Flyers Top 10 Prospects

By Dan Silver (@dsilver88)

In and of itself, the word prospect is simply exciting. The reality is that for most people, most companies, most sports teams, we always want to see a future filled with hope. In any given league, there’s only one champion each year, the rest of the teams (and fan bases) are relegated to wondering what went wrong, and how the next year can have a better result. Prospects, and specifically ones that pan out successfully, are a key ingredient to the long-term viability of any franchise.

For fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Ron Hextall GM era has brought with it an exciting abundance of prospects. Instead or trading draft picks for can’t miss players like Eric Lindros, aging veterans like Chris Pronger, or trade deadline additions, Hextall instead stockpiles draft picks. And instead of rushing them to the NHL like the Flyers have previously done with 1st-round picks Dainius Zubrus, Justin Williams, Luca Sbisa, and Sean Couturier, Hextall instead likes his prospects “well done.” Sam Morin is one of only two players from the 2013 1st round who has not played in the NHL, but it’s not because his chances have dimmed, instead because Hextall wants to make sure he is fully ready for the NHL before he debuts.

The result of Hextall’s draft pick stockpiling and patience with young players has resulted in the Flyers having one of the Top 5 groups of prospects in the NHL, and undoubtedly the #1 group of both defense and goalie prospects in the league.

Before I share my list of the Flyers Top 10 prospects (actually 12, I cheated a bit), allow me to pontificate on prospects and how I evaluate them. Hockey is notoriously one of the toughest sports to project how young players are going to work out. Alexandre Daigle was the consensus #1 “can’t miss” prospect in the 1993 draft, which also included Pronger, Niedermayer, and Kariya, and he turned out to be a huge bust. Meanwhile, past NHL superstars like Brett Hull and Doug Gilmour were taken in the 6th and 7th rounds, respectively, and more recently, offensive wizard Pavel Datsyuk was a 6th round steal for the Detroit Red Wings.

Young hockey players are difficult to evaluate. For that reason, whenever possible I like to watch them a handful of times before I begin formulating any opinions. Last year, I bought the WHL playoff package to see what the Flyers had in Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. It only took a few games of watching Provorov’s incredible package of superior skating ability, lightning-quick decision making, and amazing hockey acumen to realize he was a future NHL star. Meanwhile, as I’ll get to later, Sanheim’s overall game left a lot to be desired. This year, I’ve watched a number of Phantoms games and can happily report that he’s made great strides.

I’ve seen every prospect on this list play, some in person, and to varying extents. I’m relying on stats and scouting reports to a certain degree, but on my own personal observations to a greater extent.

Finally, my list leans towards youth and upside as opposed to “older” prospects who have a limited NHL upside. You won’t see Taylor Leier or Scott Laughton on this list. At this point I think both have proven their NHL upside is a 3rd-line role, and for the most part my list focuses on players with star potential.

So, without further ado, I present to you my list of the Philadelphia Flyers Top 10 Prospects!

Lindblom

#1 – Oskar Lindblom

Age – 20

Position – LW/RW

Acquired – 5th round, 2014 NHL Draft

Height, Weight – 6’0″, 200 lbs

Flyers ETA – Opening Day 2017-18

Oskar Lindblom’s development as a hockey player has been nothing short of meteoric. Drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 draft, he projected as a power forward with questionable skating ability and limited offensive creativity. Playing the last three years against grizzled veterans in the Swedish Hockey League (formerly the Swedish Elite League), he has blossomed into a dynamic all-around force with the potential to be a star caliber 1st line NHL winger. He’s become a very good skater who is strong in all areas of the ice, has a hard and accurate wrist shot, a deft touch around the net, and makes great passes in the offensive zone.

This season, as a 20-year-old with Brynas, he scored 22  goals and added 25 assists, finishing 3rd in the league with 47 points. The only two players in the league with more points than him were a 28-year-old and a 32-year-old. For reference sake, at the same age in the same league, Henrik Zetterberg scored 46 points, Peter Forsberg scored 44 points, Daniel Alfredsson scored 30 points, and Patric Hornqvist scored 30 points. Yes, the Swedish league is not as strong as it was when many of those players were in it, but it’s still arguably the 3rd best league in the world, and for Lindblom to do what he’s done at the age of 20 is nothing short of remarkable. At the end of last season, he played 8 games with the Phantoms and scored 7 points, by all accounts their best player as a 19-year-old during that stretch.

Most of the popular NHL prospect lists (TSN, THN, ESPN) aren’t nearly as high on Lindblom as I am, mainly based on the belief that the Swedish league isn’t what it used to be and also likely because Lindblom hasn’t been in the limelight much.

Don’t let that fool you. Oskar Lindblom is a can’t-miss NHL prospect whose floor is a 3rd line scoring winger and whose ceiling is All-Star caliber 1st-line winger. He should make the Flyers roster out of training camp next season.

Myers

#2 – Philippe Myers

Age – 20

Position – D

Acquired – 2015, Undrafted Free Agent

Height, Weight – 6’5″, 210 lbs

Flyers ETA – Opening Day/Midseason 2017-18

We go from a late round pick in Lindblom to an undrafted player in Philippe Myers. It’s been a fairly well documented story. He struggled through a subpar 18-year-old season with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – finishing with 8 points and a -14 rating in 60 games. After going undrafted, the Flyers invited him to their post-draft tryouts, he blew them away with his ability for a big man, and they signed him to an entry-level contract. The following season, Myers had as big a turnaround as anyone could imagine, finishing with 17 goals, 28 assists, and an astonishing +52 rating in 63 games.

When you watch Myers play, what stands out is how fluid he is in everything he does, especially for a big defenseman. He’s a very good skater with terrific hockey sense. He makes great passes, is extremely reliable in his own end, and can hold his own physically. Quite honestly, his overall game leaves very little to be desired.

It’s been a season of ups-and-downs for Myers, though. He missed early parts of the season for Rouyn-Noranda with a concussion and was excellent when he came back. Perhaps most impressively, he was not only named to Canada’s World Junior Championship roster, but played on the top defense pairing with Ottawa Senators prospect Thomas Chabot. For point of comparison, while Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin also played on Canada’s WJC teams at age 19, both were on the 3rd defense pairs. Unfortunately, a dirty hit from Minnesota Wild prospect Luke Kunin gave Myers his second concussion of the season and knocked him out of the tournament.

Myers just recently returned and is expected to be a big part of the powerhouse Huskies’ playoff push. It goes without saying that health is going to be the biggest concern for Myers moving forward. If he can stay healthy, he projects as Ivan Provorov’s future defense partner and part of what could be the best defense pairing in the NHL. But based on Myers’ history to this point, that might be a big if. He has the potential to be on the Flyers opening day roster next season, but health will play into that and Hextall may choose to start him in the AHL.

Sanheim2

#3 – Travis Sanheim

Age – 20

Position – D

Acquired – 1st Round, 2014 NHL Draft

Height, Weight – 6’4″, 200 lbs

Flyers ETA – Opening Day 2017-18

Travis Sanheim was not on many team’s 1st round radars in 2014, and was a bit of a surprise selection when Hextall announced his name, but it didn’t take long for people to see the immense potential he brought. The year after being drafted, he exploded offensively for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, putting up 15 goals and 50 assists for 65 points, ranking as one of the top scoring defensemen in the entire Canadian Hockey League juniors.

His skating and playmaking ability are tops among any of the young Flyers defensemen, and that includes Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. He has shifts in the offensive zone that are so impressive, the only comparable I can come up with is Peter Forsberg. That’s not hyperbole. Travis Sanheim in full flight with the puck on his stick is a sight to behold.

Sanheim has also made great strides this season with the Phantoms. Last year in the WHL playoffs, he was not very impressive in a 1st-round exit against the Red Deer Rebels. He often looked lost when the puck wasn’t on his stick, and struggled in the defensive zone. This year he looks like a completely different player. Paired with fellow prospect Sam Morin for most of the season, Sanheim has excelled in all areas despite playing against men for the first time and also playing predominantly the right side, which he didn’t play much of in juniors. The first half of the season he concentrated on his defensive coverage, and didn’t put up many points, but over the past few months he has really come on offensively with 30+ points despite not being on the first PP unit.

Sanheim and Morin could be a formidable (and physically imposing) 2nd defense pairing for the Flyers for many years to come. He should be on the 2017-18 opening day Flyers roster.

Rubtsov

#4 – German Rubtsov

Age – 18

Position – C/LW

Acquired – 1st Round, 2016 NHL Draft

Height, Weight – 6’0″, 190 lbs

Flyers ETA – 2018-19

Many Flyers fans were of the opinion that the team needed to draft a goal-scoring winger in the 1st round of last year’s draft. So when Hextall passed up purported snipers Kiefer Bellows and Julien Gauthier to trade down and take a two-way forward in German Rubtsov, there were some unhappy fans.

When dealing with guys I’ve never seen play, I tend to defer to known successful talent evaluators like Hextall and Flyers top scout Chris Pryor, and in this case, all early indications are that they may have found a diamond in the rough.

Rubtsov had a rough start to the season, not seeing much playing time for his Russian Kontinental Hockey League team Chekhov, and playing sparingly when he was in the lineup. He played well in the Russian minors system, but also missed time with a foot injury.

Somewhat surprisingly given head coach Valeri Bragin’s penchant to defer to older players, Rubtsov was chosen as the only 18-year-old member of Russia’s team at the World Juniors, but he saw limited minutes and missed the end of the tournament with facial injuries.

Fortunately for Rubtsov and the Flyers, Chekhov let the 18-year-old forward out of his contract and a few months ago he came over to play for Chicoutimi of the Quebec Major Junior league. Patrolling left wing on the top line with fellow top prospect Nicolas Roy, Rubtsov put up 22 points in 16 games before sustaining an upper-body injury that caused him to miss the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs.

However, it was apparent in the 16 games he played for Chicoutimi that Rubstov boasts tremendous upside as a defensively responsible two-way forward with terrific skating and playmaking skills and the ability to bring the fans out of their seats with highlight reel goals.

Although he’s eligible to play in the AHL with the Phantoms next season, given Hextall’s penchant to take his time with prospects, and the fact that Rubtsov had an injury-riddled season, it’s likely he plays another season in Chicoutimi before potentially making the Flyers roster in 2018-19 or 2019-20.

Sandstrom

#5 – Felix Sandstrom

Age – 20

Position – G

Acquired – 3rd Round, 2015 NHL Draft

Height, Weight – 6’2″, 200 lbs

Flyers ETA – Late 2018-19

Goaltending prospects are much tougher to project than forwards and defensemen, so the best strategy is to stockpile as many as you can and hope that one of them turns into a star. Hextall is employing this strategy in spades – taking three goalies in 2015, another in 2016, and signing the top college free agent goalie last offseason.

Felix Sandstrom is rated by most pundits as the 2nd best goaltending prospect in the Flyers system, but for me he rates as tops for a few reasons. The first is that he takes full advantage of his 6’2″ frame and gives opposing players very little net to shoot at. You can’t teach size and Sandstrom is not only big but he uses that size to his advantage between the pipes.

Sandstrom has also played the entire season against men much older than him, alongside Lindblom on Brynas of the Swedish league. In 22 regular season games, Sandstrom went 14-7-0 with a 2.25 goals-against-average and a .908 save percentage.

He also excelled as the starter for Sweden in the World Juniors. The tournament included the top goaltending prospects in the world, and Sandstrom stood above all to take home the award for Best Goaltender in the tournament with a 2.17 goals-against-average and a .915 save percentage.

It’s always tough to project goalies, but due to his size, agility, positioning, and advanced experience at a young age, I believe Felix Sandstrom is the Flyers top goalie prospect and could make the roster at some point in the 2018-19 season.

Hart

#6 – Carter Hart

Age – 18

Position – G

Acquired – 2nd Round, 2016 NHL Draft

Height, Weight – 6’1″, 190 lbs

Flyers ETA – 2020-21

Carter Hart has been nothing short of a megastar in the Western Hockey League this season. Hextall made him the first goaltender taken in the 2016 draft (using a pick he acquired by moving down in the first round and taking Rubtsov), and Hart has responded with about as phenomenal a season as anyone could imagine.

Playing for the Everett Silvertips, Hart went 32-11-2 in the regular season with a miniscule 1.99 goals-against-average, a .927 save percentage, and 9 shutouts, leading the league in all three categories. Unsurprisingly, he was named the Top Goaltender in the WHL, and is a virtual lock to be named the Best Goalie in the entire CHL (comprising the Ontario, Quebec, and Western leagues) for a second straight season.

So why do I have him ranked below Sandstrom? (Maybe I shouldn’t!)

Well, in an admittedly small sample size, when Hart played against the best of his age group, he struggled at times in the World Junior Championships with a 2.38 goals-against-average and a .906 save percentage. Those numbers aren’t terrible, but he simply never looked completely comfortable in the tournament and was outshined on the same stage by fellow Flyers prospect Sandstrom.

Hart is almost two full years younger than Sandstrom, and will likely have a chance to redeem himself in the World Juniors next year, but for the time being, I have him rated a smidge behind the big Swede.

Don’t fool yourself though, both Sandstrom and Hart should be considered elite goalie prospects, with Vezina trophy upside if everything comes together.

Morin

#7 – Sam Morin

Age – 21

Position – D

Acquired – 1st Round, 2013 NHL Draft

Height, Weight – 6’7″, 230 lbs

Flyers ETA – Opening Day 2017-18

As I mentioned in my wordy preamble, Sam Morin is one of only two players drafted in the 2013 1st round without any NHL games. Don’t let that fool you, when he arrives in the NHL next season, he’s going to have a big impact on the Flyers.

It traditionally takes bigger defenseman longer to develop, and it’s been no different with Morin. The Flyers took him 11th overall in the 2013 draft, partly due to the need for defensive help, and partly because they viewed him as very raw, but as someone who could grow into an intimidating, fearsome shut-down defenseman – imagine Chris Pronger without the offensive prowess. And four years later, it looks like that’s exactly what Morin is going to become.

A deceptively fast skater, Morin’s second full year in the AHL has been exactly what the Flyers were hoping. Paired with the offensively-gifted Sanheim for most of the season, Morin has been able to focus on his defensive play, and has supplied a tenacious and physical brand of play. He eclipsed 100 PIMs for the second consecutive season and has displayed a willingness to drop the gloves and stand up for his teammates whenever needed.

Morin projects as the perfect 2nd pair complement to Sanheim and will give the Flyers another defenseman (in addition to Radko Gudas) who can instill fear into opposing forwards. Surrounded by offensive threats like Provorov, Myers, Sanheim, and Ghost, Morin can focus on the defensive side of things and should be in the Flyers lineup for opening day 2017-18.

Russia v Slovakia - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship

#8 – Mikhail Vorobyov

Age – 20

Position – C

Acquired – 4th round, 2015 NHL Draft

Height, Weight – 6’2″, 200 lbs

Flyers ETA – 2018-19

Perhaps no Flyers prospect has flown under the radar with the team’s fanbase as much as center Mikhail Vorobyov, especially considering his tremendous performance at the 2017 World Junior Championships. It’s somewhat understandable, however, given the fact that he wasn’t a high draft pick, hasn’t put up gaudy statistics in Russia’s top league, and doesn’t play the style of game that lends itself to flashy highlights.

That being said, Vorobyov is an extremely solid two-way center who has terrific hockey sense and always seems to make the right play in the offensive zone. Playing alongside Minnesota Wild top prospect Kirill Kaprizov and Dallas Stars 1st round pick Denis Gurianov, Vorobyov led the entire World Juniors with 10 assists, two more than Phoenix Coyotes uber-prospect Clayton Keller. Of course, Vorobyov didn’t score a single goal in the tournament, and goal-scoring is never going to be a big part of his game. However, that doesn’t mean that he can’t become a good NHL 3rd line center – especially considering his size and the way he uses it to shield the puck and make plays. It’s also clear that he is quite capable of centering elite level wingers and can find ways of creatively getting them the puck in scoring situations.

This season he played mostly 4th line minutes with Salavat in the KHL, not unusual for a player of his young age. They’ve already been eliminated from the playoffs, and it looks like there’s a chance he could come over in mid-April and be available for the Phantoms playoff push. Short of that, if he decides he wants to test the North American waters, he would certainly be a welcome addition to the Phantoms roster for next season.

Allison

#9 – Wade Allison

Age – 19

Position – LW

Acquired – 2nd round, 2016 NHL Draft

Height, Weight – 6’2″, 210 lbs

Flyers ETA – 2019-20

Despite not taking Bellows or Gauthier in the 1st round of last year’s draft, it’s very possible that Hextall got a player who will ultimately end up as a better NHL goal scorer than both in Wade Allison.

Sporting a tremendous red mullet, Allison put together a sensational freshman campaign at Western Michigan University, scoring 12 goals and adding 17 assists for 29 points in 36 games, in addition to a +6 rating. That was good for 4th on the team in scoring, behind a trio of 22-year-old seniors. For comparison, Bellows put up a mere 14 pts as a freshman for Boston University and was a -10.

I personally didn’t get to watch Allison play as much as I would have liked, but from seeing him at the Flyers development camp last year, it was clear that he is a natural goal scorer. Aside from Lindblom, he struck me as having the best hands and finishing ability around the net as any prospect in camp, and he also is an above average skater.

I’d project him for one more season of college hockey, and a successful one at that, before making the jump to the Phantoms after his sophomore season. In three years he could be scoring goals for the Flyers.

Hagg

#10 – Robert Hagg

Age – 22

Position – D

Acquired – 2nd Round, 2013 NHL Draft

Height, Weight – 6’2″, 200 lbs

Flyers ETA – 2017-18

I’m torn on Robert Hagg and struggling with what to say about him. He’s not spectacular in any one facet of the game. I’ve watched him play more than a dozen times on the Phantoms and never come away being overly impressed with his play, but there also weren’t many moments where I was exasperated by something negative that he did.

This is his third full season in the AHL, and by all accounts his best, with 14 points through 50 games, +12 rating, and a more confident game in all zones. He was a minus player his first two seasons, but the Phantoms weren’t nearly as good either of those seasons as they are this season.

Hagg would probably be a serviceable 3rd pairing defenseman on most NHL teams, but on a Flyers team that is looking at a D corps comprised of Provorov, Myers, Sanheim, Morin, Gostisbehere, and Gudas, I’m not sure where exactly Hagg fits in. That being said, injuries are always an issue among defensemen.

Given the fact that he is 22-years-old, the time is approaching where the organization either needs to see what Hagg can do at the NHL level or try to trade him while other NHL teams see mostly upside with him. If he comes up to the NHL and struggles, it would be harder to get something of substance in return.

JustSports PhotographyLyon

#11a/11b – Anthony Stolarz/Alex Lyon

That’s right! Seeing as how this is my first article for the @phillyisflyer site, I am going to provide a little bit of bonus content! The Phantoms have two more outstanding young goaltenders, one or both of whom could get substantial time with the Flyers next season.

Anthony Stolarz, a 23-year-old towering 6’6″ netminder, was the Flyers 2nd round pick in 2012, and has progressed very well. This is his 3rd full season with the Phantoms and while his stats were slightly better last year, he still sports a 17-7-0 record to go along with a mediocre 2.95 goals-against-average and a .910 save percentage. He’s actually got a few Flyers games under his belt and is 2-0-0 with a stellar .938 save percentage – an admittedly miniscule sample size but he certainly didn’t crack under the NHL pressure. He figures to get a shot from the start of the 2017-18 season to prove he can handle the physical and mental rigors of being a full-time NHL goalie.

Alex Lyon (24yo) is actually older than Stolarz, despite the fact that it’s his first professional season. He spent three seasons in the NCAA with Yale, the latter two putting up video game statistics with goals-against-averages around 1.60 and .936 save percentages. This season he’s arguably been better overall than Stolarz with the Phantoms, putting up a 24-12 record with a 2.69 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage.

It’s going to be very interesting to see what the Phantoms do from a goaltender perspective in the playoffs, and it could give an indication of which of these two gets first crack at being the back-up (or starter?) for the Flyers next season.

Both Stolarz and Lyon have the pedigree and statistical history to be successful NHL goalies, and next season will be very important for both.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this piece as much as I enjoyed writing it. The Flyers don’t have the advantage of an elite offensive prospect in their system, like a McDavid, Eichel, Laine, or Matthews. However, their unbelievable abundance of riches on the blue line and between the pipes may offset and ultimately trump that lack of a franchise forward.

Go Flyers!

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