Flyers system heavy on the blueline, growing on the wings

By Jashvina Shah
Photo: Mark Alt is one of the first names on the call-up list should the Flyers need help on the blueline this season. (Courtesy of Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Photo: Mark Alt is one of the first names on the call-up list should the Flyers need help on the blueline this season. (Courtesy of Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

 

The Philadelphia Flyers organization is still heavily populated with defensemen, several of them high-end ones. But the Flyers have added some forwards with more talent and upside, which is what an organization known for gritty forwards needs. Philadelphia also has more goaltending depth for the first time in several years.

Right Wing

At right wing, the Flyers have the least depth and not many prospects who will be impact players at the NHL level. Headlining the group is Nicolas Aube-Kubel, the team’s best non-center forward prospect. While what role Aube-Kubel will play at the professional level is uncertain, he is a fast, two-way forward. The right winger is in his fourth season with Val-d’Or, where he’s serving as an alternate captain. He has 16 points through 14 games.

Behind Aube-Kubel on the depth chart is Michael Parks. He was a good player while in college, and his speed was impressive. But Parks lacks size and it’s questionable if he can be a reliable player in the NHL. Parks is in his first season of professional hockey and has a point through three games with Lehigh Valley.

Cole Bardreau is also in his first year of professional hockey. The two-way forward spent four years at Cornell and then signed a contract with Philadelphia. Adding some depth to the prospect pool are Petr Straka, Brandon Alderson and Derek Mathers. Although Straka’s point production has lacked at the AHL level as he’s struggled with consistency, he was called up by the Flyers last year, appearing in three games. Alderson and Mathers have both split the last season between the AHL and the ECHL.

Center

Scott Laughton is Philadelphia’s top forward prospect. He’s more of a two-way player, characterized by his defensive abilities. The center is in his second full season of professional hockey, and split last season between the AHL and NHL. Laughton is currently with the Flyers and has five points in 12 games. Laughton is projected to be a bottom-line center and he should continue seeing NHL playing time this year.

While Laughton is Philadelphia’s most NHL-ready forward prospect, recent draft pick Travis Konecny has a lot of skill and potential. His probability of making the NHL is slightly lower than Laughton, but Konecny is a versatile forward who should bring some skill to the prospect group. The forward is still in the CHL, and has 23 points through 14 games with the Ottawa 67’s.

While he might not posses the talent of Konecny, Nick Cousins has improved in each of his last few years. Last season he netted 56 points in 64 games and played 11 games with the Flyers. His skating has also improved, and it’s been one of the reasons for his success. Cousins is most likely to be the next player on Philadelphia’s call-up list.

One of Philadelphia’s most unheralded center prospects is Cooper Marody, a freshman at Michigan. He was taken late in the draft but has potential, and is tied for Michigan’s scoring lead.

David Kase and Mikhail Vorobyov are both playing in Europe. Kase was one of the highest-rated European players of the 2015 draft and is known for his ability to create space. The only difficult issue with Kase is his size, and his 5-foot-8 frame made his draft stock fall. Kase is with Pirati Chomutov of the Czech league this season and has one point through 15 games. Vorobyov is splitting time with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the KHL and Tolpar Ufa of the MHL. The center is a good skater with good vision.

Left Wing

Philadelphia’s left wing pool doesn’t have any top-end prospects like the defense does, or even the right wing and center positions. There are a couple of players, however, like Oskar Lindblom and Radel Fazleev, who could become reliable players. For now, left wing Taylor Leier, who’s in his second season of professional hockey, is the team’s top left wing prospect. He wasn’t too productive offensively last year with 31 points in 73 games, but injuries factored into that. If he picks up his scoring, Leier might be in line for a call-up.

Fazleev is the team’s second-best left wing prospect. He didn’t produce very well in his draft year, but rebounded well during the next season. Fazleev is now in his third year with Calgary and has 18 points through 16 games. He’s also been a staple for Russia during international competition, which included three games during the World Junior Championships last year. Fazleev is a good playmaker and is one of Philadelphia’s versatile prospects.

Behind Fazleev is Lindblom, who is still playing in the SHL. This is his second season with the SHL and Brynas, and he has 12 points in 16 games. Lindblom has been developing well since his draft year, which includes improved skating. After Lindblom, Philadelphia has several depth prospects—Samuel Dove-McFalls, Danick Martel, Andrew Johnston and Tyrell Goulbourne. Dove-McFalls, drafted last year, projects to be a checker. And Goulbourne, although known for fighting at the junior level, signed with the organization after his last year with Kelowna. He has played in nine games for the Phantoms.

Defense

Defense is Philadelphia’s most thorough prospect pool. The Flyers have started building its blue line of the future, and it starts with Ivan Provorov—one of the best defensemen in the 2015 NHL draft. Provorov is still playing in the CHL, but his offensive abilities coupled with his skating and high hockey IQ mean he’ll most likely be a top blueliner with the Flyers. In his second year with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Provorov has 15 points through 16 games.

Joining Provorov at the top is Travis Sanheim, another almost NHL-ready talent. Sanheim is another first-round draft pick who’s also in the CHL and is averaging over a point per game with the Hitmen this season. Samuel Morin, Philadelphia’s most defensive-minded defenseman, is also one of the team’s top prospects. He is now in the AHL, and has one point through nine games.

Rounding out the group of top-tier defensemen is Shayne Gostisbehere. He isn’t as developed as his counterparts, but he’s the only top defensive prospect who’s seen NHL playing time. He was called up last year because of injuries and appeared in several games for the Flyers before a knee injury cut his season short. Gostisbehere has the speed and offensive capabilities, but his defense needs work. He currently has five points through nine games with the Phantoms.

Both Robert Hagg and Mark Alt are with the Phantoms again. Alt has transformed from a player with a questionable pro hockey future to a top defenseman with the Phantoms. Alt also played in the NHL last season, helping an injury-plagued Flyers team. Hagg is in his second season with the Phantoms, where he needs to work on his consistency.

Another important defensive prospect is Brandon Manning. He doesn’t have the talent or ability that Provorov, Sanheim or Gostisbehere has, but he’s been a stable reserve defender for the Flyers. Manning is currently in the NHL, and has played in nine games for Philadelphia.

Rounding out Philadelphia’s defensive prospects are several NCAA and professional prospects, including Mark Friedman, Reece Willcox, Jesper Pettersson, Terrance Amorosa, Maxim Lamarche and David Drake. Drake, Amorosa and Willcox are still playing at their respective colleges. Friedman, a sophomore at Bowling Green, has the most potential out of the NCAA group.

Goaltenders

For the first time in a few years, the Flyers have gotten some prospect depth at goaltending. Philadelphia now has five goaltenders—Anthony Stolarz, Merrick Madsen, Felix Sandstrom, Matej Tomek and Ivan Fedotov. While it’s difficult to predict how good goaltenders will be, Stolarz has the highest probability of success.

For a long time, Stolarz was far and away the best goaltending prospect. His 6-foot-5 frame already makes him a good prospect and he was called up to the Flyers last year, but he still needs time in Lehigh Valley to develop. With Lehigh Valley last year, Stolarz was Rob Zepp’s backup. This year, Stolarz has a .920 save percentage through five games.

Because Philadelphia drafted Sandstrom, Tomek and Fedotov this year, Stolarz has some competition. Sandstrom was one of the top goaltenders of the draft, but missed a portion of last year thanks to injuries. Sandstrom has spent eight games with Brynas of the SHL this year, and has a .904 save percentage. Matej Tomek was one of the best goaltenders in the NAHL last year. He’s technically sound and was expected to be North Dakota’s starter, but he hasn’t played yet thanks to an injury.

Like Stolarz, Fedotov has a tall frame. He’s 6-foot-6 and put up a 1.95 goals-against average in the MHL. He’s still with Reaktor Nizhenkamsk this year, and has a .912 save percentage through 10 games. It’s hard to determine what role Madsen will have with the team, as his playing time has been limited while at Harvard. Madsen has started both games for Harvard this season, though, and holds a .956 save percentage.