Top 20 Philadelphia Flyers prospects are deep at defense

By Jashvina Shah
Scott Laughton - Philadelphia Flyers

Scott Laughton has split duties between Philadelphia and the team’s AHL affiliate in Lehigh Valley this season. (Courtesy of Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire)


There are not any drastic changes in the Flyers Top 20, and Scott Laughton retains the top position in a prospect pool that is mostly populated with defensemen. Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim are the top blue liners in the system, but are joined by several others in the Top 10—including Robert Hagg and Mark Alt.

While no player has shown drastic improvement, Nick Cousins has been getting better in each season, and is becoming a consistent player for the Phantoms. Michael Parks in the midst of a career year at North Dakota, and defenseman David Drake cracked the rankings as a freshman at Connecticut.

1. (1) Scott Laughton, C, 7.5 B
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2012

Laughton has been Philadelphia’s top prospect for some time, and the emergence of Shayne Gostisbehere and Samuel Morin has not changed that. Lauded for his two-way play and defensive skills, Laughton started his first professional season this year. Even though he was not expected to contribute offensively, the center has thrown up 13 points in 17 games with the Phantoms—and was one of the team’s leading scorers. Then the Flyers came knocking, and Laughton took his second stint with the in the NHL.

While his offensive numbers did not translate to the NHL level—Laughton had six points (two goals, four assists) through 31 games—he played well defensively. But things became rocky from there, and Philadelphia GM Ron Hextall sent Laughton back down to the AHL in February. Hextall told the media he originally wanted Laughton to have more time in the AHL, but injuries forced Philadelphia to call him up. He missed playing time due to an upper body injury, and was sent back down on Feb. 14.

2. (2) Samuel Morin, D, 7.5 B
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2013

Morin is another one of Philadelphia’s top defensive prospects, and is the most NHL ready. His style of play is vastly different than Gostisbehere’s, and his defense is more solid and advanced. Morin is not known for his offensive talents, but the defender was on pace for his best offensive season in the QMJHL. Through 26 games with the Rimouski Oceanic, Morin has 23 points. Last season he finished with 31. Morin missed time after he was hit by a puck in October, fracturing his jaw.

Morin was a steady, shutdown defender for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. He played in seven games as he helped his country win gold. He was one of the team’s best defensive players, although later on in the tournament he dropped down to the team’s seventh defenseman.

3. (3) Shayne Gostisbehere, D, 7.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2012

Gostisbehere, like Laughton, started his first professional season this year. He was one of the most talented defensemen in the NCAA last year, bringing an impressive offensive skill set. It was expected Gostisbehere would have to improve his defensive game. He played in five games with the Phantoms and recorded five assists before blueline injuries forced Philadelphia to call him up.

He played in two games with the Flyers before suffering a knee injury that has kept him out for much of the season, although he is expected to return before the end of the season. The NHL playing time was a small sample size, but there is no question Gostisbehere needs to improve the defensive side of his game if he wants to be a good NHL defender.

4. (4) Travis Sanheim, D, 7.5 C
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2014

Sanheim rounds out a very deep defensive core for Philadelphia’s prospects. Sanheim’s upside is very high, which is why the Flyers took him in the first round of the 2014 draft. His rising draft stock was a byproduct of the incredible tail end of his season with the Calgary Hitmen—and the U18 World Junior Championships.

Sanheim is now in his second season with the team, where he wears an “A.” He is averaging just under a point per game, with 50 points in 51 contests. This season he was invited to Canada’s camp for the WJC team, but did not make the final roster. The blueliner is a good puck moving defenseman with great vision, but he is still young and has a long way to develop.

5. (8) Nick Cousins, C, 7.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 68th overall, 2011

Cousins seems to be getting better with each passing year. After struggling somewhat in the AHL last season, the forward has taken control of his play this year. He has 48 points through 53 games with the Phantoms, and was the AHL Player of the Month for January, scoring 17 points over that period. Cousins is still 20 games away from reaching last season’s mark, and already has almost double his output (29 points) from last year.

While Cousins is known as a two-way, competitive player with playmaking skills, his skating has improved during his time in Lehigh Valley. Cousins has yet to see NHL playing time, but this is just his second full professional season.

6. (5) Robert Hagg, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2013

One of several defensemen the Flyers have in the pipeline, but he is not as ready for NHL play as Morin, and was passed over in favor of Gostisbehere when Philadelphia needed to call up players to help an ailing blue line this season. Hagg is in his first full season of North American hockey, joining the Phantoms after playing in Sweden.

He did not put up very many points as a young player in the SHL, but his point production has picked up in the AHL, as he has 17 points through 49 games with the Phantoms. Hagg is more known for his overall game, and not his offensive contribution. Like many players who jump to this level, Hagg still needs time to adjust.

7. (6) Mark Alt, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2010

Alt was not expected to have much of an NHL future, and it was thought he would become a career minor leaguer. Alt still has a long way to go if he wants to become an NHL defenseman, but he has proven that he can be a good player to have in the reserves.

When Philadelphia’s defense was full of injuries, the Flyers would have chosen Alt to see some NHL time—but the defenseman suffered an ill-timed shoulder injury that kept him out. He has contributed six points over 24 games, but saw a top-line role with the Phantoms last season.

8. (7) Nicolas Aube-Kubel, RW, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2014

Another member of Philadelphia’s 2014 draft class, Aube-Kubel’s ceiling seems high—for now. The right wing is known for his energy, and has different talents that could fill several different roles at the next level.

Aube-Kubel entered his third season in the QMJHL needing to increase his offense, and he has done that. The speedy winger has 66 points through 50 games for the Val-d’Or Foreurs this season, giving him career highs—and he is still 15 games below his total from last season. The Flyers signed Aube-Kubel to an entry-level deal in October.

9. (10) Anthony Stolarz, G, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall, 2012

Stolarz is in his first season with the Phantoms, and holds a .908 save percentage in 25 games played. There are still aspects of his game he needs to work on, but there is no question he is Philadelphia’s best goalkeeping prospect. He was called up to the Flyers twice in February, although he did not play in his first stint. With Steve Mason and Ray Emery injured, Stolarz is Rob Zepp’s backup—and he might get his first taste of the NHL sooner than expected.

10. (9) Mark Friedman, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2014

Friedman joined the Falcons after a very good second season in the USHL, where he improved tremendously. There is a steep learning curve for NCAA freshmen, and there is no question Friedman still has a long way to go in his development. Still, he is the team’s highest-scoring defenseman, and ranks fourth amongst freshmen defensemen nationally with 17 points. He skates well but still needs to adjust to the speed of the game.

While he still needs time to develop, the Flyers see potential—and making an impact as a freshman is impressive. He is mostly offensive minded, and his numbers have showed that.

11. (17) Jason Akeson, RW, 6.0 B
Free Agent, 2011

Playing time is imperative for developing skaters, and Akeson has gotten that chance after a disappointing stint in the NHL. He has been producing offensively for the Phantoms, and has 35 points in just 35 games. He does not have a high upside though, and would probably be a lower-line forward in the NHL, if he ends up playing there full time. He played 12 games with the Flyers before he was sent down, but failed to score.

12. (11) Michael Parks, RW, 6.5 C
Drafted 5th round, 149th overall, 2010

Parks is in the process of completing his senior year, and he is tied with junior Drake Caggiula for North Dakota’s scoring lead with 31 points. Parks had a breakout junior campaign after a sophomore season of injuries. The forward is known for his wraparound shots and opening up the ice for his teammates with his speed, but has worked on his shots and getting to the net this season. The 31 points are a career high for Parks, who is averaging a point per game this season.

13. (12) Taylor Leier, LW, 6.5 C
Drafted 4th round, 117th overall, 2012

Leier is the team’s top left wing prospect. Like with many of Philadelphia’s other top prospects, the forward is in his first professional season. Leier averaged over a point per game in his last campaign with the Portland Winterhawks, but there were questions about whether or not he could replicate that pace at the next level. He has 26 points through 50 games this season, third-best amongst prospects. The 20-year-old has skill and speed, and is known for working hard.

14. (13) Reece Willcox, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 5th round, 141st overall, 2012

Willcox is an underrated, fly-under-the-radar defensive prospect for a team heavily laden with blueliner names that stand out. He is a steady, stay-at-home defenseman who has taken on a leading role with Cornell’s defensive core. There is no offensive upside to Willcox’s game, though, and he has four points this season—the lowest of his career. It has been a rough season for the Big Red, as well.

15. (16) Oskar Lindblom, LW 6.5 C
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2014

Lindblom’s stock rose a little bit thanks to an impressive World Junior tournament, where he recorded nine points (four goals, five assists) through seven games for Sweden. Lindblom now spends his time in the SHL—a league where he played in four games last year.

The Flyers like the progress Lindblom has made, and he has 12 points through 33 games with the big Brynas club—good numbers for a physical 18-year-old. One of Lindblom’s biggest assets is his defensive play, as he is not a very skilled or fast skater.

16. (14) Valeri Vasiliev, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 7th round, 201st overall, 2012

Vasiliev has had a rough time in the KHL. His team last season, Spartak Moscow, folded. Instead of jumping overseas for a taste of the North American game, Vasiliev decided to stay in the KHL, and signed with Avangard Omsk. He is now with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, and has seen his playing time increase. It is good for his development, but there is no telling when he will join the North American game, although most expect him to fit in. He is a physical defenseman who is not expected to contribute offensively, but Vasiliev has five points in 35 games in the KHL this season.

17. (15) Radel Fazleev, LW, 6.5 C
Drafted 6th round, 168th overall, 2014

Fazleev was a late pick for the Flyers, after a mediocre season in the WHL. But it was his first year in North America, and he missed a portion of the season thanks to an injury. Fazleev was impressive in his return, and scored seven points in six games in the playoffs. He is a two-way, versatile forward, still with room to develop. In just his second season with Calgary, Fazleev has 40 points in 55 games.

18. (NR) Petr Straka, 6.0 C
Free Agent, 2013

Straka moved back into the Top-20 rankings after a brief NHL stint in January. He netted two points over three games with the Flyers before being sent back down to the Phantoms. He struggled with consistency last year in the AHL, and still has to work on his competitiveness. He does know how to score, and there are aspects to like about Straka’s game. He is currently in his second season with the Phantoms, after scoring 27 points over 60 games last season.

19. (20) Jesper Pettersson, D, 6.0 C
Drafted 7th round, 198th overall, 2014

Pettersson moves up one spot in the rankings. He is a short defenseman who—unlike most smaller defensemen—does not have much offensive upside. He has played in 32 games this season, and has four points for the Phantoms. This is his first season in North America after spending last season in the SHL. He is a good skater and very physical, despite his size. He has found playing time in the AHL thanks to injuries.

20. (NR) David Drake, D, 6.0 C
Drafted 7th round, 192nd overall, 2013

Drake is in his first collegiate season, and mans the blue line for Connecticut. It is his, and UConn’s, first season in Hockey East. He has earned solid playing time for the Huskies, and has benefited from his large frame. He’s a stay-at-home defenseman, but as a collegiate freshman, he has time to work on his consistency and offensive contribution.