Junior pool for Philadelphia Flyers made up of low-round picks and free agents

By Chris Shafer
Photo: Despite missing almost half the season to injury, Tyler Hostetter managed to almost match his point totals from last season. In 36 games, he managed six goals and 17 assists. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

As the NHL team desperately pursues a Stanley Cup that has alluded the team since the 70’s, the current prospect pool is left on its own to find an identity. In many ways, the lack of any real identity has come to define this group of NHL hopefuls, many of which were overlooked in one way or another by other NHL organizations at some point in time before landing in Philadelphia.

The recent glimmers of James van Riemsdyk’s dominant future in the NHL right after Claude Giroux‘s breakout season only show just how much two years can change a prospect pool. With the trade of yet another first rounder, there does not appear as if help will be on the way anytime soon either. The weight of the pool now belongs to forwards like Brendan Ranford, who was picked second to last in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and Jason Akeson, who did not earn an NHL contract until leading the OHL in scoring as a 20-year-old.


WHL

Brendan Ranford, LW, Kamloops Blazers
Acquired: 7th round, 209th overall, 2010

After an electrifying start to the 2010-11 season which saw the 18-year-old Ranford shoot to the top of the WHL in scoring, the season closed out rather quietly for the Kamloops Blazers. Ranford failed to register a point in his last six games of the season after failing to earn a place on the scoresheet only twelve other times over the course of the rest of the season. This is not only part of the reason that Ranford fell quickly from first in WHL scoring to a tie for thirteenth, but it is also a major factor in why the Blazers barely missed the 2011 WHL Playoffs.

Ranford still has some development to go before he is ready to make the jump to the professional game, but he also has plenty of time. He already shocked the world as the second to last pick in the draft by tearing up the WHL in scoring and by becoming one of the dark-horses to go to Team Canada’s World Junior Championships camp at the age of 18. Though he was not invited in the end, there are only good things to look forward to where Ranford is concerned.

Brandon Manning, D, Chilliwack Bruins
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent, 2010

The Flyers signed defenseman Brandon Manning at a point in the season when he was leading all WHL defenseman in points. Along with his leadership, defensive play, and physicality, the 20-year-old Manning’s offensive display had turned him into an all-around dominant defensman. Despite only playing 53 games this season, he notched 53 points off of 21 goals. That marker was only one short of his 54-point campaign in 2009-10 which took him 69 games to accomplish.

Now Manning’s future lies in the AHL with the Phantoms where the organization hopes he will be part of a revival of an AHL squad that has been in a mode of almost constant change and upheaval for the last few years. It is still not known just where he will fit in the lineup with only a few spots open and a lot of competition.

Ricard Blidstrand, D, Regina Pats
Acquired: 7th round, 206th overall, 2010

It is one thing to be a young Swedish defenseman playing in Canadian Juniors for the first time. It is another thing entirely to finish the season with a minus-30 rating, and while that may open some eyes immediately, it also explains something very important about Ricard Blidstrand‘s trip to North America; the 18-year-old defenseman was given plenty of ice-time with which to grow and develop. He finished fourth on the team in scoring among defensemen with 17 points in 70 games, but this should not come as a surprise considering that Blidstrand was never one to rack up considerable amounts of points.

Of course Blidstrand was not the only player on the team to dip wildly into the negative numbers in terms of rating, which shows not only how much of a work in progress the Regina Pats are but also that Blidstrand cannot be held completely responsible for his stat line. Like his team that failed to make the WHL postseason, the 6’2 blueliner has some work ahead of him, but the Flyers can afford to be patient.

OHL

Jason Akeson, RW, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent, 2011

108 points in 67 games was good enough to throw the 20-year-old Jason Akeson into a tie for fourth place in scoring across all of Canadian Juniors for the 2010-11 season. What may be even more incredible is that the playmaking winger notched more assists than the 80 points he had the previous season in the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers. That impressive offensive display is exactly what caught the attention of the Flyers in desperate need for some offensive potential within the prospect pool.

After another highly talented offensive forward, Luke Pither, struggled in his first professional season with the Phantoms, it will really be up to Akeson to prove he can be something special in the Flyers’ depleted prospect core.

Tyler Brown, LW, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent, 2011

Both Tyler Brown and Akeson finally found an NHL team to call home during the 2010-11 season, but before making the leap to the same professional team, they squared off in a best of seven series in the opening round of the OHL playoffs. The defensively responsible Brown notched three goals and eight assists in seven games while Akeson, who lead the OHL in scoring, managed only three goals and six assists as his team fell to Brown’s Plymouth Whalers four games to three.

The Whalers were swept in the next round by the Owen Sound Attack, but that does not detract from the great breakout season Tyler Brown had with the Whalers. He earned his first 20-goal campaign on the way to 57 points in 67 games. Now the two-way forward is headed toward the AHL where he will compete for a spot on the Phantoms’ roster for 2011-12.

Tyler Hostetter, D, Erie Otters
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent, 2009

Like many Flyers’ prospects, Hostetter had his postseason cut short this year. His Erie Otters fell to the former back-to-back Champion Windsor Spitfires in seven games. Hostetter had four points in the series off of two goals and two assists. The series also marked the end of his juniors career, as the defenseman that the Flyers signed back in 2009 to start off this new era of free-agent prospect signings will finally be headed to the Phantoms for 2011-12.

Though Hostetter’s 23 points in 2010-11 is right in line with his prior season totals, he pulled this off in only 36 games. That kind of offensive explosion is exactly what the Phantoms are looking for with the possible departure of Danny Syvret and the potential promotion of one of the Flyers’ top prospects, Erik Gustafsson. Hostetter though will have to compete for a position against not only a number of current prospects but also WHL prospect Brandon Manning and NCAA prospect Oliver Lauridsen, both of which will be looking to make the squad in the first full professional season.

QMJHL

Tye McGinn, LW, Gatineau Olympiques
Acquired: 4th round, 119th overall, 2010

Despite missing a chunk at both the end and beginning of the season, the 20-year-old Tye McGinn still managed to jump his prior season’s production by two points with a 64-point performance in 2010-11 having played eight less games. He crossed the 30-goal mark as well by notching five of his 31 goals in his last two games.

McGinn’s performance in the early postseason was just as noticeable. Through 10 postseason games, he had scored 4 goals and added another 7 assists before being sidelined. He has had to watch his Gatineau Olympiques journey all the way to the QMJHL finals against the Saint John Sea Dogs in hopes of taking home the President’s Cup, something Gatineau has not done since Claude Giroux‘s MVP performance in 2008.

Next season McGinn will be with the Phantoms after nearly making the team at the onset of 2010-11. His strong camp last summer will be a point of emphasis for the powerforward to build on.


Dave Labrecque, C, Shawinigan Cataractes
Acquired: 6th round, 153rd overall, 2009

2010-11 was David Labrecque’s best season to date as he posted over 70 points for the first time in his QMJHL career. For the first time he also broke away as a player able to score significantly more than just a point-per-game. 75 points off of 27 goals in 58 games is no small feat, and that may be exactly what the Flyers have been looking for from Labrecque since drafting him in 2009.

That said, with Akeson, McGinn, and other significant NCAA prospects looking to join the fold in 2011-12, Labrecque might have a struggle ahead of him. The Phantoms are looking to boost their offense, and while Labrecque certainly has the tools, the organization has been bringing players into the prospect pool in order to make things more competitive.


USHL

Michael Parks, RW, Cedar Rapids Rough Riders
Acquired: 5th round, 149th overall, 2010

After his fifth round selection last season by the Flyers, Michael Parks has continued at a steady pace of development. The two-way forward saw his goal totals with the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of the USHL jump from 11 to 25 in the same year that his point production jumped from 22 to 41. He also had the honor to once again play for team USA in the World Junior A Challenge where he scored two goals in four games leading USA to another gold. His second goal was the final goal of the tournament; an empty net goal against Canada East to secure the gold medal.

Parks also got a few more USHL playoff games under his belt even though his Rough Riders were beaten in four by the Green Bay Gamblers. Three goals and an assist in eight games was not enough to propel his team to the finals, but it was another part of a full year of growth for the versatile forward. Now his destination of the University of North Dakota for next year is set in stone.


Nicholas Luukko, D, Dubuque Fighting Saints
Acquired: 6th round, 179th overall, 2010

After getting drafted by his hometown organization, and the one where his father holds such an important position, Nicholas Luukko‘s first season as a Flyers’ prospect hit a bump and veered quickly off course. In October, a broken arm sidelined the defenseman, and he was placed on the 45-day injured list. The 18-year-old Luukko rebounded nicely though, and his 17 points were good enough for second in production from the blue line for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL.

Even though Luukko has the University of Vermont waiting for him next season and possibly an NHL organization in the distant future, right now he has some more immediate concerns. His Fighting Saints will soon take on the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL finals after the Gamblers knocked off Michael Parks‘ Cedar Rapids Rough Riders. Luukko has five points so far in seven postseason games with the championship round on the way.