcons. He’s expected to be a Gostisbehere-type defender, and his freshman scoring output looks like he’s on track.
Most Improved Prospect: Nick Cousins, C, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
Last season, Nick Cousins was listed as an underachiever. He was struggling with the Phantoms; he had earned some scratches because of his play, and wasn’t meeting his potential. He wasn’t scoring as much as expected, either. So after a season where he scored 29 points over 74 games in the AHL, Cousins needed to do better.
And he did. This season, Cousins played in 64 games, yet led the Phantoms with 56 points. He earned the AHL Player of the Month for January, and has improved his skating. He parlayed all the improvements into an end-of-season call up, his first crack at NHL playing time. He played in 11 games due to injuries.
Overachiever: Brandon Manning, D, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
In a crop filled with next-level defensemen, Manning doesn’t stand out. He’s low on the defensive depth chart, but always seems to be one of Philadelphia’s picks for injury replacement. He was called up by the Flyers late this season, and played 11 games and had three points (0 goals, three assists). It was his third stint with the Flyers, and first since the 2012-13 season.
He finished third on the Phantoms in scoring, netting 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists) in 60 games, the most by any Phantom defensemen. During his time with the Flyers, he averaged 17:22 minutes of ice time. Before the season’s end, Manning signed a one-year one-way deal with the Flyers.
Underachiever: Anthony Stolarz, G, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
Anthony Stolarz entered his first year of professional hockey this season, joining the Phantoms after spending last season in the OHL. Heralded as one of the best Philadelphia goaltending prospects in a long time, Stolarz is the leading netminder, and possibly the future franchise goaltender in a shallow goalie prospect pool.
This season, he struggled. Stolarz logged 31 games and 1592 minutes with the Phantoms, much less time than veteran Rob Zepp. Stolarz was called up to the Flyers to serve as a backup this season, but only because Zepp was injured. Stolarz’s best asset is his 6-foot-5 frame, and he still needs time to refine technical aspects of his game.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Oskar Lindblom, LW, Brynas (SHL)
There wasn’t much risk involved with Lindblom, as the Flyers snagged him with a late, fifth-round pick. At that draft position, Lindblom could end up being a steal. While there’s many aspects of his game—like skating—left to develop, he can play well offensively. The left wing played in the World Junior Championships for Sweden, and finished the tournament with nine points. He’s a regular in the SHL, where he has 15 points through 37 games. Not bad totals for an 18-year old in a difficult league.
Prospect of the Month: Travis Sanheim
Travis Sanheim has had a career year in the WHL, and has grown tremendously. In March, Sanheim recorded 10 points (four goals, six assists) through nine games to end the regular season. He added five points in the playoffs. In total, Sanheim recorded 65 points (15 goals, 50 assists) in the regular season, averaging almost a point per game and leading all WHL defensemen. He’s also been a force for the Hitmen in the playoffs, currently leading all WHL defensemen in postseason play and has 18 points through 17 games.