Philadelphia Flyers boast diverse array of prospects at junior level

By Chris Shafer
Photo: Michael Chaput, the Flyers first pick of the 2010 draft (89th overall), has been overshadowed by another member of the Flyers 2010 draft class, seventh round pick Brendan Ranford. (Photo courtesy of www.lewistonhockey.com)

Just twelve short months ago, the title of most promising junior prospect in the Flyers’ rapidly thinning prospect pool was Eric Wellwood. The former sixth round selection quickly jumped over players drafted rounds before him with a stellar 2009-10 season which saw his offensive output double and his team win a second straight Memorial Cup. Wellwood even demonstrated his speed, competitiveness, and versatile skill set in a successful three game call-up with the Flyers which has left him penciled as the next in line for an open forward position in the near future.

Likewise, Wellwood’s successor as the Flyers’ top prospect in junior hockey comes from deep in the draft. Brendan Ranford, taken second to last in the 2010 NHL Draft, has become one of the biggest surprises of 2010-11 Canadian Juniors competition.

WHL

Brendan Ranford – LW, Kamloops Blazers
Acquired: 7th round (209th overall) in 2010
May 3rd, 1992. Ht: 5’10, Wt: 182 lbs.

In 23 games played through the 2010-11 season, Ranford has taken the WHL by storm. Last year he finished tied for 45th in scoring with 29 goals and 37 assists for 65 points in 72 games. Despite being a solid campaign for Ranford, those numbers are a drop in the bucket compared to what he is on pace for this season. His 21 goals and 16 assists have put him fourth in WHL scoring at 37 points through 23 games, but he is on pace for an incredible 66 goals and 50 assists for 116 points. His goal total currently puts him third in all of Canadian Juniors. That kind of offensive output is not too shabby for an 18-year-old seventh round selection on a team that is last in their division.

There are reasons that he fell to the Flyers that late in the draft though. His sloppy skating technique meant for poor acceleration, and that can be a big factor in why many players never make the NHL, particularly ones as small as Ranford. The good news for the outstanding, young forward is that these issues slowly seem to be fading. They are still very much present in his game, but while he’s slowly correcting them, he’s learning to use his offensive awareness to generate better scoring chances. His play away from the puck is also a work in progress as is his ability to win battles along the boards, something not easy for many 5’10 forwards, but these are slowly progressing in a positive direction as well.

As a late addition to Team WHL for the Subway Super Series, Ranford is starting to get more recognition for his impressive offensive onslaught through the early portion of the 2010-11 WHL season. Though he failed to register a point in the only game he played in the series, he is looking towards more opportunities to represent his league and country in future tournaments.

Brandon Manning – D, Chilliwack Bruins
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent in 2010
June 4th, 1990. Ht: 6’1, Wt: 195 lbs.

The latest addition to addition to the Flyers’ prospect pool comes in the form of 20-year-old WHL defenseman Brandon Manning. General Manager Paul Holmgren has been stocking up on free-agent prospects in recent years, and Manning adds another depth piece to puzzle.

As of right now, the Chilliwack Bruins’ captain is third on his team in scoring and first among WHL defensemen with 10 goals and 16 assists in 20 games. His plus five rating is second on his team and first among all Bruins’ defenseman.

In his years in the WHL, he has developed into a very sturdy puck-moving defenseman who can quarterback the powerplay and log in the upper twenties and into the thirties as far as minutes per game for his team. Despite not being overly flashy or physical, he can rack up the points and is not afraid to get involved in the rougher aspects of hockey when necessary.

Coming off a successful 2009-10 season where he finished third on his team with 54 points, he was brought into the New York Rangers camp where he was offered a contract to play in the AHL. He respectfully declined the Rangers’ offer saying that he would rather play with Chilliwack as an overager than be trapped on a depth chart. He returned to the Bruins and remains their captain citing unfinished business as his motivation.

Ricard Blidstrand – D, Regina Pats
Acquired: 7th round (206th overall) in 2010
April 20th, 1992. Ht: 6’3, Wt: 202 lbs.

Adjusting to the North American game has not been the easiest thing for the 18-year-old Blidstrand, who made the trip to join the Regina Pats of the WHL after a number of years in the Swedish Junior leagues. Now 23 games into the season, he has found himself with a team worst minus 16, and his team is tied for last defensively with 105 goals against, which is an average of over four goals against per game.

His limited offensive skill-set has brought the Pats two goals and four assists, which is good enough to tie for third on the team in terms of blue line offense, but it is no secret that they are struggling.

He could stand work on his decision-making with the puck, but he is starting to slowly catch on to the rink size and tempo of the game in North America. It will not come easy for Blidstrand though as he has a long way to go.

OHL

Tyler Hostetter – D, Erie Otters
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent in 2009
January 30th 1991. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 197 lbs.

In what many expect to be his final season with the Otters, Tyler Hostetter seems poised to finish the season as the team’s leading offensive producer from the blue line. In 22 games, he has scored four goals and added another thirteen assists for 17 points.

The most concerning thing about Hostetter’s play is his minus-12 rating, which is the worst among defensemen and second worst on the team.

Signed as a free-agent last year, he already has a contract in place to begin play with the Adirondack Phantoms next season. The Phantoms could certainly use the offensive help, but the organization would like to see Hostetter steady himself more defensively before making the jump to the AHL.

QMJHL

Michael Chaput – C, L
ewiston MAINEiacs
Acquired: 3rd round (89th overall) in 2010
April 9th, 1992. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 194 lbs.

After a breakout season offensively last year which saw 28 goals for 55 points in 68 games, Chaput has fallen behind his pace a bit this year. In 25 games, he has only six goals to go along with 13 assists. The two-way forward has become more physically involved, but the goals are just not coming as easily for him.

He has the skating and offensive talent to get himself back onto the scoreboard more often, but Chaput is young enough to be patient with. To say that the Flyers are set at center long-term at the NHL level would be an understatement, so that leaves Chaput the opportunity to grow at his own pace into a capable two-way forward who can provide some offensive support.

The Flyers took him with their first selection in the 2010 draft, but the third rounder has not had nearly as flashy a season as the player the organization selected with their last pick, Brendan Ranford.

Tye McGinn – LW, Gatineau Olympiques
Acquired: 4th round (119th overall) in 2010
July 29th, 1990. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 205 lbs.

When McGinn came to Flyers’ camp this past summer, he surprised a lot of people. The organization was impressed with his physicality and energy. Many thought he was a lock to make a re-imagined Phantoms’ roster in the AHL, but instead he was sent back to the Gatineau Olympiques for a third straight season.

Now an overager in the QMJHL, McGinn was once cut from the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL, but since finding a niche in Gatineau, he has been a welcome addition and an important part of their club.

He does not possess significant offensive upside, but as a power forward, he can chip in a little here and there. He also had a breakout season in terms of production last year scoring 27 goals for 62 points in 50 games. In only 15 games played this season, he has accounted for 6 goals and 8 assists after getting off to a fast start upon returning to Gatineau.

Dave Labrecque – C, Shawinigan Cataractes
Acquired: 6th round (153rd overall) in 2009
January 27th, 1990. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 170 lbs.

Under the impression that they had adequate center depth on the Phantoms, the Flyers sent Labrecque back to the Shawinigan Cataractes for an overage season in the QMJHL hoping he would turn on the offensive jets. Though his 21 points off of 10 goals in 18 games is solid enough and even above his pace from prior years, he has yet to completely take over offensively. He has seemingly become a better goal-scorer and less one-dimensional in the offensive zone.

Next summer he will return to Philadelphia to compete for a role on the Phantoms, who at this point are a team desperately in need of some offensive support.

USHL

Michael Parks – F, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders
Acquired: 5th round (149th overall) in 2010
February 15th, 1992. Ht: 5’11, Wt: 188 lbs.

It has been a quiet year for Michael Parks for those not paying close attention. His five goals and two assists for seven points in ten games with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders do not exactly stand out in any significant way compared to the numbers of some of his teammates, but the 18-year-old, two-way forward has other things going for him.

For the second time in his young hockey career, Michael Parks suited up for Team USA in the World Junior A Challenge. His team beat Canada East, Sweden, Canada West, and Canada East once again to secure the gold medal. Parks scored two goals in the tournament including the empty net goal to close out the gold medal game.

For now it is back to work for Parks as he prepares for the University of North Dakota next fall.

Nicholas Luukko – D, Dubuque Fighting Saints
Acquired: 6th round (179th overall) in 2010
November 29th, 1991. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 185 lbs.

It was Nick Luukko’s dream to be drafted by his hometown Philadelphia Flyers, the very same team he had grown up around due to his father’s position with the organization. It was the last thing he expected at the time, but he has gone from an incredible high to an incredible low very quickly.

Just four games into his season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, Luukko broke his forearm. The injury cost him a month of hockey right at the start of the season, and in late October, he was placed on the 45-day injured reserve list. There is very little that Luukko can do about his situation, but he still plans to attend the University of Vermont next fall.