With a little less than one week until the NHL draft, here are my current rankings of the Flyers prospects before Ron Hextall takes the stage in Philly:
1. Scott Laughton (C, Oshawa Generals, OHL)
2012 1st round, 20th overall
The choice between Laughton and Gostisbehere was probably the toughest decision I made in this top 10. Both are absolutely blue-chip prospects, but I gave the slight edge to Laughton. Laughton tore up the OHL with Oshawa this season, potting 40 goals and adding 49 assists in 54 games. He also put up 11 points in 7 playoffs games. The only bad thing you can say about Scott Laughton’s season was his performance in the World Juniors. He was given the honor of captaining the Canadian team, which tells you a lot about how much respect his plays garners. Laughton, along with his team, severely underperformed. He only recorded one point in 7 games as Canada failed to medal. But besides the WJC’s, Laughton exceeded all expectations. He was voted as the OHL’s best center, as well as best faceoff man and penalty killer. Since he excels in these areas of the game, he will be seriously considered for the Flyers 3rd or 4th line next year.
2. Shayne Gostisbehere (D, Union College, NCAA)
2012 3rd round, 78th overall
Shayne Gostisbehere wowed the college hockey world with a spectacular season for Union. He finished with 9 goals and 25 assists, while leading the Dutchmen to their first ever National Title. Ghost was absolutely unreal in the Frozen Four in Philadelphia, giving Flyers fans a sneak peek at what is to come in the future. He did everything for Union. He was sound defensively, ran the powerplay, and even played a little goalie (VIDEO). He was regarded as one of the best defenseman in all of the NCAA and was one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s equivalent to the Heisman. Gostisbehere was signed to an entry-level contract by the Flyers a few days after winning the championship. He played a couple games with the Phantoms at the end of the year and he may be in Allentown to start next season. After his marvelous display last year, he will definitely be given a fair shot to make the big club.
3. Anthony Stolarz (G, London Knights, OHL)
2012 2nd round, 45th overall
Anthony Stolarz’s season was filled with many ups and downs. He was stellar in the regular season, finishing with the best save percentage in the Ontario Hockey League. He was also named to the United States World Junior team as the backup goalie. He only got one start, but made the most of it by recording a shutout against Germany. But after a great regular season, Stolarz and the Knights imploded in the playoffs. Stolarz only played in three games before being suspended for a vicious slash to head of Windsor forward Josh Ho-Sang (GIF). He was out for the rest of the playoffs and the Knights bowed out in the next series. But since the Knights were the Memorial Cup hosts, Stolarz would have another chance to win some hardware. The Knights played horribly and did not advance past the round robin stage. Stolarz’s play was subpar, but he was far from the Knights’ biggest problem. Though the season did not end on a high note, Stolarz showed a lot of promise during the regular season. He will likely be competing for time with the Phantoms next year, but there is a chance he could be back in London.
4. Samuel Morin (D, Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL)
2013 1st round, 11th overall
Morin, the Flyers most recent first round pick, may still be a few years away from the NHL, but is on the right path with his development. He was considered a very raw prospect when picked and drew comparisons (probably unfairly) to former Flyers D-man Chris Pronger. He has made strides since the draft, but still needs to work on a few areas of his game. His offensive upside was a concern before, but he showed a huge improvement last season. He tallied 7 goals and 24 assists for Rimiouski in 54 regular season games and added 8 more points in the playoffs. He did seem to lose his cool at some points throughout the year, taking unnecessary penalties out of frustration. Hopefully as he matures he learns to play smarter, while still playing with the edge that makes him a unique prospect. At 6 foot 6, Morin has the frame to be a punishing force in the NHL. The Flyers need to be patient with him, and allow him to develop in their pipeline. Morin will likely be back with Rimouski in the QMJHL next season.
5. Robert Hagg (D, Adirondack Phantoms, AHL)
2013 2nd round, 41st overall
The Flyers picked up Hagg, who was projected as a first round pick by some, in the 2nd round of last year’s draft. If Hagg can turn into a 2nd round steal, the Flyers would be elated, due to their recent inability to develop quality NHL defensemen. Hagg had a decent year in SHL, good enough to earn him a spot on Sweden’s World Junior Team for the 2nd straight year. After finishing his season with MODO, Hagg made his North American debut. He was very impressive with the Phantoms, showcasing his two-way play and skating ability. It is unclear if he will be returning to Sweden or playing in the AHL next year. If he chooses the latter, he will be a key piece for the Phantoms in their inaugural season in Lehigh Valley.
6. Jason Akeson (RW, Philadelphia Flyers, NHL)
2011 Free agent signing
After leading the Phantoms in scoring for the 3rd straight season, Jason Akeson was finally given a shot to play for the Flyers. Akeson was thrown right into the fire, playing only one NHL regular season game before being placed in the lineup for the playoffs. He was one of the Flyers top offensive forwards in the series against the Rangers. He showed creativity and poise with the puck, scoring 2 goals and assisting on one. You really have to wonder how Akeson was not giving a shot a earlier on a Flyers team that was so streaky offensively. His main knock was his defensive game, which has improved under Phantoms coach Terry Murray. He will need to continue to improve his two-way game, but Akeson looks like he will be an NHL regular next year.
7. Taylor Leier (LW, Portland Winterhawks, WHL)
2012 4th round, 117th overall
Taylor Leier had an outstanding season for the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL. After a hot start, Leier was selected to Team WHL for the Super Series against Russia. His strong play in those games helped him earn a spot on Team Canada’s World Junior team, something no one would have deemed possible at the beginning of the season. Leier finished the year with 72 points in 62 games. He also put up 21 points in the Winterhawks playoff run, where they lost in the WHL finals. Taylor Leier is a good two-way forward, who can chip in offensively. If he can establish himself as a defensively responsible forward in the pros, he may have a chance to play for the Flyers down the road. It looks like Leier will play in the AHL to start the season.
8. Mark Alt (D, Adirondack Phantoms, AHL)
Acquired via trade from Carolina for Luke Pither
Mark Alt is a dark horse candidate to crack the Flyers top six next season. Depending on offseason moves, there may be 1 or 2 spots to be won in training camp. The departure of Erik Gustafsson to the KHL only helps Alt’s chances. Alt was consistently one of the Phantoms best defenseman last year. He is sound defensively, has good speed and size, and can put up a decent amount of points, finishing with 26 last season. If there is a spot to be won in training camp, look for Alt to be in the mix of things.
9. Nick Cousins (C, Adirondack Phantoms, AHL)
2011 3rd round, 68th overall
Some may have been a little disappointed with Nick Cousins’ first season as a professional. He finished with 11 goals and 18 assists in 74 games, which are decent numbers. But they show he is still a long way from playing for the Flyers. He was one of the OHL’s leading scorers two years ago, which may have raised expectations a little bit too high. Cousins is a gritty forward who plays both ends of the ice. He was always known as a bit of a pest in juniors, which is obviously something the Flyers like. He will have to show he can put up big numbers at the next level and he will have a chance to do that next year with the Phantoms.
10. Tye McGinn (LW, Adirondack Phantoms, AHL)
2010 4th round, 199th overall
Tye McGinn was always the top of the call-up list for the Flyers when injury struck. He has been given numerous chances, and has shown flashes of quality play. But his recent stints with the Flyers have not gone as well At times he did look like a legitimate power forward, but at others he looked like nothing more than a good AHL player. He has shown the ability to get to the front of the net and cause traffic or score on a deflection or rebound. He needs to improve his play off the puck and get quicker. Because of this, the Flyers were always reluctant to use him on the 4th line. It may be too late for McGinn to improve some aspects of his game, and he may be a non-prospect soon if things do not change. However he will be given a chance to compete with teammate Jason Akeson for a spot on the Flyers roster. If he falls short, he will be a top line player for the Phantoms.