Though many have graduated from the prospect list through the course of this past season, a number of the 11 rookies that took part in the Philadelphia Flyers' 2011-12 season were also key components to their 2012 postseason.
No other rookie however was more prominent for the Flyers than Sean Couturier, who was given the unenviable task of shadowing Evgeni Malkin in the first round of the playoffs. An assignment he carried out with aplomb.
Another prospect to break out of his shell in the postseason was Brayden Schenn. Once considered the top prospect in the world, Schenn had a streaky first full NHL season with the Flyers. In the postseason, he emerged as a physical and offensive presence by finishing second in hits among forwards and fourth in scoring on the roster.
Matt Read, Erik Gustafsson, and Eric Wellwood also became important names in Philadelphia this season, and all three were important to the Flyers' playoff success despite the disappointing second round exit. Read had a much better regular season than postseason, but a college schedule is not nearly as grueling as his 90-game rookie campaign. He will look to rebound next year. Gustafsson, despite desperately needing some muscle to compete along the boards, displayed a knack for puck movement that could lead the organization to make some important decisions this offseason. Wellwood's speed and puck-sharking quickly made him a fan favorite in Philadelphia as well as a player who fits in perfectly with Head Coach Peter Laviolette's system.
Marc-Andre Bourdon and Zac Rinaldo saw limited playoff action despite being major factors in the Flyers' regular season. Bourdon missed time because of injury, and Rinaldo's game style became somewhat ineffective as the playoffs wore on. Harry Zolnierczyk, a mainstay during the regular season, found his position taken by Wellwood.
Once again the Adirondack Phantoms missed the postseason, but this time only by five points. Last year's 29th ranked offense moved to 21st, but in the end, it was not enough to send a multitude of Flyers' prospects into the AHL race for the Calder Cup. The biggest highlight of the Phantoms' season was rookie Jason Akeson, who led the team in scoring with 55 points in 76 games.
As a result of the Phantoms missing the playoffs, Head Coach Joe Paterson was relieved of his duties by the Flyers' organization in a move that was both widely unpopular in Adirondack and among Flyers' fans. Many felt as though Paterson did an incredible job keeping a sinking ship afloat despite the chaos left in the wake of former head coach, Greg Gilbert.
With a number of CHL prospects missing the playoffs or experiencing early-round exits, only two forwards for the Flyers' organization made any noise in the postseason. Kamloops Blazer winger Brendan Ranford finished 11th in scoring among WHL forwards this season. Ranford continued his offensive showmanship through a first round sweep of the Victoria Royals, but the Blazers fell in seven games during the second round to the Portland Winterhawks. On that offensively deep Winterhawks roster was Ranford's fellow prospect, Marcel Noebels.
Noebels went on to finish third in scoring in the WHL playoffs accounting for 23 points in 22 games. Three of his teammates also tallied 34 points, 33 points, and 22 points making Portland the highest scoring team of the tournament. However, all of that firepower was not enough to push Portland into the Memorial Cup tournament and the Winterhawks lost in seven games to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
A year later it appears as though the Flyers made the right call with Niko Hovinen. He was not only improved in the 2011-12 season, but his team was vastly better. The team that just avoided relegation last year finished tied for second in points out of 14 SM-Liiga teams. Hovinen's play continued in the postseason where his 2.30 goals-against average and .925 save percentage brought the Pelicans all the way to the finals. Even though his team lost in five to JYP Jyvaskyla, Hovinen's experience bringing the Pelicans from the brink of relegation all the way to the SM-Liiga finals is invaluable. He will begin his North American career this summer.
For a freshman, Michael Parks had a rather large role on the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota by the end of the season. He finished sixth on the team in scoring with 22 points in 42 games played, but seven of those points, including three goals and four assists, came during the WCHA Tournament. The Sioux also made history by taking home the Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA Champions three years in a row. In the next game against Western Michigan, Parks added another goal to his postseason total which helped his team advance to the NCAA West Regional Championship game against Minnesota, a team they beat on the way to winning the WCHA Championship. This time though, Parks was held off the scorecard and the Sioux failed to advance any further in the NCAA tournament.
It would not be the Flyers' offseason without a hefty amount of free agent signings. This year, the Flyers opened things up with two defensemen. Matt Konan plays a solid two-way game with some physicality mixed in. He is coming off a breakout year with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. The other defenseman, Matt Mangene formerly of the University of Maine, plays a two-way game as well but not nearly in the same way. He spent his time as a utility player who could do everything from log minutes on the blue line, to playing the wing on the offensive rush, to blocking tons of shots, to killing penalties and putting pressure on opposing defenses with the forecheck.
However, the most intriguing signing out of Philadelphia may be Andrew Johnston, who came straight out of the SJHL. There were reportedly a number of NHL teams after the 20-year-old and former Flin Flon Bomber, who made his competition in the RBC Cup look like amateurs. Also announced at the same time as the Johnston signing, Derek Mathers, enforcer for the Peterborough Petes, was signed to an entry-level contract.
Yet to sign is Brendan Ranford, who has said that his agent is in talks with the Flyers' organization. Whether or not the Flyers will sign him remains to be seen, but he had another outstanding season for the Kamloops Blazers.