Flyers Top 15 Prospects – January 2018

By Dan Silver (@dsilver88)

A Lot Can Change in Four Months

For those who follow me on Twitter, they know a high percentage of my content revolves around Philadelphia Flyers prospects. There’s a lot to keep track of, as the organization is widely thought of as having one of the best groups of prospects in the NHL – including being ranked #1 by ESPN (Insider account needed).

My most recent version of the Flyers Top 15 Prospects was released in August, after the draft and development camp but before the season got underway for all the ranked players.

A lot has changed in the four months that have passed since I put together that list. Three of the listed players – Nolan Patrick (#1), Travis Sanheim (#3) and Robert Hagg (#11) – have all graduated to the NHL and are playing with the Flyers.

A few of the 2017 draft picks – most notably Morgan Frost – have excelled, while a number of the prospects with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Lehigh Valley Phantoms have dealt with injuries and the growing pains of adjusting to playing against professionals.

The Flyers also unexpectedly have three of the top 10 scorers in the NCAA, all of whom you’ll find on this list.

One important note is that my rankings are based a lot on projectability. You’re not going to find any 23 or 24yo players on my list. It’s certainly possible that Mike Vecchione and Danick Martel could make contributions to the Flyers in the coming years, but their upside is limited by their relatively advanced age combined with their lack of NHL experience.

For these rankings I lean towards younger players with skill sets that should allow them to take major leaps in the coming months and years.

Without further ado, let’s jump right in!

#1 Carter Hart

ap-carter-hart-flyers-canada

19yo – Goalie – 6’2″ – 180 – 2nd Round 2016 Draft – Previous Ranking – 7
Flyers ETA 2019-20 – NHL Upside: Starting Goaltender

Carter Hart has completely dominated the Western Hockey League (WHL) – one of the three Canadian Junior leagues – over the course of the past three seasons with the Everett Silvertips.

In 2015-16 he posted a 35-23-4  record with a .918 save percentage, a 2.14 goals-against-average, six shutouts, and was named WHL and Canadian Hockey League Goaltender-of-the-Year (comprising the WHL, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and Ontario Hockey League).

In 2016-17 he went  32-11-1 with a .927 save percentage, a 1.99 goals-against-average (GAA), nine shutouts, and was again named WHL Goaltender-of-the-Year.

He’s taken it to an entirely different level so far this season. Despite missing the first six weeks of the season after a bout with Mononucleosis, he has an insane .961 save percentage and a 1.32 GAA in 17 games.

One truly wonders if he was allowed to play in the WHL for one more season would he let in any goals?

My concern regarding Hart was that he had not excelled outside of the WHL, as last year he struggled somewhat as an 18yo in the World Junior Championships.

He alleviated all those concerns in the recently concluded World Juniors, leading Canada to a Gold Medal and posting a .930 save percentage to go along with a 1.81 GAA.

Perhaps most impressive about his performance was that in Canada’s toughest test, the championship game against Sweden, Hart was at his best, allowing only one goal on 36 shots and being named player-of-the-game.

Hart’s best traits as a goaltender are his superior positioning and the way that he tracks the play, resulting in him making difficult saves look very easy. He rarely scrambles around in the net, and his rebound control is excellent.

In the first video, you can see how well he tracks the puck on the wraparound attempt, and in the second video, he utilizes his excellent positioning to make a terrific save on one of the best shooters in the World Junior Tournament, Eeli Tolvanen.

Thankfully for WHL players, Hart will be ineligible to play next season, and he will in all likelihood serve as the starter for the Flyers top farm team, the Phantoms. If all goes well, look for him in a Flyers uniform for the start of the 2019-20 season.

He’s arguably the best goaltending prospect in the world.

#2 Morgan Frost

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18yo – Center – 5’11” – 180 – 1st Round 2017 Draft – Previous Ranking – 9
Flyers ETA – 2019-20 – NHL Upside: Top Line Center

I’ve written many words about Morgan Frost and his sensational season so far for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – you can read them here.

As an 18yo in a league often dominated by 19yos, Frost is leading the entire OHL in scoring with 24 goals and 41 assists for 65 points in 39 games. He also leads the league with a plus-46 rating.

As of this article he is on a 17-game point streak and the Greyhounds have an incredible 34-3-2 record and are running away with the regular season OHL standings.

If the 2017 NHL Draft was done over right now, Frost would likely be selected in the top 10, instead of #27, where Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall took him with one of the picks acquired in the Brayden Schenn trade.

Frost is an incredibly intelligent player who reads the ice very well and makes passes that most other players wouldn’t even attempt to try.

In addition to his superior playmaking and passing ability, he is a very good skater who can either slow down the play with the puck on his stick or accelerate past defenders when needed.

In that respect, there’s a lot of Sidney Crosby to his game.

He’s gotten very good at skating up the wing, crossing over to the slot, and picking the top shelf.

An additional element that he’s added to his game this season is a deadly one-timer from the right face-off circle – think of Claude Giroux blasting away from the left face-off dot, but just from the other side and with a more compact release.

Frost is currently averaging 1.67 points-per-game in the OHL, which is basically the same as current Flyers 1st line forward Travis Konecny was averaging in his 18yo season in the OHL.

While it certainly is plausible that Frost could make the Flyers next season, it is more likely that given his somewhat sleight frame, Hextall will want Frost to get another season in the Juniors.

That being said, with Valteri Filppula’s contract up at the end of the season, the Flyers may be in need of a 3rd-line center next season, and if Frost blows the doors off in training camp it could certainly be him.

Either way, with Frost’s performance this season he has raised his ceiling to that of a potential true #1 NHL center.

#3 Philippe Myers

Myers

20yo – Defense – 6’5 – 210 – Undrafted Free Agent – Previous Ranking – 2
Flyers ETA 2018-19 – NHL Upside: Top Pair Defenseman

Considering Philippe Myers went from an undrafted free agent in 2015 to a top pairing defenseman on Canada’s World Juniors squad last year, you had to figure there would be some bumps on the road at some point.

Some point has turned out to be this season, which was supposed to be his successful transition to professional hockey with the Phantoms.

Myers has always had injury concerns, as he’s had a litany of substantive ailments almost too lengthy to list – abdominal surgery, knee problems, and multiple concussions being the most concerning.

Mainly due to groin issues, Myers has only played in 20 of his team’s 37 games, which has prevented him from getting into any kind of steady rhythm.

That being said, when he’s played, he has produced, with two goals and seven assists for a 0.45 points-per-game average. To put that into perspective, last year as a 20yo, current Flyers defenseman and former top three prospect Travis Sanheim averaged 0.48 points-per-game.

Make no mistake, Myers is still an elite prospect with the upside to become a legitimate top pairing NHL defenseman. He has all the tools – size, strength, skating, passing, solid defensive play.

Myers is back playing now, and if he can stay in the lineup for the remainder of the season and have an entire healthy summer to work towards making the Flyers, there’s a very real chance that he could be on the opening day 2018-19 roster.

But again, the key for him is staying healthy. Let’s hope that he can.

#4 Oskar Lindblom

Lindblom

21yo – Left Wing – 6’2″ – 200 – 5th Round 2014 Draft – Previous Ranking – 4
Flyers ETA 2017-18 – NHL Upside – 2nd Line Winger

I didn’t expect Lindblom to be on this list – I expected him to make the Flyers out of training camp and have a successful rookie season in the NHL.

However, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

Hextall thought that Lindblom needed to head to the AHL to work on his game, and after a slow start (zero goals in his first eight games), the Swedish winger has been on fire of late.

Lindblom is up to 12 goals and 14 assists in 37 games, with 13 of those points coming in the last 12 games.

Lindblom’s bread and butter is scoring dirty goals from right in front of the net, a la Wayne Simmonds. He’s also very strong in the corners and is a deceptively good passer.

He’s not going to be a dynamic player in the NHL, but he should settle into a role as a strong 2nd- or 3rd-line winger who can chip in double digit goals on the power play.

If he keeps up his stellar play of late, it’s very likely that Lindblom will be in a Flyers Orange and Black uniform by the end of February.

#5 Wade Allison

allison

20yo – Right Wing – 6’2″ – 205 – 2nd Round 2016 Draft – Previous Ranking – 12
Flyers ETA 2019-20 – NHL Upside : 2nd Line Winger

Aside from Frost, the highest riser on the Flyers prospect rankings this season has been Wade Allison.

As a freshman for Western Michigan last season, he put up a respectable 12 goals and 29 points in 36 games for an average of 0.80 points-per-game.

He has taken off like a rocket in his sophomore campaign, nearly doubling his productivity with 15 goals and 28 points in 20 games for an average of 1.40 points-per-game.

Those 15 goals are tied for fourth in the NCAA, with seniors holding down the top two spots.

Flyers fans have been crying out for a pure sniper, and Allison is probably the closest thing to that in the team’s system right now.

He possesses a very hard and accurate shot, and has greatly improved his foot speed this season, allowing him to more easily get to high percentage scoring areas.

Simply put, he’s an excellent finisher who has taken the next step in his development this season.

I’m not sure what his plans are for next season – whether he will make the jump to the Phantoms or return for another year at Western Michigan – but he projects as a potential 2nd or 3rd line scoring winger for the Flyers in a few years.

#6 German Rubtsov

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19yo – Center – 6’1″ – 190 – 1st Round 2016 Draft – Previous Ranking – 5
Flyers ETA 2019-20 – NHL Upside: 2nd Line Winger/3rd Line Center

Rubtsov is a tricky player to evaluate. At times he can look like an elite playmaker who plays a very strong two-way game and isn’t afraid to get involved physically, while at other times he appears ineffective and disinterested.

After bursting onto the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) scene late last season and putting up 22 points in 16 games, his production has taken a step backwards this season with 28 points in 27 games.

You would really expect a 1st-round pick with the kind of offensive ability he has demonstrated to be much more than a point-per-game player in the Juniors as a 19yo.

As a comparison, Flyers center Scott Laughton put up 87 points in 54 games as a 19yo in the OHL, and he has struggled mightily to break into the NHL, finally finding a place as the 4th line center this season.

When Rubtsov is on his game, he’s getting under opponents’ skin and creating offence, as illustrated in the beautiful below goal he scored for Russia in the recently concluded World Juniors.

Unfortunately, that was the only goal he scored for Russia, although he also added three assists to finish with four points in five games.

My gut feeling is that there is potential for Rubtsov to become a 2nd- or 3rd- line center or, more likely, winger in the NHL, but it’s going to take some time before he gets there.

I’m expecting him to accelerate his scoring pace in the second half of the QMJHL season for Acadie-Bathurst, but I think it’s going to be a rough transition for him to the AHL next season. He’s going to need to bulk up or he’ll lose the puck battles that he’s used to winning against teenagers.

That being said, all the skills are there for him to become a reliable middle six NHL forward.

#7 Mikhail Vorobyev

Vorobyev

21yo – Center – 6’2″ – 210 – 4th Round 2014 Draft – Previous Ranking – 10
Flyers ETA 2018-19 – NHL Upside: 2nd Line Center

There are many players with a lot of potential who you question whether or not they are actually going to make the NHL.

Mikhail Vorobyev is not one of those players – he is definitely going to make the NHL.

As a big, defensively-responsible center who has terrific on-ice vision and almost always finds an open teammate with accurate passes, the big Russian is a coach’s dream.

He also likes to have fun on the ice.

As is the case for Myers and Lindblom, Vorobyev is making the transition to the AHL this season, and similarly to them, there have been some growing pains. In 27 games, he has four goals and eight assists for a total of 12 points.  He’s also missed some time with an undisclosed injury, and is still out at the time of this article.

A number of the Flyers natural center prospects might end up on the wing due to the organization’s strength down the middle, but you can take it to the bank that Vorobyev will remain as a center.

In addition to his size, strength, and strong defensive play, his passing ability really stands out. In last year’s World Junior Championships, he had 10 assists in seven games to lead all players.

I’d compare him to a poor man’s Sean Couturier, he’s going to be a 3rd-line center at worst, and has the upside to be more than that. He’s likely to finish the season with the Phantoms, but there’s a real chance he could be with the Flyers to start the next campaign.

#8 Sam Morin

samuel-morin

22yo – Defense – 6’6″ – 230 – 1st Round 2013 Draft – Previous Ranking – 8
Flyers ETA 2018-19 – NHL Upside – 2nd Pair Defenseman

This season probably hasn’t played out the way that Sam Morin was envisioning.

Going into Flyers training camp, there were two roster spots available for rookie defensemen, with the main candidates being Morin, Sanheim, and Robert Hagg.

Many thought that of those three, Morin might be the only lock. The towering defenseman brings qualities to the table that fans love to see – punishing body checks and an enforcer mentality with the pugilistic skills to go along with it.

Morin is also capable of using his deceptively good skating ability to make creative plays in the offensive zone, as he displayed in the preseason.

However, in a surprise decision, the organization ended up viewing Hagg as the best of the three rookie defensemen at this time, and also selected the younger Sanheim to fill out the blueline, leaving Morin to start in the AHL for the third straight season.

He’s one of only two players drafted in the 1st round of the 2013 draft to have played fewer than five games, with the other being Morgan Klimchuk.

To make matters worse, Morin has missed large chunks of time this season with undisclosed injuries, including during a stretch where Radko Gudas was suspended and he possibly would have been called up to take his spot.

It’s tough to evaluate how the Flyers truly feel about Morin. He was drafted the year before Hextall took over as GM, and it’s possible that he’s simply not viewed by the team’s brass as having an NHL skill set.

Despite his shortcomings – slow decision making, can get caught out of position, is prone to turnovers – I still think there is a place for Morin as a 3rd-pairing defenseman on the Flyers with 2nd pairing upside.

However, the organization clearly doesn’t think he is as good as any of the seven defensemen with the team right now, and Myers is probably going to leapfrog him soon.

Gudas and Morin have similar skill sets, and my gut feeling is that unless injuries occur, Morin won’t have a consistent role as a starter with the Flyers unless Gudas is traded to another team.

Morin ultimately could end up being one of the first noteworthy prospects that is traded from this team under Hextall’s regime, but let’s hope he gets an extended stay in the NHL to prove his worth before that happens.

#9 Felix Sandstrom

sandstrom

20yo – Goalie – 6’2″ – 200 – 3rd Round 2015 Draft – Previous Ranking – 6
Flyers ETA 2019-20 – NHL Upside: Starting Goaltender

It’s been a lost season so far for Felix Sandstrom.

After an extremely promising campaign in 2016-17 where he excelled playing against professionals for Brynas of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and was named top goalie at the World Junior Championships, he has missed almost all of this season with a hiatal hernia.

I’ll let you read the specifics about this ailment, but needless to say, abdominal pain and shortness of breath probably aren’t conducive to success at the goaltender position.

Sandstrom was supposed to have surgery before the season started to resolve the situation, but for some reason he did not. He played in eight games for Brynas early on, registering a .905 save percentage and a 2.87 GAA, but has been out with the injury ever since.

Just this week, news broke that Sandstrom has been loaned to IK Oskarshamn, a team in the Allvenskan, which is basically the relegation league in Sweden. Two teams every year drop from the SHL to the Allvenskan, with two teams from the lower league promoted to the SHL.

Let’s hope that Sandstrom can stay healthy and continue to make saves like these from last year’s World Juniors.

Going into this season, the Swede was viewed as one of the top 10 goalie prospects in the world, and he’s a personal favorite of mine. I even had him ranked higher than Hart in my August rankings. He’s extremely athletic and has a presence in net that says, “You’re not going to score on me.”

The original plan was likely for him to be the starter for Brynas the entire season and come over to play with the Phantoms for the 2018-19 season. However, with the injury situation wiping out the first half of the season for him, don’t be surprised if he spends another year in Sweden.

Sandstrom probably won’t be with the Flyers until 2019-20 at the earliest.

#10 Isaac Ratcliffe

Ratcliffe

18yo – Left Wing – 6’5″ – 200 – 2nd Round 2017 Draft – Previous Ranking – 15
Flyers ETA – 2020-21 – NHL Upside: Top Line Winger

One of the luxuries of stockpiling draft picks like Hextall has is that you can overpay to trade up and select players that you really like. The Flyers did just that in 2017, trading picks #44, #75, and #108 to trade up nine spots to #35 and take Isaac Ratcliffe at the beginning of the 2nd round.

Ratcliffe is a towering winger who has excellent hands, good speed, and an accurate shot.

If everything comes together for him, he’s one of the few prospects in the Flyers system with the upside to be a 1st line forward.

He reminds me of Wayne Simmonds but with less toughness and better puckhandling and shooting skills.

That being said, he still has a long way to go before we see if he can truly reach his potential.

This season with the OHL’s Guelph Storm, Ratcliffe got off to a slow start with only two goals in his first 10 games, but now has 19 goals and 14 assists 38 games.  He’s averaging 0.87 points-per-game, which trails behind the two OHL forwards the Flyers took in the 4th round (we’ll get to them soon). However, it often takes players of Ratcliffe’s large stature a while for everything to get into concert and rhythm.

The tools are all there for Ratcliffe to become an offensive force in the NHL, but it’s unlikely he’ll arrive with the Flyers until 2020 at the earliest. Until then, it should be fun to watch him develop.

#11 Kirill Ustimenko

Ustimenko

18yo – Goalie – 6’2″ – 210 – 3rd Round 2017 Draft – Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA 2021-22 – NHL Upside: Starting Goaltender

For the third straight year, Hextall took a goalie within the top three rounds of the draft, and so far the returns look very promising on the most recent of those picks.

Kirill Ustimenko has been completely dominant in the MHL, Russia’s equivalent of the Canadian Junior leagues.

In 35 games with the MHK Dynamo, Ustimenko has a sparkling 1.73 GAA to go with a terrific .929 save percentage.

He appears to be a workhorse as at one point he had played in 23 of 24 games for his team.

It’s hard to find video of him, but it’s clear that he is a very talented goalie.

He’s played for Russia in a few international competitions and my hope is that we get to see him in next year’s World Juniors so that we can get a better read on how he compares to prospects around the globe.

He’s still well behind Hart and Sandstrom on the Flyers goaltending prospect depth chart, but he will have every chance to make up a lot of ground in the coming year.

#12 Tanner Laczynski

tanner-laczynski

20yo – Center – 6’0″ – 195 – 6th Round 2016 Draft – Previous Ranking – 13
Flyers ETA 2019-20 – NHL Upside – 3rd Line Center

The fact that Tanner Laczynski could only make it to #12 on my Flyers prospect list is an incredible reflection on the depth of the organization’s young pipeline.

A sophomore at Ohio State, Laczynski is tied for third in the NCAA with 29 points in 22 games for a very impressive 1.32 points-per-game.

In fact, among the 11 forwards that the Flyers have drafted in the past two years who are currently in the CHL or NCAA, only Frost and Allison are scoring at a higher rate.

In addition to his scoring prowess, Laczynski is also a terrific two-way player, which was on display at last year’s World Juniors where he helped the United States win the gold medal with a strong performance.

In many ways, he reminds me of Laughton – a strong, two-way center who also can show some skills from time-to-time.

It would not surprise me if he makes the transition to the AHL next season, although another year of college seasoning wouldn’t hurt his development.

I think there’s a strong chance that he eventually ends up in a bottom six forward role for the Flyers.

#13 Maxim Sushko

Sushko-1024x678

18yo – Right Wing – 6’0″ – 180 – 4th Round 2017 Draft – Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA 2020-21 – NHL Upside: 3rd Line Winger

Hextall has become very adept at finding hidden gems in the middle rounds of the draft (ie. Lindblom and Vorobyev), and it looks like he may have found another one with Maxim Sushko.

After putting up a mere 32 points in 54 games last season for the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack, Sushko burst onto the scene early this season with a four-goal performance that really put him on the map.

He’s been a fairly streaky scorer for Owen Sound this year, but has 19 goals and 11 assists in 30 games, which has him averaging roughly the same points-per-game as Rubtsov, who is a year older and taken in the 1st round.

Sushko’s stock further soared over the past month with a stellar performance as the captain for Belarus at the World Juniors. He played in all situations and put up eight points in six games, three more than anyone else on the team.

The play above reminds me of Lindblom – forcing a turnover with strong play on the boards and making a smart pass to the front of the net.

Sushko doesn’t have elite skill, but he does appear to have the tools to become a 3rd or 4th line winger in the NHL.

That being said, the Flyers have a lot of these types of prospects and I wouldn’t be averse to taking advantage of Sushko’s high profile right now and moving him before the February 26 trade deadline to help with a playoff push.

Either way, he’s a very steady performer and should continue to improve on his path to the NHL.

#14 Matthew Strome

Matthew-Strome-1040x572

19yo – Right Wing – 6’0″ – 200 – 4th Round 2017 Draft – Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA 2020-21 – NHL Upside: 2nd Line Winger

Taken one pick before Sushko in the 4th round of the 2017 draft, I’m going to keep these guys right next to each other in the Flyers prospect rankings.

Unlike Sushko, Strome came into the draft with a lot of notoriety as the brother of two previous 1st round NHL picks (Ryan and Dylan). While some scouts had Matthew ranked in the 2nd round, questions about his skating ability resulted in a precipitous drop into the 4th.

Strome registered 62 points in 66 games last year, and has stepped up his production this season with 24 goals and 43 total points in 38 games – bumping his points-per-game from 0.94 to 1.13.

He’s also shown the ability to dazzle with his stickhandling and finishing ability.

The key to Strome eventually finding NHL success is all in how much he can improve his skating ability. He has all the other tools as he is a big winger with very good stickhandling, passing, and shooting ability.

He’s also capable of providing a big hit from time-to-time.

Despite being 1st round picks, his brothers Ryan and Dylan have failed to live up to expectations yet in the NHL.

I think it would be wonderfully ironic if their lesser heralded younger brother actually became the best of the bunch, and if he improves his skating, it’s absolutely positive.

#15 Cooper Marody

Cooper Marody

21yo – Center – 6’0″ – 190 – 6th Round pick 2015 Draft – Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA 2020-21 – NHL Upside: 3rd Line Center

Cooper Marody is a big of a wild card.

He was cut from his high school varsity team.

He got mononucleosis his freshman year at Michigan.

He was ruled academically ineligible his sophomore year at Michigan.

And now he’s absolutely tearing it up as a junior – tied with Laczynski for 3rd in the NCAA with 29 points.

He’s actually averaging more points-per-game (1.45) than either Allison (1.40) or Laczynski (1.32).

Marody is a bigtime playmaker who creates space with his speed and stickhandling ability and makes excellent passes.

Of course, it’s important to remember that at 21yo he’s a year or two older than many of the other prospects on this list.

Either way, he is a very talented hockey player who is finally getting a chance to show what he’s capable of after two down years.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see him take a similar trajectory to the NHL as current Flyers middle six forward Jordan Weal, who didn’t break into the league until he was 24yo. It’s also possible that Marody’s skill set ends up better suited to the bigger rinks in Europe.

It’s quite a credit to the Flyers prospect pipeline that the 15th and final player on my list is one of the most productive scorers in all of college hockey.

That’s a Wrap!

Thanks for bearing with me through my list of the Flyers Top 15 prospects. The organization has so much depth that I had to leave off a number of promising young players, including Mike Vecchione, Danick Martel, Carsen Twarynski, Connor Bunnaman, Linus Hogberg, David Bernhardt, David Kase, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Mark Friedman, to name more than a few.

Hextall has built such a deep pool of prospects that I wouldn’t mind seeing him trade a few of the players on my list, for example Sam Morin and Maxim Sushko, along with a draft pick or two, that could help the Flyers make a real playoff push this season.

I’m not advocating we trade players like that for a one-year rental, but if the Flyers were able to pry away Mark Stone or Mike Hoffman from the Ottawa Senators, Alex Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadians, or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the Oilers, I wouldn’t be averse to it.

All three of the Flyers best forwards – Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Sean Couturier – are having career years, and if the team is in position to get into the playoffs when the trade deadline hits, Hextall has the ammo to add a legitimate piece without having to give up one of the top seven or so prospects in the organization.

No matter what happens, this organization has an extremely bright future, and with two 1st-round picks in the upcoming 2018 draft, it will only continue to get brighter!

**Photo Credits – Getty Images, AHL, OHL, NCAA, Broad Street Hockey, AP, WJC**

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