Flyers CHL prospect season review

By Al Alven

The Philadelphia Flyers had eight prospects playing across Canada in the CHL this year, including four in the QMJHL, three in the OHL and just one in the WHL. At least three players from this group are expected to turn pro next season.

OHL

Josh Beaulieu, LW
London Knights
Drafted: 2005 (5th round, 152nd overall)

A succession of injuries and suspensions limited Beaulieu’s effectiveness in what was his fourth, and potentially final, season at the major junior level. The Windsor, ON native finished with 16 points (10 goals, six assists), a minus-9 rating and 93 penalty minutes in just 44 games.

He did, however, step up his game considerably during the postseason, notching nine points (3 goals, 6 assists), a minus-1 rating and 31 PIMs in 10 games for London, which ultimately fell to the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL‘s Western Conference finals.

One of the Knights grittier performers, Beaulieu had evolved over the previous three seasons into a valuable two-way player, agitator and penalty-killer for the perennial OHL powerhouse.

"We’ve kept our eyes on Josh and have been monitoring his progress over the past few years very carefully," said GM Paul Holmgren. "He has been a real asset to the London team, which is one of the top organizations in all of juniors, maturing into a very sound, all-around player.

"He’s very aggressive and takes the initiative, which we like to see. We’re going to have to make a decision on him soon, as we will lose his rights if he isn’t signed prior to the draft this year."

Steve Downie, C/RW
Peterborough Petes/Kitchener Rangers
Drafted: 2005 (1st round, 29th overall)

As expected, Downie turned in another dominating performance during his fourth and final season of play at the major junior level. He finished the regular season ranked 14th in the OHL with 92 points (35 goals, 57 assists) and 124 PIMs, despite playing in just 42 contests, due to suspensions and time away with the Canadian national junior team.

After opening beginning the campaign with the Peterborough Petes (for whom he was named captain), Downie was the centerpiece of a midseason trade that saw him land with the Kitchener Rangers, a perennial OHL title contender. He responded by averaging nearly two points per game down the stretch, notching 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 17 contests with his new team.

Downie was once again a catalyst in helping to lead Canada to another gold medal at the World Junior Championships (his second). He played a solid two-way game and exhibited great leadership abilities, while also tallying five points (one goal, four assists) and 16 PIMs in six total games. 

A 20-year-old native of Queensville, ON, Downie inked a three-year entry-level deal with the Flyers last May. He appears poised and ready to begin his pro career, which he will do next season.

Downie made his pro debut with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL on April 15, in a 3-2 home loss to the Hershey Bears. Though he was held off the scoresheet, he played a solid overall game, hitting just about everything that moved and nearly cashing in on a power-play opportunity in the third period.

"We signed Steve to a pro contract last summer, and are very excited about him coming to Philadelphia," said Holmgren. "He had another outstanding season in the OHL, which was expected, and he was dominant again for Canada at the World Juniors.

"Steve will get the chance to make the Flyers next season. I think it’s safe to say that he’s going to be a fan favorite here, someone who is going to bring a great deal of energy, aggression and competitiveness to the table, as well as skill. He‘s a very talented player."

Ryan Parent, D
Guelph Storm
Drafted: 2005 (1st round, 18th overall) by NSH

A highly-regarded defensive prospect generally viewed as one of the top rearguards at the major junior level over the past two seasons, Parent’s rights were acquired from the Nashville Predators as part of the Peter Forsberg trade, just before the trade deadline.

The Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native recorded 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 43 games for Guelph this season, wrapping up his OHL career, while serving as the team’s captain. For his four-year junior stint, he totaled 59 points (10 goals, 49 assists) and 262 penalty minutes in 227 games over four campaigns, all with the Storm.

For the second straight year, Parent formed a rock solid defensive pairing with New York Rangers prospect Marc Staal at the WJCs, helping Team Canada capture its third straight gold medal.

Like Downie and Giroux, the 20-year-old blueliner finished the season with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL, after his Guelph was eliminated from postseason play. He appeared in six games with the Flyers’ top affiliate, registering a goal and four penalty minutes.

Parent also played in one game with the Flyers, making his surprise NHL debut as an injury fill-in against the New Jersey Devils on April 5.

"We were very pleased to acquire Ryan in the Peter Forsberg trade, along with [forward] Scottie Upshall," explained Holmgren. "He’s the consummate competitor, a tough stay-at-home defenseman who doesn’t get phased by anything. His biggest asset is his skating.

"Ryan distinguished himself as a top-pairing defenseman for Team Canada on two straight World Junior Championship teams, plus he’s been one of the premiere defensive defensemen in the OHL. So, he graduates to the pros with some outstanding credentials."

QMJHL

Oskars Bartulis, D
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Drafted: 2005 (3rd round, 91st overall)
 
Like Downie, Bartulis signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers shortly before the start of the 2006-07 campaign. It would be the kicker to a very busy offseason, which had previously seen the Latvian native traded from the Moncton Wildcats to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

A brief adjustment period aside, Bartulis got off to a terrific start with his new team. In fact, he led Q in scoring among defensemen for a stretch, before a being sidelined due to a variety of injuries (including a sprained wrist and the lingering effects of a concussion). Upon his recovery, he would go on to reestablish himself by forming a very solid defensive pairing with Minnesota Wild draftee J.C. Sawyer.

On the whole, the move to Cape Breton benefited Bartulis, as it gave him the opportunity to continue to play big minutes in key situations for a contending team, while Moncton opted to enter into a rebuilding phase.

Bartulis wound up finishing the campaign ranked second among defensemen on his team, with 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists) in 55 games. He continued to make strides in all areas of his game, most notably displaying increased awareness in special teams situations and in his willingness to engage in physical play, when necessary.

"We really like Oskars’ potential, obviously, which is why we signed him to a contract last summer," said Holmgren. "He’s had another strong year [in the QMJHL], this time in a new environment at Cape Breton. That’s been a good experience for him, and we look forward to seeing what he can do at the pro level next season.

"He’s really improved during his time in juniors, and has become a very effective player at both ends of the rink. He’s very likeable and should be a good fit here. We’re looking for good things from him."

Jeremy Duchesne, G
Halifax Mooseheads/Val-D’or Foreurs
Drafted: 2005 (4th round, 119th overall)
 
Duchesne was the last of the Flyers prospects to be eliminated from postseason play this season, when his Val-D’or Foreurs were swept in the QMJHL Finals by the Lewiston MAINEiacs last week.

The Silver Springs, MD native enjoyed a strong postseason run, but all of that was trivialized due to personal tragedy. His father, former NHL forward Gaetan Duchesne, passed away suddenly at the age of 44 on April 16, prior to the Foreurs’ semifinal series against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

Duchesne missed the first two games of the series, amid speculation as to whether he would return to the team. He ultimately decided to do so, and would go on to star brilliantly in the Foreurs’ emotional comeback from a three-games-to-one deficit to oust the Screaming Eagles.

The 19-year-old netminder began the campaign, his fourth in the QMJHL (third as a starter) with the Halifax Mooseheads. He was traded to Val-d’Or during the Christmas trade period, and finished the regular season ranked 10th in the circuit with a 3.33 GAA and eighth in save percentage with a .897 mark. 

"We’ve continued to follow [Duchesne] closely over his junior career," Holmgren recently told philadelphiaflyers.com. "We like his style and the way he plays. His size is very good, and he’s a very athletic goalie, and he’s a fighter. He’s one of those guys that does not give up on a puck, and if a goal is allowed he doesn’t let it bother him.

"I think with what Jeremy went through in the past two weeks, with his father passing away tragically at 44, he missed two games and since he came back he hasn’t lost [prior to the finals]. I think that speaks well for the character of the individual as well as his talent. I can’t imagine going through a situation like that as a young player losing your father and then jumping right back in and playing at that level and, obviously, playing very well."

Michael Dupont, G
Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Drafted: 2006 (6th round, 175th overall)
 
One of two goaltenders selected by the Flyers at last year’s entry draft (Czech prospect Jakub Kovar being the other), Dupont enjoyed a stellar first full season as a starter for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.

Despite playing in front of a team that struggled defensively all season long, the 19-year-old Swiss native was a bright spot, playing a pivotal role in the Drakkar’s (35-16-1-8) success and ability to qualify for the postseason.

Dupont finished the regular season with an impressive 31-23 record, with a 3.68 GAA and .875 save percentage. A positionally-sound netminder who plays angles and improvises well, he worked hard at improving his lateral quickness, glove hand reaction and rebound control this season.

The result saw him emerge as a better all-around player than the one who finished the previous season. Such strides have been encouraging signs to the Flyers’ brass.

"Michael Dupont is another goaltender in the Quebec Junior League who is sort of following in Jeremy Duchesne’s footsteps from last year," explained Holmgren. "He’s a guy that played more games this year than last year. Next year, we’re hoping he plays as many games as Jeremy did this year and then develops from there."

Claude Giroux, RW
Gatineau Olympiques
Drafted: 2006 (1st round, 22nd overall)
 
Giroux exploded out of the gate and into the realm of the scoring elite in the Q in his second season with Gatineau. The Hurst, ON native led the circuit in scoring for much of the first quarter of the schedule, before cooling down a bit. He managed, however, to avoid any prolonged slumps, remaining a consistent offensive threat throughout the campaign. 

The Flyers’ first-round draft selection in 2006, Giroux (who turned 19 in January) finished the regular season ranked fourth in the Q with 112 points (48 goals, 64 assists) in only 63 games. These totals included an impressive 20 power-play goals and two shorthanded tallies. He also boasted a league-best shooting percentage of 26.1.

Giroux was one of Team Canada’s final cuts for the WJCs, due mainly to the volume of experienced players returning from the previous year’s gold medal-winning squad. He should, however, have an outstanding chance of making the national team next year, especially with several of Canada’s top junior forwards (including Downie) graduating to the professional ranks.

Following Gatineau’s sudden first-round elimination from the QMJHL playoffs at the hands of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, Giroux signed an ATO with the Phantoms. He appeared in five games, registering two points (one goal, one assist) and six penalty minutes.

"We are hopeful that Claude will be one of our cornerstones as we move forward, into the future," said Holmgren. "Obviously, he had a great year in the Quebec league, really coming into his own as an offensive player, with the ability to dominate certain aspects of the game.

"One thing we’d like to see is for Claude to add a little more strength. That’s something he will work on in the offseason, and beyond. He’s an outstanding young man with a great attitude and a terrific work ethic."

It is assumed that Giroux will return to the Olympiques for one more season in the Q in 2007-08. Whatever the organization’s plan might be for the talented speedster, he will be given a good, hard look in training camp, come September.

WHL

John Flatters, D
Vancouver Giants/Prince Albert Raiders
Drafted: 2005 (6th round, 174th overall)
 
For an organization with a noted history of drafting players out of Western Canada, it is surprising that the Flyers had just one prospect playing in the WHL this season. Flatters, however, fits the traditional profile of the big, rugged defenseman the team has been known to cultivate.

The 19-year-old Calgary native began the season with the Vancouver Giants before being traded to the Prince Albert Raiders in early January. A strictly stay-at-home rearguard, he recorded nine assists, a plus-six rating and 145 penalty minutes in 65 total games.

Like Beaulieu and Duchesne, Flatters was a member of the Flyers’ 2005 draft class, meaning he would have to be signed prior to this year’s draft if the organization intends to maintain his rights. At this point, the team’s intentions in this regard remain unknown.

"Flatters is another young player who we will have to make a decision on this offseason," said Holmgren. "He’s a big, tough kid who has bounced around a bit in the Western Hockey League. We like him from the standpoint of his physical play and his team-oriented mentality, but he still has to work on his skating and decision making, among other things.

"We will continue to weigh all of our options before making any decisions, moving forward."

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