Philadelphia Flyers North American Prospect Report (Part 3: The NCAA)

By Al Alven

This is part three of a three-part report on the Philadelphia Flyers’ top 15 North American prospects. The following is a look at five collegiate prospects – two from the University of Wisconsin, and one each from the University of Maine, Colgate University and Harvard University. Parts one and two of this report focused on the Flyers’ professional and Canadian junior prospects, respectively.

NCAA Prospects

Bernd Bruckler (Goaltender, University of Wisconsin)

Statistically speaking: For the second straight season, Bruckler has split time in the Badgers’ net with Scott Kabotoff almost evenly. This time around, however, the Austria native’s numbers and overall performance have been far superior to that of his netminding counterpart. To this point, Bruckler owns a record of 9-9-3, with a 2.76 GAA and .905 save percentage. Those may not be spellbinding numbers, but you have to consider that the sophomore goalie is playing behind a very suspect blueline unit this season. Kabotoff, while playing with the same defensive players in front of him, has gone only 4-10-1, with a 3.48 GAA and .884 SP. Those numbers go a long way in telling how solid Bruckler has been for Wisconsin this year.

• Bruckler has saved most of his best hockey this season for Wisconsin’s in-conference games. Against WCHA opponents, the 21-year-old netminder has held his own with a 6-6-3 record, a 2.75 GAA and .908 SP. Again, when compared to Kabotoff’s numbers (1-9-3, 4.09 GAA, .872 SP), Bruckler’s stats really stand out. After a rough start to his season, the young backstop managed to settle down and actually had something of a calming influence on his teammates with his steady play. In fact, by December, observers were noting how the Badgers’ seemed to play with much more confidence and order when Bruckler was in the net. Though he has not made any huge developmental strides ths season, Bruckler has put up decent numbers and certainly hasn’t hurt his standing on the Flyers’ organization depth chart with his play.
• Not surprisingly, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves has given Bruckler the lion’s share of the team’s goaltending duties down the stretch. In fact, the sophomore netminder has started seven of the Badgers’ last eight games, going 5-1-1 over that stretch. Bruckler did not look particularly sharp in his last outing, a 9-5 win at Michigan Tech on Saturday night, allowing four goals on only 26 shots and being replaced after two periods by Kabotoff. However, he has been strong of late for the most part, stopping 161 of the 176 shots he faced in the month of February for a .915 SP. Expect Bruckler to get the call for the Badgers when the playoffs commence on March 14.
• The Badgers (7-15-4 for 18 points) currently occupy the eighth overall position in the WCHA standings with two games (both against North Dakota this coming weekend) remaining on the regular season schedule. The Badgers cannot catch seventh-place St. Cloud State (12-10-4, 28 pts.), but must win at least one its last two remaining games to ensure that they are not caught from behind by Michigan Tech (6-17-3, 15 pts.). All 10 teams in the conference qualify for the postseason. Wisconsin would be facing third-seeded Minnesota (14-6-6, 34 pts.) if the season ended today.

Overall analysis: Bruckler is not developing significantly above or below the Flyers’ expectations at this point. Though his overall performance this season seems to be nothing to write home about, there are plenty of positives to be culled from it. First and foremost is the fact that Bruckler – despite playing behind a lousy defensive team – continued to battle all season long. Even after going through his share of early season struggles (he won only three of his first nine games), he recovered to post respectable numbers by season’s end. Bruckler is a strong competitor who works hard at his game, on the rink and off. He appears to have the tools and talent necessary to eventually advance to the pro ranks, but he has yet to “put it all together.” Next season will be a pivotal one in Bruckler’s development. With Kabotoff graduated, Bruckler will see his workload increased for the second straight season, and should have an improved Wisconsin squad playing in front of him. For now, however, it is important for him to put in a good showing once the WCHA playoffs begin.

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Colin Shields (Forward, University of Maine)

Statistically speaking: This has been a tale of two seasons for Shields. The Scottish-born left winger was on fire for the first few months of the campaign, and led the Black Bears with 13 goals heading into the New Year. Then, he missed four games in early/mid-January with a broken rib and simply hasn’t been the same player since returning to the lineup. Overall, Shields still has decent numbers for the season, with 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 31 games, ranking him sixth on the Black Bears in scoring. However, consider that he has not scored a single goal since rejoining the team on January 24, and has not recorded a multi-point game since December 29 (two assists in an 8-3 win over Massachusetts), and you begin to gain a sense of the significant offensive drop-off Shields has experienced over the course of the past two months.

• Shields’ scoring slump has reached baffling proportions, not just because of its length, but for the fact that the 21-year-old forward has been thought to be injury-free for some time now. Last season, the skilled forward had a breakout season with the Black Bears (notching 20 goals and 9 assists in just 26 games), and was a huge factor in helping the team reach the national championship game against New Hampshire. At the start of this season, he looked as if he was going to eclipse his impressive 2001-02 stats with ease. However, he just has not been much of a factor on the ice since return to the lineup. Shields’ role, after all, is to score goals, and when he is not doing so, he is simply not helping the team. Maine head coach Tim Whitehead has tried using Shields on a number of different lines over the past few weeks, and seems to have settled on using him as a third line left wing for the time being.
• Though Shields appears to be working hard to get himself out of his two-month long scoring drought, he was not able to make any noteworthy progress throughout the month of February. He registered only four assists and a minus-3 rating in nine games during the month and, obviously, is not playing with a great deal of confidence as his team prepares to open the postseason later on this week. Despite the fact that Shields has never been viewed as a prospect with a great deal of long-term potential (i.e. a legitimate future in the NHL), he had proven himself to be a top point-producer in at the college level over his first year and half of play in the NCAA. Perhaps Shields is battling some sort of undisclosed ailment or nagging injury that is resulting in the disruption of his production. The significant deterioration of his game in recent months is simply perplexing either way.

• Shields’ Black Bears have finished their regular season with a 14-6-4 record 32 points), good for third place in the Hockey East standings behind New Hampshire and Boston College (both of which had 34 points). Beginning Thursday, Maine will host Massachusetts in a best-of-three conference quarterfinal series. Obviously, the Black Bears would benefit tremendously in the playoffs if Shields somehow manages to get his game back on track. Even if he does not, however, Maine is favored to eliminate UMass (10-14-0) with little difficulty.

Overall analysis: Shields’ second half woes certainly won’t do any wonders for his stock as a pro prospect (not that it was ever that high to begin with). At worst, he is still a decent point producer at the NCAA level. At best, he will probably be nothing more than a slightly above-average AHL performer, be it with the Phantoms or in another organization. While he possesses great hands and hockey sense, Shields probably does not have the all-around skills or physical tools necessary to make it in the NHL as anything more than a spare part. If he were a little bigger and had better skating ability, he might be a more highly rated prospect. Durability and defensive reliability are also big question marks for Shields at this point. Given that he has had so much offensive difficulty over the second half of this season with Maine, you have to wonder if he could put points on the board with any kind of consistency in the AHL to begin with.

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Joey Mormina (Defenseman, Colgate University)

Statistically speaking: The classic stay-at-home rearguard, Mormina has been a rock on the blueline for the Raiders all season long. As expected, his offensive output has been marginal, though he did finish the regular season ranked sixth on his team and second among defensemen with 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in 34 games. The 20-year-old Montreal native also added one powerplay goal and two game-winners for the season.

• At 6-5, 225 lbs., Mormina is obviously a very physically imposing defender. However, he is also surprisingly mobile for a player his size, skates very well, and often catches opposing forwards off guard with his athletic ability. Though he is still growing into his body, Mormina is already quite adept at using his large frame (and reach) to break up plays in the neutral zone and angle forwards away from the middle of the ice in his own end. He is not an ultra-physical player, per se, but he does seem to have a good idea of when to go for a hit and when to hold back. Mormina is a very well coached player who rarely finds himself caught out of position. He is steady and reliable (if unspectacular) on the blueline for Colgate, and keeps turnovers at a minimum. In short, he does everything his coaches ask him to do, and does it all well.

• Mormina tends to handle his defensive assignments with a great deal of intensity and preparation, and his strong work ethic has been known to rub off on his teammates. Though he is only a sophomore, the young defender has already emerged as a leader on a team in which he is the only NHL-drafted player (as opposed to say, Dov Grumet-Morris’ Harvard squad that boasts an ECAC-high of 13 drafted players). Mormina has also proven himself to be a versatile rearguard this season, handling increased icetime with ease and playing effectively with a host of different defensive partners.

• At 9-10-3 (21 points), Mormina’s Colgate squad finished the regular season with the eighth-best record in the 12-team ECAC. As a result, the Raiders will host ninth-seeded St. Lawrence (7-12-3) in the first round (best-of-three) of the conference playoffs. The series opens this Friday.

Overall analysis: Mormina is still a rather raw prospect at this point, a player who will almost certainly need four full seasons of college development before he is ready to test the pro waters. However, The Flyers have been pleased with the progression he has made to this point, and will surely be keeping a close eye on him over the next two seasons. Given his physical dimensions and considerable, all-around talent, Mormina could very well turn out to be a sleeper prospect for the organization.

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John Eichelberger (Center, University of Wisconsin)

Statistically speaking: With Eichelberger, you always know what you’re going to get – a solid defensive center who does a lot of little things well and puts up marginal point totals on a yearly basis at the collegiate level. This season – Eichelberger’s junior campaign – has been no different, as the 22-year-old center has recorded 11 points (2 goals, 9 assists) in 37 games, while providing Wisconsin with his usual brand of smart, steady defensive play.

• If nothing else, Eichelberger is a heady player who shows up to compete every night. He may not ever come close to being the most talented player on the ice at any given time (even at the collegiate level), but he is a fundamentally sound center who knows the limitations of his game, and never tries to do too much. Obviously, Eichelberger is not the type of player who’s name will appear on the scoresheet with any kind of regularity. Rather, he is a “dirty work” type of player, a defensive pivot who takes points when he can get them, but devotes most of his focus to trying to prevent the opposing team from scoring.
• For the month of February, Eichelberger recorded three assists in eight games. The 22-year Glencoe, Illinois native centered the Badgers’ third line throughout the month (as he has for the majority of the season), but also saw some time on the second line in a handful of games.

• As previously stated (see notes under Bernd Bruckler above), Wisconsin currently owns a 7-15-4 record (18 points) and holds the eighth seed in the 10-team WCHA playoff tournament. The Badgers will be an underdog regardless of who their opponent is in the first round (most likely Minnesota), and will therefore need contributions from their entire roster if they hope to be competitive. Expect Eichelberger to continue to center the third line in the playoffs, just as he has all season long.

Overall analysis: Eichelberger is an honest hockey player, a guy who goes out every night and does his part to try to help his team win. He has developed into a smart, fundamental player and a leader at the collegiate level, but can hardly be described as legitimate NHL prospect at this point. There is simply nothing about Eichelberger’s game that suggests that he will have any kind of impact as a professional. Yes, he does do a lot of things well on the NCAA stage, but he simply lacks the talent and all-around skill to be projected as a decent pro player. He does have one more year of college eligibility left, and, should he somehow manage to put together a strong senior season, he could potentially draw some interest at the AHL (or perhaps a lower minor league) level. Just don’t bet on Eichelberger having much a future within the Flyers’ organization, despite the team’s lack of quality young forward prospects.

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Dov Grumet-Morris (Goaltender, Harvard University)

Statistically speaking: Grumet-Morris is putting up banner numbers in his sophomore season with the Crimson, emerging as one of the top goaltenders in the ECAC. After appearing in 21 of the team’s 34 games in 2001-02, the Evanston, Illinois native played in all but five regular season contests this season. Overall, he recorded a 15-7-2 record, with a 2.24 GAA and .929 save percentage (15-3-1, 2.15 GAA, .931 SP in conference play).

• Thriving on the increased workload that he has taken on this season, Grumet-Morris is doing everything he can to stake his claim as a legitimate pro prospect. The 6-2, 195 lb. goaltender has filled out well, and covers up a large portion of the net with his size and strong positioning. Grumet-Morris is a thinking man’s goaltender (what else would you expect from a Harvard kid?), a technically sound netminder who is particularly good at reading and anticipating the action around his net. Above all else, the 21-year-old has proven to be a consistent, reliable performer who puts in a strong, smart effort game in and game out. Obviously, he will be counted upon to continue his strong regular season play right into the playoffs for the Crimson.

• With the ECAC standings essentially finalized (see below), Grumet-Morris sat out Saturday’s regular season finale, a 5-0 win over St. Lawrence. Head coach Mark Mazzoleni used the opportunity to give some playing time to little used backups John Daigneau and Ben Weiss. The rest was well earned by Grumet-Morris, who appeared in all but one of the Crimson’s games in February. During the month, he posted a 4-2-2 record, and allowed only 16 goals on 237 shots for a stellar .923 save percentage. The young netminder has only one loss in his last seven appearances, and most recently stopped 45 shots (including six in overtime) during a 3-3 draw with Clarkson on Friday night.

• Thanks in large part to the contributions of Grumet-Morris, the Crimson finished with the second-best record in the ECAC this season (Cornell took the top spot with a 19-2-1 record). At 17-4-1 (35 points), Harvard has earned itself a first round playoff bye, and will not play again until the quarterfinals begin on Friday, March 14.

Overall analysis: Though success in the Ivy League usually does not translate to big things in the professional ranks, Grumet-Morris is a prospect worth watching. He has the tools and the mental makeup to succeed in the pros, but he will have to continue to develop progressively over the next two seasons just to get a shot. The young netminder is now an elite goaltender within his conference, but he still has a ways to go before he can be considered one of the top goalies in the NCAA. However, Grumet-Morris works very hard at his craft, and has made noticeably big strides in his overall game over the course of the past two seasons. There is little reason at this point to doubt that he will continue to do so.