Philadelphia Flyers prospect pool in state of transition for 2013-14 season

By Chris Roberts

Robert Hagg - Philadelphia Flyers

Photo: Selected in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft, Swedish defenseman Robert Haag brings a steady two-way presence to the Flyers blue line. (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Flyers prospect pool has been suffering for some time now. Though the organization may have several serviceable prospects such as Scott Laughton or Samuel Morin, there is not a whole lot of promise surrounding the team's entire group of prospects.

Their AHL team, the Adirondack Phantoms, is comprised mostly of prospects who can do one thing very well, but lack a good overall game. The organization's greatest crop of prospects lies at the junior level; other than Laughton and Morin in the CHL, the team also has promising London Knights goaltender Anthony Stolarz.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Nick Cousins, C, Adirondack Phantoms (AHL)

On the Adirondack Phantoms, perhaps only Jason Akeson has a greater offensive upside than Nick Cousins. And while a little smaller than Akeson, Cousins plays more of a courageous, two-way game, going to the trouble areas of the ice with more consistency. In his final year of junior last season, the Belleville native finished third in OHL scoring with 103 points in 64 games, and also recorded 83 penalty minutes, good enough for second on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

A rookie in the AHL, Cousins has been paired with Akeson and gritty winger Tye McGinn to start the season. Expectations are not for Cousins to set the league on fire, but with a thin forward crop in Adirondack and a nose for the net, he could potentially have a very promising season for the Phantoms.

Offensive Breakout
Petr Straka, RW, Adirondack Phantoms (AHL)

Since the Columbus Blue Jackets opted not to sign 2010 second round pick Petr Straka following the end of the 2011-12 season, the Czech winger has played as though he has something to prove. In an overage season with the QMJHL's Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Straka led the team in scoring with 41 goals and 41 assists in just 55 games.

Dating back to last season, and continuing into this one, the Flyers have not been reluctant – and often have been forced – to call up players from Adirondack, and already Straka has been considered. Though the team recently called up McGinn, Straka was the other forward considered, but for now, is best suited developing at the AHL level and gaining confidence offensively. Should he play a full season in the AHL, he could compete with Akeson and Cousins for the team's leading scorer.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Brandon Manning, D, Adirondack Phantoms (AHL)

With defensemen like Oliver Lauridsen, Mark Alt, and Marc-Andre Bourdon bringing a similar skill set and with similar ceilings, the clock is running on Brandon Manning's NHL future, at least with the Flyers. He has dressed in 10 NHL games for the organization, but the 23-year-old was recently only given a one-year contract following his entry-level deal.

The Flyers have a glut of NHL caliber blueliners, though a handful of which are nearing retirement in the next few years. At 6'1 and pushing 200 pounds, the Prince George native has decent size and offensive capabilities, but will need to emerge as a top defender for the Phantoms this season should he expect another contract. Given the Flyers history with injuries, it is also possible that Manning gets another stint in Philadelphia this season, where he could possibly show his worth.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Scott Laughton, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Given their early usage of AHL forwards Kris Newbury, Michael Raffl, and McGinn, the Flyers may wish they had kept Scott Laughton around to begin the season. Laughton, for the second straight year, made the team out of training camp, but was optioned to Oshawa of the OHL before the season began.

However, it is probably best that the Flyers are patient with their 2012 first round pick, and the chance to be an offensive leader in the OHL should not hurt his development. In fact, already Laughton seems to have emerged as not only one of the Generals' top players, but one of the best forwards in the league. Last year, in his third season with Oshawa, he cracked the point-per game-mark with 56 in 49, and already this season the 6'1 center has 17 points in just eight games. Since rejoining the Generals last season following a brief stint with the post-lockout Flyers, Laughton has totaled 48 points in 30 regular season and playoff games, proving that not only has he benefited from last season's stint with the Flyers, but that he might also be ready for the NHL.

Goaltending Breakout
Anthony Stolarz, G, London Knights (OHL)

Outside of Laughton, the Flyers do not really have any forwards or defensemen poised for a breakout offensive season, but goaltender Anthony Stolarz seems in line for a big season. While it may be tough to outdo last season's .920 save percentage and 2.29 goals against average, through seven games this season Stolarz already has a 7-2-1 record with marks of .929 and 2.42.

The London Knights are expected to be one of the OHL's top teams this season and they will host the Memorial Cup, giving the team a chance to win the tournament they had a shot at winning last season. Stolarz joined the Knights mid-way through last season and overtook Jake Paterson (DET) as the team's starting goaltender, and with a year under his belt, the 6'6 goaltender has a chance to become among the best in the league this season.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Tyrell Goulbourne, LW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

The Flyers selected rugged winger Tyrell Goulbourne well ahead of where he was projected in the 2013 NHL Draft. He was selected in the third round, 71st overall, by the Flyers, despite being ranked as the 171st best prospect by ISS. And because he turns 20 in January, Goulbourne is required to be signed by next June or the team loses him to free agency.

While it is likely he should get signed given the team opted to take him in the third round, he has a lot to prove. At just 5'11, he is not the biggest body on the ice, but he does play with a physical edge, perhaps similar to current Flyers pest Zac Rinaldo. He is described as being a hard worker and a good skater, but has yet to show much offensive capability in junior. Last season, in 64 games, Goulbourne accumulated 27 points, but racked up a team-leading 135 penalty minutes for the Kelowna Rockets. He is not in great danger to go unsigned, but unless he improves his overall game, he will not have much of a future in the NHL.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Union Dutchmen (ECAC)

A smooth-skating offensive defenseman, Shayne Gostisbehere has improved with each game under Union College head coach Rick Bennett. He was drafted by the Flyers following an impressive freshman season with the team in which he scored 22 points in 41 games. Last season, Gostisbehere improved upon those numbers, collecting 26 points in just 36 games and already this season the Florida native has four points in four games.

Gostisbehere will play on the top pairing for Union this season, along with 23-year-old senior Mathew Bodie, and is expected to provide a ton of offense from the blue line. Union narrowly missed out on the NCAA's Frozen Four last season and made its first trip to the tournament in 2012. They should be competitive again this season, giving Gostisbehere another chance to earn valuable big-game experience before inevitably turning pro.

Bounceback Prospect
Michael Parks, RW, North Dakota (NCHC)

After an injury-shortened 2012-13 campaign, there is nowhere to go but up for junior Michael Parks. The 2010 fifth round pick had a tremendous freshman season with the University of North Dakota, finishing sixth in team scoring on a team that included Brock Nelson (NYI), Danny Kristo (NYR) and Corban Knight (CGY). Healthy in 2013, Parks should see an increased role this season and will be expected to increase last season's production.

Should the offense not return for Parks, he has the ability to be an effective checker. At 6'0 and 200 pounds, he has put on size since being drafted and has continued to develop an overall game.

Freshman to Watch
Terrance Amorosa, D, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)

Though he has committed to Providence College, 6'2 defenseman Terrance Amorosa will suit up this season for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL. The Quebec native went to Holderness School in New Hampshire in 2011, playing two seasons for the prep school, and opted to play a season in the USHL before making the jump to the NCAA. His long development path should give the Flyers five years to monitor his development before having to sign him.

While it is not as physical as the NCAA, the USHL is certainly a step up from high school hockey and it will be interesting to see how Amorosa handles the grind. He was not listed among Central Scouting's list of 210 skaters for the 2013 NHL Draft, but nonetheless was taken by the Flyers in the fifth round. He has good size and some offensive upside, but has yet to be tested against tougher competition. This season should be a good measuring stick for the Flyers to see what they may possibly have in Amorosa.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Robert Hägg, D, MODO (SHL)

A second round pick from the 2013 NHL Draft, Robert Hägg has immediately become the Flyers top European prospect. While there is not a bevy of players to compete with, Hägg carries an impressive list of credentials nonetheless. He captained the Modo U20 team, was the assistant captain of Sweden's U18 team, and in the same year, suited up for the country's U20 World Junior team.

He is a two-way defenseman who is capable of playing both the power play and penalty kill, and has done so for the teams he has played for. He finished the 2012-13 campaign with Modo's senior team, logging 27 games of valuable experience. This year, he has already been given increased ice time, and has four assists in 15 games to begin the season.

First Year Pro to Watch
Valeri Vasiliev, D, Moscow Spartak (KHL)

Seventh round pick Valeri Vasiliev played the majority of last season with Spartak Moskva's junior team, but was able to suit up for 11 KHL games. Having gotten his feet wet in the league last season should only benefit Vasiliev as he looks to earn a season-long stay with the team this year.

He has already surpassed last season's mark of 11 games with the team, having recorded one assist while being a plus one in limited ice time. At 19-years-old, he is the youngest player on the team, and should gain valuable experience playing against seasoned pros.