Goaltending depth tops prospect pool for Philadelphia Flyers

By Chris Shafer
Photo: Defenseman Simon Bertilsson, a 3rd round draft pick from 2009, could be joining the Flyers organization as soon as next year. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Flyers have a very distinct prospect pool emerging in the world of the post-Pronger trade; one highlighted by a sixth round pick, two seventh round picks, and two free agent signings. While there is room to speculate whether or not General Manager Paul Holmgren will continue his pursuit of prospects outside of traditional means such as the NHL Entry Draft, he has recently traded yet another first round pick in the quest for the Stanley Cup.

The continued use of trading picks to bring in talent such as Kris Versteeg, a young forward fully capable of playing in Philadelphia well into the future, has been beneficial to the Flyers ongoing success. However, the organization will eventually have to take players in the earlier rounds if they hope to continue the same success they have become used to over the better part of two decades.

Paul Holmgren appears to be walking a very thin line with the expectations that many of the players he has brought into the pool can fulfill complementary roles with the Flyers in upcoming years even if they will not be stars themselves. It is a calculated plan without much room for error, but so far the prospect pool seems stable despite a lack of top-tier talent or considerable depth.

1. (2) Sergei Bobrovsky, G, 8.0B
Acquired: Free Agent, 2010

With the Flyers 62 games into their season, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s play in net is a major factor in why they are first place in the East. His stunning athleticism has turned him into a household name over night in Philadelphia when most Flyers fans did not even know who he was a year ago.

Bobrovsky went from a dominating force on a struggling KHL team to a rookie-of-the-year candidate on a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. While splitting time back and forth with veteran Brian Boucher, he has accounted for 24 of the team’s league-leading 40 wins as well as a .920 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average.

2. (1) Joacim Eriksson, G, 7.5C
Acquired: 7th round, 196th overall, 2008

After a stellar year in the Allsvenskan, it was finally Eriksson’s turn in the Elitserien. He entered the Skelleftea organization expecting to learn the ropes from veteran goaltender Andreas Hadelov. Things have not come particularly easy for Eriksson though, who struggled out of the gate before rebounding mid-season.

In 17 appearances, Eriksson has accounted for a .907 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average as well as a shutout. Even if things have started slowly, the Flyers organization is still looking forward to Eriksson’s development. Due to Bobrovsky’s addition, there is no immediate need for him to rush so he will play in the SEL until the Flyers are ready for him.

3. (8) Eric Wellwood, LW, 6.5B
Acquired: 6th round, 172nd overall, 2009

The back-to-back Memorial Cup Champion within the Flyers’ prospect pool has already made a sizable impression on the Philadelphia fanbase as well as the organization. He has only appeared in three regular season NHL games, but his play style has already earned him a mark as a player to watch in upcoming seasons. His speed, tenacity, defensive play, and puck prowess are all things that fit into Head Coach Laviolette’s system of hockey.

While he does not possess a high offensive upside, Wellwood has all the makings of a perfect and versatile role player who can play up and down the top nine. In three games with the Flyers he earned an assist, but in 53 games with the Phantoms, he has accounted for 12 goals and another 11 assists.

4. (11) Erik Gustafsson, D, 7.0C
Acquired: Free Agent, 2010

The now 22-year-old that signed as a free agent out of Northern Michigan University last year has taken the Phantoms by storm. He has taken the lead defensive spot and is even leading the team in points with five goals and 28 assists 53 games.

The Phantoms however have struggled for most of the season, and despite a recent resurgence, are last in goals forced with 131. This will not stop Gustafsson from taking a hold of his future with the organization. With defensive injuries beginning to slowly stockpile before the Flyers’ playoff push, Gustafsson got the opportunity to play in his first NHL game. His play may have big significance in how the Flyers use the upcoming offseason to reload their roster for 2011-12.

5. (NR) Brendan Ranford, RW, 7.5D
Acquired: 7th round, 209th overall, 2010

It is not every day that a forward has a chance to double every other player on his team in points. As of right now, the former seventh round pick Brendan Ranford is coming close to just that even though his breakout season has tapered off to just a great pace instead of the insane pace he was on while leading the WHL in scoring.

The 18-year-old Ranford is one of only a couple Flyers’ prospects currently in the system that have game-breaking offensive potential, and he is currently putting on a show as his Kamloops Blazers fight for the right to play in the 2011 WHL Playoffs.

In 64 games played, Ranford has accounted for 33 goals and 53 assists for 86 points. He has scored 16 percent of the Blazers’ 209 goals and has been involved in 41 percent of the team’s offense.

6. (5) Joonas Lehtivuori, D, 7.0D
Acquired: 4th round, 101st overall, 2006

Despite emerging as one of the most promising defensive players in the Flyers’ prospect pool in 2009-10, Lehtivuori mirrored the struggles of the Phantoms this season. Though he was not the worst defenseman on the team, he was certainly not playing up to the standards his play the prior year set when he was the anchor of the defense and one of very few bright spots on a thin Phantoms roster.

Lehtivuori played 32 games for the Phantoms in 2010-11 accounting for two goals and seven assists. He was healthy scratched around the midpoint of the season when the Phantoms, now with a new coach, a new philosophy, and an altered roster, began play on the second half of their season. Eventually Lehtivuori was loaned back to the SM-Liiga in Finland.

It was evident by comments after Lehtivuori’s departure that he was unhappy both with the team and the atmosphere in Adirondack. He was loaned to KalPa Kuopio, a team owned by former Flyer Sami Kapanen and current Flyers Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell. He has since become an important member of their team through 15 games. He plays in all situations while eating minutes and has two assists on his season so far.

7. (3) Kevin Marshall, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 41st overall, 2007

In 58 games this season, Kevin Marshall has produced the same amount of offense as he did in 75 games last season. While this bodes well, this is not the good news behind the recent play of the Flyers’ young shutdown defenseman. He is becoming more and more accustomed to the size, speed, and physicality of the professional game all the while being counted on for more minutes with the Phantoms.

Though there is certainly no time table for Marshall, there is not any real need to rush either. Like most of the Flyers’ prospects, there is a long list of NHL depth ahead of him, and patience is probably the motto for the organization’s prospect pool.

8. (9) Marc-Andre Bourdon, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 67th overall, 2008

Marc-Andre Bourdon has spent a lot of the season fighting injuries. In 33 games played this year, he has one goal and six assists. He has not played since January 1st though, and he was a major force for the team just as they began turning the corner.

The punch that Bourdon did not see coming from Albany defenseman Dan Kelly has changed the course of a season that Bourdon hoped would be a stepping stone toward the NHL. Even after a long look during preseason, he is stuck watching the Phantoms continue their struggles from the sidelines. Next year will now be even more important for Bourdon.

9. (12) Mike Testwuide, RW, 6.5C
Acquired: Free Agent, 2010

Mike Testwuide has quietly gone about his business on the Phantoms while they have struggled all season, and even though he is fourth in scoring with 25 points, the biggest testament to his game is his positive two rating.

There has not been much talk about Testwuide’s play amidst the discussion about winger Eric Wellwood and defenseman Erik Gustafsson, but he has become an extremely important player on the Phantoms.

10. (14) Simon Bertilsson, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 87th overall, 2009

After missing the 2010 World Junior Championships because of injury, Bertilsson finally got his opportunity in 2011, but Sweden failed to medal for the first time since 2007 when they lost to the United States in the Bronze Medal Game. Bertilsson appeared in six games and managed one assist in the tournament.

This was also Bertilsson’s second attempt to play a full season in the Elitserien after missing time last year with an injury. In his third straight year with more than 20 games in the SEL, he has played in 35 games, the most of his SEL career. Even though he has only notched two assists, it is widely believed that the defenseman could hear from the Flyers about playing with the Phantoms next season.

11. (NR) Ben Holmstrom, C, 5.5B
Acquired: Free Agent, 2010

Ben Holmstrom has been a huge surprise for the Flyers all the way back to the preseason where his physical and energetic play caught the attention of fans who were catching a first glimpse of some of the Flyers’ numerous free-agent prospect signings in 2010. He may not have the highest offensive upside, but Holmstrom has become one of the organization’s most NHL-ready prospects for other reasons.

It is not as if his offense is lost entirely either. In 60 games with the Phantoms, Holmstrom has accumulated 10 goals and 17 assists. The University of Massachusetts-Lowell product has even passed Mike Testwuide and Eric Wellwood in production this season.

12. (NR) Jason Akeson, RW, 7.0D
Acquired: Free Agent, 2011

With Chris MacKinnon gone, Jeremy Morin (CHI) in the AHL, and Jeff Skinner (CAR) taking the NHL world by storm with the Carolina Hurricanes, it was Jason Akeson‘s turn to show the world what he could do as the lead forward on an OHL team. His 80 points in 2009-10 were impressive, but the 20-year-old forward has already notched 103 this season. He leads the OHL in points with eight more than Kings’ prospect Tyler Toffoli and in assists with thirteen more than the highly-touted Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis.

While future first round selection Gabriel Landeskog was injured or away at the World Juniors, it was also Akeson who was charged with keeping the Rangers afloat. They really have become Akeson’s team this season, but as far as next year is concerned, the talented playmaker has found a new home. The Flyers, keeping with tradition formed in the last couple years without high draft picks, have signed him to a contract, and he will join the Phantoms lineup next season, a team that could certainly use his offensive help.

13. (NR) Brandon Manning, D, 7.0D
Acquired: Free Agent, 2011

Enjoying the success of some of their 2010 free agent prospect signings, the Flyers organization decided to continue in that direction in 2011. To add to the blue line depth, the WHL overager Brandon Manning was the perfect target. The physical defenseman is not only an anchor presence on the blue line, as he has been since becoming a regular with the Chilliwack Bruins, but he also brings an offensive impact to the game.

When Manning was signed, he was the WHL’s leading scorer from the blue line. Though that has tailed off slightly since, he has kept nearly a point per game pace despite missing a total of 19 games so far, seven of which were due to suspension.

Manning is a hardened leader for the Bruins, and despite interest from other teams even before this season, he chose the Flyers as the best situation for him to venture into. He will join the Adirondack Phantoms for the 2011-12 season.

14. (14) Luke Pither, C, 7.0D
Acquired: Free Agent, 2010

Last year, the same year the Flyers signed him to a contract, Pither finished his final OHL season as the third leading scorer in the league. A few months later, the two players that finished higher than him, Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall, would be taken first and second overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. If there is one thing Pither has on his side it is the potential to rack up points.

It has been a struggle for Pither in the AHL so far though. With the Phantoms’ former coach, he ran into the same problem that had plagued him a lot during his OHL career. He was being used out of a position instead of where he could be comfortable and use the talents that helped him finished third in OHL scoring. Pither is not a checking forward or one that should be played in a defensive role, and since being put in an environment where he can succeed, his season has gone a lot better. So far he has eight goals and six assists in 54 games played, but it is something to build from as his role with the Phantoms gets bigger.

15. (NR) Tom Sestito, LW, 6.0C
Acquired: Trade with Columbus Blue Jackets, 2011

One of the newest member of the Flyers’ prospect pool is former Columbus third round pick, Tom Sestito, who has yet to show the form that helped him notch 42 goals with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL in 2006-07. Taken the same year as former prospects Claude Giroux and Andreas Nodl, Sestito gives the Flyers a big body to play in front of the net. This is something the prospect pool has been lacking since the graduation of James vanRiemsdyk and the departure of Patrick Maroon (ANA).

The Flyers felt comfortable enough in Sestito to move their first selection in 2010, Michael Chaput who was taken in the third round, as well as an AHL veteran for the 6’5 forward prospect. In nine NHL games played this year, Sestito scored two goals and assisted on two others. In the AHL, he was also in the middle of a break out season for the Springfield Falcons with 11 goals and 21 assists through 46 games.

16. (NR) Tye McGinn, LW, 6.0C
Acquired: 4th round, 119th overall, 2010

Once a wash-out from the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL, things have changed for Tye McGinn completely since becoming a member of the Gatineau Olympiques in 2008-09. The promising power forward has made a niche for himself as a smart player who knows just where he needs to be on the ice. Though he does not have a huge offensive upside, he makes up for that by pitching in with every aspect of the hockey game.

His offensive surge this year with 25 goals and 31 assists for 56 points in just 39 games is exciting news for the Phantoms next season after the Flyers had him return to the QMJHL for one more season despite his preseason play with the organization.

17. (10) Stefan Legein, RW, 6.5D
Acquired: Trade with Columbus Blue Jackets, 2009

77 games and 26 goals is a long way from 33 games and five goals, but that is just how far Stefan Legein has traveled in a year’s time. What began as what had the makings of a steal acquisition has turned into an almost painful experience for those witnessing Legein struggle through injuries and the post-Maroon Adirondack Phantoms. He was also mentioned as one of the players involved in the locker room problems that swept the Phantoms early in the season that led to the removal of a few players and even the eventual firing of former coach Greg Gilbert.

While his stint in the ECHL with the Greenville Road Warriors was short lived and possibly for other reasons, it is not hard to believe that a rift has formed between Legein and the organization whether because of injury, a lack of production, or the aforementioned locker room problems. With his contract up at the end of the season, Legein will have to pick up his game to continue his career in Philadelphia.

18. (NR) Zac Rinaldo, LW, 5.5B
Acquired: 6th round, 178th overall, 2008

Zac Rinaldo‘s off the handle brand of hockey has gotten him into trouble in the past. There is no question he plays with an edge and on a line that few players would dare to walk, but the Flyers organization is very pleased with his development so far. He is one of a handful of prospects that the organization has claimed will definitely participate in the NHL someday. The real question for Rinaldo is when and whether or not he can control himself once he gets to that level.

He has played 50 games with the Phantoms this season accounting for three goals and five assists, but the real telling part of his game is the 225 penalty minutes he has racked up. The next closest person on the team in terms of box time has only 97 minutes.

19. (16) Nicola Riopel, G, 6.0C
Acquired: 5th round, 142nd overall, 2009

Riopel’s professional career has been a struggle from the very start. After a weak start with the Phantoms in 2009-10, he was allowed to return to the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. Once again in his comfort zone, he put up similar stellar numbers to the ones that earned him a draft call from the Flyers in 2009.

2010-11 for Riopel started in the ECHL with the Greenville Road Warriors where his numbers showed some signs of life. In an 11 game stint with the Phantoms though, his AHL numbers showed regression from his prior AHL adventure, this time with a 3.55 goals-against average and a .874 save percentage. In the ECHL, he has played 29 games with a 2.78 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.

20. (20) Jon Kalinski, C, 5.5B
Acquired: 6th round, 152nd overall, 2007

It seems that Jon Kalinski has been jumped by a few other forwards in the organization as the go-to call-up for the Flyers. Andreas Nodl has now found a regular role while Eric Wellwood, Ben Holmstrom, and Mike Testwuide seem to be flirting with regular shifts in the upcoming seasons. If there is a testament to how much things can change in a short amount of time, it is Jon Kalinski’s story.

Until the Flyers locked in Blair Betts long-term, many thought Kalinski could be the fourth line center going forward. In fact, the organization moved him from left wing to center for that very reason. Through 53 games with the Phantoms this season, Kalinski has notched five goals and added another 14 assists which is significantly down from his output in 2009-10. Though his game is not dependant on offense, it shows how much things may have change for Kalinski, who has been an NHL call-up in times of injury the last two seasons before 2010-11.