Skilled depth forwards highlight CHL prospect pool for Philadelphia Flyers

By Chris Shafer
Photo: Increased production from forward Nick Cousins has been one of the  reasons the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have seen improvement from this season to last. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Last year at this time, the Flyers’ junior level prospect review was the Brendan Ranford show, and while many expected former QMJHL forward and first round selection Sean Couturier would be the one to compete with him for that title in 2011-12, it has not quite panned out that way.

Couturier has cemented himself as an important part of the Flyers, and there is no looking back for him now. The only one left to compete with Ranford is Nick Cousins, center for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and despite all of the attention going to a laundry list of prospects making debuts and succeeding with the Flyers this season, the pair of young prospects still waiting patiently for their turn in the CHL are quietly making waves at the junior level.


OHL

Derek Mathers, RW, Peterborough Petes
Acquired: 7th round (206th overall) in 2011

In just over half of his games played in 2010-11, Peterborough’s can’t-miss forward has already surpassed his point production from the previous season. In fact, he is on pace to nearly double it. Of course all 6’3 of Derek Mathers is hard to miss, but it is not because of his seven points through 33 games played this year, which blows his five points in 55 games last year out of the water. Contrary to popular belief, Mathers sightings normally occur in two places; in the face of his opponents or in the penalty box. He also happens to be pacing to crush his penalty minute output from last year with 109 minutes of well-earned, alone time already.

The Flyers make no apologies for drafting Mathers. He has a method, a purpose, and a few words for those who would like to be a little too rough with the Peterborough’s smaller, more skilled forwards.

Colin Suellentrop, D, Oshawa Generals
Acquired: 4th round (116th overall) in 2011

Points are still not coming easy for Colin Suellentrop of the Oshawa Generals, but that is not why the Flyers decided to obtain his services during the 2011 draft. His lack of production allows his finer points to fly under the radar, but Suellentrop is as solid as any defensive skater as there is in the OHL.

The Generals rely on Suellentrop’s steady play in all situations, and he remains one of only a few defensemen on the team with a positive plus-minus rating. Coupled with his nine points so far this season, an improvement from prior years, and the stats claim that he is improving. What those stats will not tell you is that Suellentrop’s positioning and cerebral game are growing as well. While he may be a long way from the AHL at this point, things are coming along in stride.

Nick Cousins, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired: 3rd round (68th overall) in 2011

Sault Ste. Marie’s feisty point-per-game forward of 2010-11 has added a little more edge and a little more production to his game this year. Cousins currently sits at 20th in the OHL in scoring with 14 goals and 23 assists through 31 games.

All of this has helped the Greyhounds, who finished last in their conference last season. Right now they sit seventh, and the play of Cousins is directly related to their recent success.

WHL

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

Despite a sluggish start, particularly in contrast to his 2010-11 season with the Kamloops Blazers, winger Brendan Ranford has once again started to churn out the points. His team now sits in a well secured second position in the WHL‘s Western Conference. A lot of that is thanks to the team’s 8-2 record in the past 10 games; a streak in which the team’s leading scorer has almost half his points.

There is a significant difference now between last season and this season for Ranford though. He now has help. Last season, when Ranford was personally tearing up the WHL before missing a bit of time, the Blazers finished last in their division and were one of two teams from their conference to miss the postseason. For much of that year he was chasing the lead in points among all Canadian Juniors. Now his points have slipped, but he is not forced to carry the entire load. Last year forward Colin Smith finished 36 points behind Ranford. Right now he is only two behind. Less ice time now means that Ranford will be better rested come the end of the season, which is where his numbers began to tail off last year.

Marcel Noebels, RW, Seattle Thunderbirds
Acquired: 4th round (118th overall) in 2011

Though he does not get to compete at the main stage of the World Junior Championships this season, Marcel Noebels is making the best of his run with the German team in the A division of the U-20’s. With 9 points in just 4 games, the Seattle Thunderbirds’ winger is running the show.

Back in the WHL, Noebels is on pace to finish exactly where he did last year offensively in his first CHL season. He already has a contract in place with the Flyers upon his completion of the 2011-12 season, but there is no reason for him to rush. The organization is comfortable with their prospect pool for the first time in years, and the young power forward will be allowed to develop at his own pace. With his team fourth in the U.S. Division and his national team competing for a title, he has enough on his plate now even without considering the entry-level contract he has waiting with the Flyers.

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

Things are also coming along for Ricard Blidstrand even if they are coming slowly. He has eight points through 21 games played this season and has a positive rating. Unfortunately for Blidstrand, he has not cemented himself as one of the better defensemen for the Regina Pats, who find themselves in fourth in their division. He has also found himself a healthy scratch at quite a few points this season.