Scott Laughton remains top prospect for Philadelphia Flyers

By Chris Shafer

Scott Laughton - Philadelphia Flyers

Photo: Center Scott Laughton is currently the only Philadelphia Flyers prospect to have been drafted in the first round. (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

While the Philadelphia Flyers have not had the most dazzling prospect pool in recent NHL memory, they have had a steady amount of success from the top of their ranks. While consistently trading away first and second round picks does not provide the steadiest foundation from which to build an organization, the Flyers have had almost astonishing success making trades for high-end players who are just hitting their developmental stride.

Though it does not necessarily show this season, the Flyers have a young core of talented skaters who will experience success in the NHL. There is a proven commodity there even if injuries, bad luck, and poor goaltending have put them on the cusp of only their second losing season in almost two decades. There are some front office decisions to be made about how to handle the desperate need for puck-moving defensemen, but there is hope that players like Erik Gustafsson and Shayne Gostisbehere can eventually help alleviate that strain.

There is a lot to look forward to despite the team's struggles including a high draft pick that will potentially be used for a defenseman either by trade or in the draft.

1. (1) Scott Laughton, C, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2012

It should be very clear at this point that unless unforeseen circumstances arise, Laughton will be an NHL player next season. Once thought of as a reach at the 20th spot, he has become one of the more intriguing forwards of his draft class.

Where he ends up in the Flyers' lineup, should he not be used as trade bait for a defenseman, is a far bigger question. With Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, and Sean Couturier locking up the middle of the lineup, there is concern how Laughton is going to fit. Does he move to the wing? Does Couturier or Schenn move outside? Does Laughton sit as the fourth line center as Couturier did during his rookie season? He is fast, rugged, and defensively responsible so there are a number of possibilities. Even so, nothing will be set in stone until puck-drop in the fall for the 2013-14 season.

2. (3) Erik Gustafsson, D, 7.0B
Signed as a free agent, March 31st 2010

If someone were to put together a highlight reel for the Flyers' 2013 defense, it would be a convoluted mess of random shoulder injuries and perilous concussions. Only ironman Kimmo Timonen and Luke Schenn have managed to suit up for a significant amount of games this year, and the roster has sported a myriad of 13 different blueliners at one point or another. Gustafsson, of course, is no exception to the unwritten rule that playing defense for the Flyers is up there on this list of hazardous jobs. He started the season on the injured list and had a rough, sluggish return despite pretty much being penciled into the lineup before the onset of the lockout.

It has been a bizarre road for Gustafsson, but it could have been much worse. At this point, he should be very thankful not to have had the last few seasons that defensive prospect Marc-Andre Bourdon has had. Whether Gustafsson manages to hold onto his roster spot through the offseason is another question to consider, since it is more than likely changes are on the way. The Flyers almost never stand pat or sit around waiting for things to happen. Gustaffson is a young, puck-moving defenseman, and though that is the type of player the Flyers' need right now, they could use a lot more help than just him.

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

The Flyers may have gotten a real steal with Nick Cousins in the third round. It is hard to argue that Cousins had the potential to lead the OHL in points this season, only falling shy of the mark due to a slower pace after returning from a late-season four-game suspension. That said, third in OHL scoring with 103 points in 64 games is still impressive.

Cousins' offense has developed far better than anyone could have expected, and though he may not hit as hard, he bears a lot of similarities with another former Flyers forward prospect, Steve Downie. Another thing to keep in mind is that Cousins, like Giroux, Schenn, Couturier, and Laughton, has been a center through his final season in the CHL which means, should he set his sights on the NHL in the upcoming years, the Flyers are going to have some decisions to make. Unlike Laughton though, Cousins game might be just as comfortable on the wing as in the middle making him a potential target for shifting to the outside.

4. (10) Shayne Gostisbehere, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2012

Just like Cousins, who was selected a year earlier, Shayne Gostisbehere is turning into another potential 3rd round steal for the Flyers. Though he is expected to return for another season in the NCAA, he is a player the organization cannot wait to get through the developmental process. With their track record growing young defenseman, they should probably handle Gostisbehere with plenty of patience, but he is a player they could use right now. He is probably a few years away from making an impact, but if his play with the USA World Juniors Team is any indication of what the Flyers could be seeing emerge from their young defenseman, then he is worth the wait.

Another year at Union College has only made him more dependable in all situations, and his offense is growing at a steady rate. He was an ECAC champion last season and earned his name on the All-Rookie Team. This year he took home Second Team All-American honors as well as a WJC gold medal.

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

With the disaster that was the Sergei Bobrovsky trade remaining in their wake, it is a good thing for the Flyers that they managed to get a real potential goaltender with the pick they acquired from Columbus. While Bobrovsky is fighting for Vezina honors with the Blue Jackets, Anthony Stolarz is trying his best to win the OHL Championship for the London Knights. His incredible 1.68 goals-against average and .949 save percentage through 10 OHL games leads the league, as does his 9-1 record.

It was not all smooth sailing for Stolarz this year though. He might be making a case for the 2013-14 USA WJC team now, but that was not always so matter of fact. The young netminder started off the season with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he was beaten out by senior John Faulkner. Playing in only eight contests, Stolarz decided that moving onto the OHL was a far better course for his development, and in 20 games to close out the season as the London start, he posted a 2.29 goals-against average to match a .920 save percentage.

6. (18) Tye McGinn, LW, 6.0B
Drafted 4th round, 119th overall, 2010

In the wake of numerous injuries both to the defense and offense, the Flyers organization turned to second-year pro Tye McGinn to take some NHL minutes. No one could have expected he would become the player that the Flyers were looking for when they traded Michael Chaput to Columbus for Tom Sestito a couple of years back. Though McGinn has been moved back to the Phantoms as the Flyers' put together a healthy roster, there is definitely a place for him on the squad down the road.

The Flyers have been seemingly trying to develop a Milan Lucic type of forward; someone who is mean, physical, and can accumulate some points. McGinn is smaller than Lucic but he has the same game style along with enough skill to generate some offense. While there are still questions about what his ceiling is, he can only help out a young team trying to figure itself out.

7. (6) Eric Wellwood, RW, 6.0B
Drafted 6th round, 172nd overall, 2009

After a brief tryout as the fourth line center for the Flyers this season, Wellwood faded to the pressbox and eventually back to the Phantoms for forwards like McGinn and Harry Zolnierczyk (ANA). He did not play particularly poorly compared to his prior NHL stints, but it was clear he was not going to be the player that the Flyers' needed at that point. It also did not help matters that he struggled to score all season in the AHL. Though the entire Phantoms' roster struggled offensively, he was one of the players hit the hardest.

Wellwood was cemented in the AHL near the end of the season when an unfortunate accident caused him to cut his leg with his own skate. There is no current time table for return, and with his blinding speed as his greatest asset, the organization hopes that he will be able to make a full recovery.

8. (5) Brandon Manning, D, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, November 23rd, 2010

Though he was given the "A" this season, Brandon Manning has not performed at the level the organization would have liked. His 2011-12 season was exactly what the Flyers were hoping for when the signed the former Chilliwack Bruins captain, but his game has regressed in his sophomore season.

That is not to say that Manning's NHL potential is out the window. A legitimate opportunity to get out of the stagnant atmosphere floating around the Phantoms in recent years could only benefit him, and a real NHL stint might do him wonders. Outside of veteran Danny Syvret and the first half of the season from Gustafsson, Manning represents the best production out of the Adirondack defensive core. He is a steady two-way defenseman who can certainly play physically. If he gets back on track, the Flyers could really use a guy like him on the back-end.

9. (12) Marcel Noebels, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 118th overall, 2011

Another young power forward that the Flyers are hoping to groom into an NHL player, and potential replacement for Scott Hartnell down the road, is Marcel Noebels. The young German fell under the radar in the 2011 draft, but since then he has been consistently growing as a forward.

Noebels has had a busy couple of seasons since getting drafted. He was a point-per-game forward for the Portland Winterhawks in the 2011-12 WHL playoffs, he won the WJC D1-A gold medal with Germany scoring nine points in five games, he played at basically a point-per-game pace as a professional rookie starting in the ECHL, and he became easily one of the more consistent forwards for the Phantoms once given the opportunity after the lockout. The future looks bright for Noebels, but at the moment he is behind McGinn on the organizational depth chart.

10. (NR) Kyle Flanagan, C/W, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 21st, 2013

Kyle Flanagan's arrival in Philadelphia's organization was eerily similar to the one made by Matt Read a few years back. That is not to say that Flanagan will have the same immediate success, but they are very similar players. They are both smaller forwards who rely on speed and skill to provide offensive help while remaining comfortable defensively. It also likely helps that, much like Read's rookie season, Flanagan has very little pressure to perform immediately. There is no distinct spotlight on him coming from the Philadelphia media.

Also much like Read, Flanagan headed to Glens Falls at the end of his NCAA career and had an immediate offensive impact. Unknown as he may be to most Philadelphians, he was a four-year star for St. Lawrence University, even earning first team All-Star honors this past season.

11. (4) Marc-Andre Bourdon, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2008

The roller-coaster of Marc-Andre Bourdon's career continues. After a sensational finish to his QMJHL career, he has been up and down with injuries and struggles in between some very promising play at the NHL level. After another season sidelined, this time with concussion issues, it is hard to say on what trajectory Bourdon's career is headed.

Before more concussion symptoms put him on LTIR for the 2012-13 season, there were plenty of people who thought he had a shot to be a consistent player on the Flyers' blue line. Bourdon plays a very similar game to that of Andrej Meszaros and might have been able to replace the oft injured defenseman if he himself was not always having health problems. The Flyers could have really used him on the blue line with the ridiculous amount of defensive injuries they have had to battle through all season.

12. (9) Ben Holmstrom, C, 5.0B
Signed as a free agent, March 17th, 2010

Another member of the Flyers' wounded prospect pool, Ben Holmstrom was subjected to ACL reconstruction surgery in late December causing him to write off the 2012-13 season. It was a year that could have seen the young forward get consistent NHL time as the Flyers' fourth line center. It was a position that the organization struggled to fill all season before acquiring Adam Hall via waivers. At one point even Eric Wellwood, who is not suited for the role at all, spent a few games trying his luck down the middle.

Whether or not he can return immediately from ACL surgery is a big concern, and even though Holmstrom will have roughly nine months from the time he went under the knife to the time camps begin again, there is always a risk. Because of this the Flyers may sign a short-term option to fill the fourth line center role, even if it means retaining Hall. That means Holmstrom may still have to wait before getting a consistent shot at the NHL.

13. (11) Oliver Lauridsen, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 196th overall, 2009

A few years back, the Flyers signed Oliver Lauridsen out of St. Cloud State University a year before many anticipated. Though he struggled early, the young shutdown defenseman showed vast improvements in the skating department that were good enough to set him on track in AHL development. His booming shot was only a bonus to his size, reach, and positioning.

As it stands now, Lauridsen has been one of the healthier Flyers' blue line prospects, and his play has even jumped Manning temporarily. When the Flyers once again got into injury trouble late this season, they reached out to the 6'6 Lauridsen, who had a successful call-up in the previous season.

14. (7) Jason Akeson, RW, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, March 2nd, 2011

Though the Flyers have seemed to ignore Akeson when it comes times for call-ups, the young forward has done nothing but produce in the minor leagues. With 55 points in 76 games during his rookie season and another 53 in 61 so far this year for Adirondack, he is showing exactly why he led the OHL in scoring in 2010-11.

Akeson's vision, passing, and offensive awareness are NHL-ready right now, but that is not all that is needed to be a competitive NHL player. He is a smaller forward who gets pushed off the puck easily and often gets lost in the defensive zone. Though he has made strides to correct these issues, he is not yet where he needs to be.

15. (NR) Mark Alt, D, 6.5C
Trade with Carolina Hurricanes, January 13th, 2013

Though Mark Alt seemed to be progressing well in the NCAA, the Carolina Hurricanes saw his junior season with the University of Minnesota as a big step backwards and he was practically dumped on the Flyers along with veteran goaltender Brian Boucher right after the lockout was lifted. The 2010 draft pick was actually a fairly highly touted defenseman coming out of high school, and while things were going smoothly in Minnesota he appeared to be a solid pick. In his junior season however he managed only seven assists through 39 games, way down from the 22 points in 43 games he managed the season prior.

From a brief stint in Adirondack, Alt has looked solid enough to compete at the AHL level down the road. Whether he can right his ship entirely though remains to be seen. He has the speed, agility, skating, and size to compete in the professional game, but he is still raw.

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

Taylor Leier could be an offensive sleeper from the 2012 draft. He was selected in the fourth round after putting up just 37 points in 72 games on one of the better WHL teams in 2011-12. It turns out that the gamble paid off. Leier was not getting the minutes needed to really come out of his shell offensively in 2011-12, but this past season was a different story. He posted nearly a point-per-game season and finished sixth in scoring on the Winterhawks. That said, three of his teammates pulled triple-digit performances and he had both Penguins' prospect Derrick Pouliot and the 2013 draft eligible Seth Jones, gunning from the blue line. It is hard not to produce as a winger with that kind of help. Time will tell whether Leier can be counted on to be the main scorer of a team, but the Flyers are going to continue watching his development.

17. (NR) Brandon Alderson, RW, 6.0C
Signed as a free agent, March 1st, 2013

It was a breakout year for the overager Brandon Alderson, and the Flyers liked his size coupled with his ability to play around the net. He was also scouted while the organization was watching another of their prospects, Nick Cousins, who happened to be Alderson's center this past season. His presence will likely be used to help ease Cousins' transition into the professional game, and if he can turn into a solid signing, then only good things could come from bringing him into the organization. Alderson did not show anything entirely significant at the CHL level prior to his overage year, and he spent his career between the Sarnia Sting and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

18. (NR) Michael Parks, RW, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 149th overall, 2010

Michael Parks was quietly becoming a very solid prospect for the Flyers, but his scoring regressed in his sophomore season at the University of North Dakota. Scoring is not all that he brings to the table, but more consistent production would look much better on his resume. He fared much better in his freshman year finishing sixth on the team in scoring. He has since dropped down to fifteenth.

There are still two more years ahead of Parks for him to get things together. He has not progressed well enough for the Flyers to consider him over other potential prospect signings, but a lot can change in the course of two seasons.

19. (NR) Valeri Vasiliev, D, 6.0C
Drafted 7th round, 201st overall, 2012

Valeri Vasiliev was once considered far more talented than his eventual draft status would indicate, but a serious shoulder injury and the following surgery hurt his draft stock tremendously. Falling from the 16th ranked European skater in the 2012 Draft to 201st overall is a heavy blow. The good news is that Vasiliev is back on track developmentally and has even earned an 11-game stint in the KHL this season. Though Russia is a world away, and things do not always go well for the Flyers when they attempt to bring over Russian prospects, there are only good things looking forward for the young defenseman.

20. (NR) Fredrik Larsson, D, 6.0C
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2012

The season after being drafted by the Flyers, the bruising young blueliner from Brynas' junior squad earned consistent play in the SuperElit league. Fredrik Larsson is now racking up the penalty minutes in Swedish U20 play instead of being shuffled around leagues, as young European prospects often are. Some consistency will only benefit his development as the Flyers continue watching their defensive draft picks from 2012 mature.