Young Blueliners May Be a Strength of Flyers System

By Mike Castor

Overall view of the Philadelphia Flyers defensive prospects

Although critics may say otherwise, the blueline is now one of the Flyers organizational strengths. The difference was the 2001 draft. I think the current draft yielded at least 3 rearguards that may make the NHL with in 4 years. Before the draft, I thought the Flyers had average defensive talent, but now they have seem to have above-average talent system-wide.

In the system, Philadelphia has plenty of big defensive blue liners. At the draft, they added more rearguards that can skate and handle the puck. Bruno St. Jacques will be probably the first one of the prospects to make the Flyers. A lot of that, however, depends on what the Flyers get in return for Eric Lindros. Flyer fans can rest assured that defense will soon not be a problem any longer. While most of the regulars on the Flyers blueline are getting up there in age, the kids in the system should be ready to step up and play well by the time the current veterans are gone.

A review follows of the top defenders in the system:

Jason Beckett – Jason has improved his game since starting for the Phantoms last season. He hits like a tank and can also skate for a big kid. He showed steady improvement during the first half of the Phantoms season. Jason led the team in plus – minus at the mid season point. The Flyers sent him down to Trenton when the Flyers traded for Slaney and other defenseman returned from various injuries. I thought he was better served playing on the Phantoms, however. My thinking was he outplayed other kids in the lineup. In Trenton, he continued to excel. Jason is not ready for the big club yet. He must work on positioning and skating. I would keep an eye on him as early as 2002 season. I compare him to a poor man’s Colin White. The kid is mean and knows how to play the game. He is also learning from longtime AHL defenseman and current Phantoms head coach, John Stevens, which will only help. Jason was always willing to protect his teammates last season and this season should not be any different.

Francis Lessard – Francis is a throwback to the old school. He is very nasty and will go to the wall to protect his teammates. He skates well and has average ice vision. He will never be an offensive defenseman. His job is to clear the front of the net and protect the more skilled players. Francis is a very good fighter and he is more than willing to do it. Skating for the Phantoms last season he was out of position a lot because he was looking for the huge hit. I still think he can be a 6th or 7th defenseman in the NHL. To take his game to the next level, he must control his temper and work on his defensive positioning. He will have to decide some point in his career how to learn to be more disciplined. Francis has been a fan favorite everywhere he has played.

Bruno St. Jacques – Bruno was very impressive playing for the Phantoms last season. The Flyer’s brass is very high on him. This is the type defenseman that is not great at one area of his game, but is good at everything a backliner needs. Bruno has good size at 6’2 205lbs. He knows how and when to use it. I truly think he would have been on the Flyers late last season if it were not for a shoulder injury earlier in the season. He was the Phantoms steadiest defenseman late last season. He has good leadership skills and can also bring the puck up the ice. All Flyer fans should keep an eye on this kid; he will be up at some point this season. The trade for Weinrich hurt his chances this season slightly. The Flyers will give him every chance to make the big club out of training camp.

Jeff Woywitka – Jeff was the Flyers first round pick in this year’s draft. The defenseman’s skills are well tuned across the board. He is a very consistent player that is sound at both ends of the ice. The Flyers would like him to work on his physical play and add about 15 pounds of muscle to his frame. Jeff is comparing to Dan McGillis because of his the style of play. Though his skating is much better than Dan’s. The Flyers are in no rush with him right now. He would be well served to go back to Red Deer and work on different parts of his game. It is hard to envision him in the NHL any time soon. I see him as a very good two-way defenseman with a nasty side.

Jim Vandermeer – Jim was a free agent signing this past season. He was voted the WHL’s best defenseman and played very well down the stretch of the playoffs for the Red Deer Rebels. Many NHL clubs pursued signing him after a season where he had 180 PIM, a plus 49, and 65 points to go with his stellar defensive numbers. The Flyers believe he is a late bloomer and has the talent to be a regular NHL defenseman. Jim is known for aggressive steady play. At 6’1 209 lbs., many question if he could handle the larger forwards. I think he can and I see him working his way up the Flyers organization. He will have to work on his skating and puck handling skills, but he is willing to learn. Jim should be a regular with the Phantoms this season.

Joe DiPenta – Joe was a former 3rd round draft pick of the Panthers but could not reach a contract with the team. Joe went un-drafted and signed with the Flyers as a free agent. This kid has good size at 6’3 220 lbs. While playing for the Phantoms last season, he made plenty of rookie mistakes but learned well as the season progressed. In the playoffs, he was one of the better defenseman for the team. DiPenta has to learn to use his size better; he seems to have to be mad to hit. He skates well and he has above average ice vision. The Flyers brass sees him as a steady 5th or 6th blue liner down the line. I do not see him cracking the Flyer’s lineup for at least 2 seasons. He reminds me of current Flyer Chris Therian. He is big guy that only hits when the time suits him.

Ian Forbes – This guy is a project but one that the Flyers are keeping a close eye on. Ian has tremendous size at 6’6 210 lbs. He knows how and when to use it. Forbes has an up and down season with Trenton in the ECHL. Though every night he came out hitting. There are many parts of his game that need a lot of work. I think another season in Trenton will allow him to work on his skating and his positioning around the net. He is still a long-term project but he was one of my favorite players on the Titians last season. If Ian learns how to use his reach and size to his advantage, watch out for him!

Marko Kauppinen – This blue liner is small but very offensive-minded. At 5’11″ and 180 lbs it is hard to envision him at the NHL level. Marko thinks offense all the time, which leads him out of position most of the time. He played well for Finland at the WJCs. The Flyers seem to think he is a long shot to make it to the NHL due to his size and the way he plays the game. The one thing he has going for him is that he is an offensive D and most of the Flyers rearguards are defensive defensemen.

Jussi Timonen – He was the Flyer’s 5th round selection in this year’s draft. He has above average speed and an offensive upside. I feel like the Flyers stole a good player in the 5th round with this kid. Jussi has average size at 6’0 200 lbs. His game is more finesse than physical, but is willing to go to the corners and fight for the puck. Once again the Flyers will bring him along slowly. Jussi will be a NHL blue liner in a couple years. He has the talent and attitude to make it. Many scouts around the NHL were very high on this kid at the draft.

Dennis Seidenberg – This kid was the Flyer’s 6th round selection this year. He has the honor of being the first German player selected by the orange and black. Dennis is a smooth skater that tends to stay in his own zone. He is very defensive minded. His size is smallish for NHL standards at 6’0 180 lbs, so he will need to fill out. Dennis is several years from playing for the Flyers but has the overall skill to do so.

Thierry Douville – Can you say monster? Thierry has great size at 6-5 and 215 lbs. This guy knows how to use his size to intimate forwards. He had 408 PIMs last season. Some people around the league say he is a nasty player. I questioned if he can play. Thierry is an average skater for his size but tends to always be out of position. The word is he tries to crush opposing forwards. His puck skills are below average and his hockey smarts are often questioned. I must say, though, that I have a special place in my heart for players like this. He is a long-term project at best. On his team bio he said the Flyers were his favorite team, how bad can he be?! Thierry will have to work hard to bring his game up to NHL standards. The Flyers might see him as a 7th defenseman or move him to a 4th line winger.

Dave Printz – Another blue liner that the Flyers drafted in this years draft. He has tremendous size at 6’5 220 lbs. Dave could also be a late bloomer. He played against top players in this year’s draft. Printz skates very well and makes tape to tape passes. He has an edge to him with his 93 PIMs. I think he has all the tools to be a NHLer someday. The Flyers like his size and skating ability. Once again the Flyers will develop him in their system and hope he can make the next step.