Several Philadelphia Flyers prospects showed strong improvement over 2013-14 season

By Jashvina Shah

Jason Akeson - Philadelphia Flyers

Photo: Forward Jason Akeson had a breakout 2013-14 season in the AHL, posting 24 goals and 40 assists in 60 games. Akeson made his NHL playoff debut on April 17th, 2014. (courtesy of Bill Streicher/Icon SMI)

Some of the Philadelphia Flyers prospects, such as Scott Laughton and Shayne Gostisbehere, used the 2013-14 season to demonstrate continued improvement. For others, including Michael Parks and Taylor Leier, the 2013-14 season served as a breakout year. Other prospects however, like Marcel Noebels, Petr Straka, and Brandon Alderson, struggled while with the Adirondack Phantoms this season.

Prospect of the Year: Scott Laughton, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Perhaps no prospect is ready to make a greater impact on the Flyers than Scott Laughton, who was one of the last cuts on Philadelphia's roster before the season's start. He returned to the Oshawa Generals this season, where he posted a career high in goals (40) and assists (47). Laughton captained Oshawa and Team Canada at the World Junior Championship, where he turned in a strong outing. Laughton is not extremely creative, but is the best two-way forward the Flyers have in their system. He is also the hardest-working Flyers prospect, and proved at the WJC that he will always put his team first.

Most Improved Player: Taylor Leier, LW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

Both Leier and Gostisbehere have made significant improvements this season. Gostisbehere's offensive game got better, while he grew a lot defensively. But Leier managed to turn a good first-half regular season performance into a spot on Team Canada's World Junior Championship roster. With Canada, the skilled forward recorded a minus-two rating over seven games. Leier captained the Winterhawks this season, and recorded 79 points (37 goals, 42 assists) in 62 regular season games. All totals were career highs for Leier, who already has 16 playoff points in 11 games – matching his career high from last season in 10 fewer games.

Best Defensive Prospect: Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Union Dutchman (ECAC)

The Flyers have a bunch of good defensive prospects, including Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg, and Valeri Vasiliev. But it is hard to argue there is a better defensive prospect than Gostisbehere. He is a more offensive defenseman, able to quarterback a power play and jump up in the play. He can also enter zones effortlessly and cut through opposing defenses. This season with Union, Gostisbehere's defense also improved. He made several key defensive plays that helped Union to the program's first ever National Championship. He finished with 34 points this season, which ranked third among defenseman in NCAA hockey and were a career high for Gostisbehere. Over his three years at Union, Gostisbehere recorded 82 points. He signed with the Flyers after the Dutchmen won the National Championship.

Fastest Skater: Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Union Dutchman (ECAC)

Most of Philadelphia's prospects are stronger two-way players who do not posses as much skill, but the Flyers have several prospects, including Parks and Alderson, who are good skaters. But neither are faster than Gositsbehere. It appears as though Gostisbehere skates with effortless ease, and has no problem cutting through opposing teams to enter zones. He can use his speed to create quality scoring chances either for himself or his teammates. Once Gostisbehere gets going, it is extremely hard to catch him. In the National Championship victory over Minnesota, the Margate, Florida, native used his speed to cut through the Gopher defense and score Union's first goal of the game. Gostisbehere finished with three points in the National Championship game and five points in the Frozen Four.

Hardest Shot: Oliver Lauridsen, D, Adirondack Phantoms (AHL)

Lauridsen is one of the biggest Flyers prospects, at 6'6 and 229 pounds. His shot was hard to begin with, but Lauridsen is stronger than he was last season, giving more weight to his shot. This is Lauridsen's third pro season. He played in 63 games with Adirondack, recording 11 points (one goal, 10 assist). He is not the most mobile defensemen, but is very, very physical. The former St. Cloud State player earned a call up last season and played in 15 games with the big club, but did not see NHL playing time this year.

Overachiever: Jason Akeson, RW, Philadelphia Flyers (NHL)

Akeson, whom the Flyers signed as a free agent in 2011, is quietly becoming one of Philadelphia's better prospects. After turning in a strong year with Adirondack, he earned a call up to finish the NHL regular season. He played in the last regular season game, where he recorded an assist. He has averaged over 11 minutes a game with the Flyers in the playoffs, including time on the powerplay.

Akeson's offense has always been a plus in Adirondack, where he recorded 24 goals and 64 points this season. It is impressive Akeson, who has good playmaking skills, was able to put up 64 points on a Phantoms team that has emphasized defense this season.

Underachiever: Nick Cousins, C, Adirondack Phantoms (AHL)

The Flyers have had several prospects this season who did not meet expectations. A few skaters have not had great seasons for Adirondack, including Straka, Alderson, and Noebels. Cousins, Philadelphia's second-best center, also struggled with the Phantoms this season. Phantoms coach Terry Murray made Alderson, Straka, and Cousins a healthy scratch during the season, since none of the three were playing well. In his last three seasons in the OHL, Cousins averaged over a point per game, nearing almost two points per game in 2012-13. But in his first full year with Adirondack, Cousins' offensive talents have not translated to the professional level yet. He appeared in 74 games with the Phantoms, missing only one game. He recorded 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) and a minus-nine rating. His offensive numbers may have dropped, but the Phantoms have emphasized a defense-first system under Murray.

High Risk/Reward Prospect: Marc-Andre Bourdon, D, Adirondack Phantoms (AHL)

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Flyers have had several talented prospects suffer potentially career-ending injuries. Eric Wellwood was one of those players – he has not returned since being cut by a skate in 2013. Another is Bourdon, who has lost a lot of his playing time due to concussions. After missing much of the first half of the season with a concussion, Bourdon returned and played in seven games for Adirondack. His concussion symptoms returned however, keeping him out for the remainder of the season. He turned in a few stellar seasons for the QMJHL as an offensive defenseman. That did not translate to Adirondack, but injuries have not helped. If Bourdon can get healthy and stay healthy, he should be able to develop more defensively in Adirondack's system and possibly be a relied-upon asset on Philadelphia's blue line.

Hardest Worker: Scott Laughton, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)

While there are other Flyers prospects – including Akeson – who have worked hard this year, it is hard to argue any future Flyer is more of a blue collar player than Laughton. He is not extremely skilled, but finished the regular season recording 87 points for the Oshawa Generals, which won the OHL Eastern Conference. Those goals and assists totals were career highs for Laughton, who captained the Generals. He demonstrated his team-first attitude at the World Junior Championship. Not only did Laughton captain Team Canada, but he also played at different positions when asked. He is a good two-way forward and is one of the Flyers' most NHL-ready prospects.

Breakout Player for 2013-14: Michael Parks, RW, North Dakota (NCHC)

Michael Parks finished this year with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 42 games. His 30 points were a career high, while his 12 goals matched a career high. Parks turned in a very impressive junior campaign after missing 17 games last season due to injuries. He scored eight points in the 25 games through 2012-13, and there was no indication how Parks would rebound in 2013-14. The forward finished the season as the second-highest scorer on a North Dakota team that made the Frozen Four this season. Parks, who is one of the better skaters in Philadelphia's prospect pool, used his injury-free season to show how his speed can create good opportunities for his teammates.