Hard working depth players populate Philadelphia Flyers prospect pool

By Chris Shafer

Marc Andre Bourdon - Philadelphia Flyers

Photo: Marc-Andre Bourdon is one of several Flyers defensive prospects who already has some NHL experience on his resume. (Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

While the Philadelphia Flyers prospect pool consistently hovers near the bottom of the league, it is not for a lack of production. A steady stream of graduates has kept the team rotating through young talent since the end of the 2004-05 NHL Lockout. Though they once again lack blue-chip prospects within their pool, most of the weight for the future of the team is carried by young NHL players such as Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and the Schenn brothers, Luke and Brayden.

Left Wing

One thing that has helped the Flyers succeed in recent memory has been their productive group of power forwards. Scott Hartnell is coming off a career season and now has a brand new, long-term contract to match. Before Hartnell there was Mike Knuble and so on. Deep into Flyers' history there are power forwards linked with the success of the team on the ice. The biggest disappointment with the development of James vanRiemsdyk was that he never emerged into that big physical presence. While this may have been a factor in his trade Toronto this past off-season, the fact that he is no longer with the Flyers opens up a long-term hole. The organization is hopeful that the new opening created can be filled by either Tye McGinn or Marcel Noebels down the road.

Also dotting the left wing position are several smaller forwards who bring a speed game and some offense to the table. Eric Wellwood is the most successful of this group so far, with Harry Zolnierczyk also getting significant NHL playing time. If Wellwood and Zolnierczyk represent the more defensive side of the speed game, recent acquisitions Andrew Johnston and Taylor Leier are at the other end of the spectrum. Both are talented offensive producers. Andrew Rowe also exists within the pool as a depth forward.

Center

The center position for the Flyers is locked up. It always seems to be an area where the organization excels, but that should come as no surprise given their commitment to being dominant down the middle. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Brayden Schenn will take care of the upper lines at center for years to come. That leaves competition on the fourth line and possibly the third.  That is where physical guys who can also produce come in. Both Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins are physical centers who can play both ends of the ice, despite their different ways of going about it.

Meanwhile Ben Holmstrom, current captain of the Adirondack Phantoms, is being groomed for a defensive fourth-line center position. Tyler Brown is also expected to compete in that capacity while Luke Pither exists in a depth role within the organization at this point.

Right Wing

While Jason Akeson right now exists as a center in the minor league levels, it is very clear that if his future in the NHL is to take shape on the Flyers, he will be a winger. His slick passing has at times turned heads, but his defensive lapses would be more easily cloaked on the outside. He also does not possess the greatest size or strength which makes him prone to getting muscled off the puck in the corners. Despite all of this, he has the best offensive talents in the current Flyers' prospect pool.

Despite falling far from the hype surrounding him, Mike Testwuide has become a strong defensive winger with size and some offensive capabilities for the Flyers' AHL affiliate. He is a quality force in the locker room and will only help younger power forwards like Noebels grow into their role.

Meanwhile Michael Parks, an important part of North Dakota last season, has been out most of this season with an injury. Shane Harper has taken up a depth role within the organization's prospect pool.

Rounding out the pool is Derek Mathers, an agitator and enforcer with the Peterborough Petes.

Defense

Despite the defensive disasters in recent memory, a few blueliners have emerged from the pool as potential NHL players. Thanks to numerous injuries to veterans, Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and Brandon Manning got playing time with the big squad. The fact that they were able to compete and hold their ground looks extremely promising for the depth of the Flyers' blue line down the road.

Also in the group is recent third round pick, Shayne Gostisbehere, who has done nothing but impress since jumping to the college ranks. He earned his draft spot the hard way and is even pushing to become an instrumental part of Team USA.

Oliver Lauridsen represents another blueliner who took the college route and has turned out much better than expected. Though he is still sluggish, his footspeed has come a long way for someone with his overbearing size.

The hype surrounding Blake Kessel has died out after his poor season with the Phantoms. Though many once thought he could be as effective as Gustafsson, he still has a lot to prove.

The rest of the group are all competing in the mix. Matt Konan, Matt Mangene, Nicholas Luukko, Colin Suellentrop, Reece Willcox, Tyler Hostetter, Fredrik Larsson, and Valeri Vasiliev represent a wide range of skills and talents on the blue line, but the law of averages reasons that not all of them will be successful. The hardest position to develop is the blue line.

Goaltending

The recent difficulties felt by veteran Ilya Bryzgalov and the departure of Sergei Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets have left some concerns among Flyers fans. It certainly does not help that the early North American adventures of Niko Hovinen have not been all that promising. The once heralded star of the Sm-Liiga is splitting time with Scott Wedgewood (NJD) on the Trenton Titans of the ECHL.

Meanwhile college signing Cal Heeter is not performing well enough to beat out Scott Munroe on the Adirondack Phantoms. That leaves the young and extremely raw, Anthony Stolarz as the only real bright spot in Philadelphia's goaltending prospect pool. Even then, Stolarz is currently a rookie backup at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, which does not exactly qualify as a remarkable success. Goaltending is back to its usual state in the City of Brotherly Love.
 

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