By Dan Silver (@dsilver88)

A Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The Philadelphia Flyers development camp 3-on-3 tournament is bar none my favorite hockey event of the summer. I love writing about and watching prospects, and the tournament gives me a chance to see all of the team’s top youngsters in person.

I also love being able to put together an article where all of the multimedia content originates from my own phone!

Obviously there’s only so much you can glean from the tournament format, as it’s nothing like a real game environment, but I’ve found that you can get a sense of players’ overall skill sets and compete level.

Not to toot my own horn, but he’s what I said about fairly unheralded 2017 1st round pick Morgan Frost in my article on last year’s development camp tournament:

I came away from this tournament very excited about Frost, and I expect him to light it up this coming season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the loaded Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Frost had a better season than any of us could have imagined, finishing second in the OHL with 112 points in 67 games and becoming one of the top offensive prospects outside of the NHL. It was fun for me to have glimpsed and correctly identified some of that potential during the development camp.

This year’s camp included 33 invitees playing in 15 different leagues all over the world, and it’s just so much fun getting to see all the Flyers prospects in one place at one time.

Here is a listing of all the invitees:

Flyers Dev Camp Invite Roster 2018Last summer, I constructed my recap by listing the top six players that impressed me along with some additional thoughts.

I’m going to do it somewhat differently this year, as I’ll be giving out some awards to the prospects who made the most favorable impressions on me!

Most Dynamic Prospect – Jay O’Brien

When the Flyers selected center Jay O’Brien with the 19th overall pick in the recently concluded 2018 NHL Draft, it was definitely a reach based on most prognosticator rankings.

Most top North American draft prospects either play in the Canadian Juniors or the US Juniors systems. Instead, O’Brien spent most of the season playing at Thayer Academy, a high school in the United States, where he lit up the competition to the tune of 80 points in 30 games.

The Flyers spent a ton of time scouting him, however, and were comfortable taking him at 19 overall.

Based on what I saw at the development camp tournament, that might end up being a steal.

O’Brien exudes confidence with the way that he plays, keeping a low center of gravity and skating with quick, compact, and powerful strides. You can tell he’s a player who loves having the puck on his stick and when he gets it, he’s incredibly dangerous.

The other aspect of O’Brien’s game that I loved was how competitive and tenacious he was. He doled out the only actual hit that I saw in the tournament, and was like a bloodhound chasing after the puck.

O’Brien played at the same high school as Jeremy Roenick, and quite honestly his playing style reminds me of Roenick, one of the best American-born players of all time. For a more contemporary comparison, his style is evocative of Matthew Barzal, the New York Islanders sensational pivot who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie this season.

O’Brien will play as a freshman at Providence College this year and I think he is going to be one of the best newcomers in all of NCAA hockey.

I absolutely love his game.

Best Playmaker – Morgan Frost

I already mentioned Frost, one of my favorite prospects, in my introduction. He went from an unheralded 2017 late 1st round pick to one of the best players outside the NHL and has a legitimate chance to make the Flyers as soon as this coming fall.

A center, he plays the game very much like Claude Giroux, with an incredibly high hockey IQ and the ability to make passes that most players can only dream of making. He finished 3rd in the OHL this past season with 0.67 primary assists per game.

It’s just so much fun watching Frost play hockey, because he’s always thinking multiple steps ahead of the competition, and he can beat you in so many ways.

And lest you think Frost is only a playmaker, like Giroux, he is also a phenomenal finisher.

Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall has maintained the company line that Frost has to get stronger this offseason to have a shot at making the Flyers in the fall, but he reported to development camp at 5’11”, 185, which is Giroux’s current height and weight.

I still think it’s more likely he’s back in the OHL come October, but the combination of the team not signing a third-line center in free agency and Frost already adding some weight gives him a fighter’s chance of being in Orange and Black to start the season.

Best Goalie – Carter Hart

Carter Hart is being thought of by most Flyers fans as the goaltender who is finally going to end the franchise’s storied struggles at the most important position on the ice.

And for good reason.

Hart had arguably the greatest season by a goaltending prospect in the history of the sport. He led the entire Canadian Juniors with an unbelievable 1.60 goals-against-average and an unfathomable .947 save percentage, taking Western Hockey League top goaltender honors for a record 3rd straight year; he was also named the league’s MVP. In addition, Hart backstopped Team Canada to the Gold Medal in the World Junior Championships.

It was no surprise that he made a number of incredible saves during the development camp tournament.

So many things stick out to you when you watch Carter Hart in the net. He’s almost never out of position. His rebound control is incredible. He moves in very efficient and economical fashion. He has an incredible glove hand. His focus almost never wavers. I could go on and on.

Hart is turning pro this season, and the likeliest scenario is that he will start the season in the American Hockey League with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

However, if Hart excels in the AHL and the Flyers tandem of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth struggles/gets injured, it would not be a surprise to see Hart between the pipes at the Wells Fargo Center this upcoming season.

Either way, it’s incredibly exciting to have a goaltending prospect of his caliber.

Best Shooter – Isaac Ratcliffe

The Flyers overpaid to get Isaac Ratcliffe in the early 2nd round of the 2017 NHL Draft, trading a later 2nd, a 3rd, and a 4th to move up.

It’s looking like a good move so far, as the towering 6’6″, 200-lb left winger finished 4th in the OHL with a very impressive 41 goals.

He showed off that ability in the tournament, tying for 2nd with four goals.

The goal in the above clip was scored against Hart, making it all the more impressive.

Ratcliffe was much more effective in this year’s tournament than last year, demonstrating how much his game has grown over the past season. He’s better defensively, displays better positioning, and simply looks like a much more confident player.

For such a big player, Ratcliffe is an excellent skater and stickhandler, and combined with his finishing ability, he has all the tools to eventually become a dominant force for the Flyers.

He’ll likely spend another year in the OHL but very well could be in the NHL at some point during the 2019-20 season.

Ron Hextall on Isaac Ratcliffe:

“He’s really linked up for a guy that size. I think I said that yesterday or two days ago. I don’t know if you guys remember, obviously not comparing players, but Zdeno Chara at the same age was all dangly. He looked like he needed braces all over every joint in his body. But, you watched [Ratcliffe] and you see this kid at that age it’s like your training’s better and all that kind of stuff. To be that linked up at that age is amazing.

“He’s come a long ways in a year. His all-around game still needs work. His wall play and things like that, which most guys at that age do. His hands, his patience, his poise with the puck. He’s got some scoring touch. He’s got a reach. To have that poise and reach, developed to put it around the goalie you’ve seen this week. We’re excited about big Rat.”

*Courtesy of transcript from Bill Meltzer’s article on development camp*

Mr. Smooth – Joel Farabee

With their 1st pick in the recently concluded draft, the Flyers took left winger Joel Farabee at 14. He had a monster season playing for the US Development Program, putting up 124 points in 95 games.

I wasn’t able to get any of his four tournament goals on video, but I do have some clips that illustrate how smoothly and effortlessly Farabee plays the game.

Farabee’s game drips with hockey IQ and savvy. On all of the above plays, he makes exactly the right decisions and makes them quickly and with exactly the right amount of force and placement on his passes.

Not displayed in these videos, but apparent from US Development Team highlights, he also has a wicked wrist shot – extremely quick and accurate.

Like O’Brien, Farabee will be taking his game to college hockey this upcoming season as he will be playing for the vaunted Boston University program. I would expect him to excel there.

Currently clocking in at 6’0″, 165 lbs, Farabee has some bulking up to do, but that shouldn’t be a problem and I’d expect him to be in the NHL no later than the start of the 2020-21 season.

Ron Hextall on Joel Farabee:

“He disguises whether it’s a shot or a pass. He’s got really quick hands and a lot of guys will come down the goalie knows where they’re going to shoot, they know exactly where they’re going to shoot, right? So, you see goalies make a save and you go, ‘Woah! That was quick.’ Well, it really wasn’t because they read the puck off the stick blade rather than reacted to it. The puck is really hard to react to.

“Joel hides things, we call it deception. So, if he’s going to shoot the puck, he’ll turn his hands real quick and bang and let it go. Or he’ll open up for a shot and he’ll pass the puck. He’s got a lot of deception. A lot of top guys in the league, you wonder why they score or how that pass went through. Well, they’re showing hands to the defenseman, to the goalie. The little things that the naked eye doesn’t see that they’re doing, and Joel is one of those guys. His deception in his game is outstanding.”

*Courtesy of transcript from Bill Meltzer’s article on development camp*

Odds and Ends

  • Flyers top defensive prospect Phil Myers sat out the tournament with a “slight pull,” according to Hextall
  • My MVP from last year’s tournament, Felix Sandstrom, was terrific and clearly the second-best goalie behind Hart. He had a lost season while dealing with a hiatal hernia, but a rebound year in Sweden can get him right on track as a top goaltending prospect.

  • Mikhail Vorobyev was arguably the most NHL-ready of all the players in the tournament. He’s a prototypical NHL center, with great size, responsible two-way play, excellent hockey IQ, and very good passing ability. He had an up-and-down season in the AHL while dealing with some injuries, but I think he’s very close to becoming a solid NHL contributor.
  • Pascal Laberge led the tournament with five goals. He didn’t necessarily stand out to me, as he finished a lot of slam dunk-type goals, but the former 2nd round pick is turning pro this season and hopefully can make an impact at the AHL level. Here’s the complete list of goal scorers and goalies in the tournament, again courtesy of Bill Meltzer:

Dev Camp scorers

  • German Rubtsov was impressive, and he always impresses me in these types of tournaments. The 2016 1st round pick has a high level of skill and compete level, but he’s yet to put it all together and take a legitimate step forward. He’s going pro this year and hopefully he can start fulfilling his potential with the Phantoms.

  • Under-the-radar defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk really impressed me with his mix of speed and skill – he was also one of the only players to score on Hart in the shootout

  • I didn’t get any good video of him, but Swedish defenseman Linus Hogberg really impressed me with his poise and fluidity. He had a few really nice plays to set up goals and I think he’s a dark horse to become an impact NHL blueliner.
  • High scoring college forwards Wade Allison and Tanner Laczynski both sat out the tournament with injuries – Allison is recovering from knee surgery that prematurely ended his season and Laczynski’s injury is undisclosed, I believe

More Notable Quotes from Ron Hextall

Here’s a selection of more quotes from Hextall, with courtesy to Bill Meltzer for transcribing the press conference.

On Phil Myers, who sat out the tournament:

“He’s got a slight pull. It’s nothing. Like a week. Just [mostly] overuse.

He just got better and better as the year went on. You saw him at the start of the year and he was a good player. Then as the year went along, you just see this rise. It’s what you want. You want your players to get better the entire year. To Phil’s credit, he did. The playoffs was as good as he played all year. Towards the end of the season, he was a horse for us. He was a very good player. I don’t want to say opened our eyes because we expected that from him, but he certainly put himself in a position this year for us to take a look at him.”

 

On Felix Sandstrom:

“It’s an important year for him, he knows it. You can kind of see how dialed in he is here. I mean, Felix is a good goalie. I think you mention, sometimes with the way the world is today, people talk about one person and not another person, especially at that position. We all know there’s only one in the net so you only need one. So people talk about one. We’re very high on Felix. He’s a real competitor. He’s a really hard worker. He’s a great teammate and he’s a great kid.

Like I said, you see him today, he’s a hungry hockey player right now. You miss a year, there’s a lot you can learn. You’re a young kid and you’ve never really been through this before and how you handle it, how much of a pro you are, how you are with your teammates. He talked about that he learned a lot this year. It makes you hungry, as a goalie. You can never really let and you don’t want to let your level drop. He ended up on a different team in a lower level.

This was just because you were essentially injured. That’s the way sports is. You can’t wait around for people and he learned a lot. Like I said, he’s a character. Kid works hard. I think he’s going to have a bang-up year.”

 

On Mikhail Vorobyev:

“He’s a good player. I think the amount of games he played last year was a lot. It’s probably the first time [he is] playing three-in-three, he’s playing four games in a week, he’s playing fifteen games in a month. I think that got to him at times. But he was a very good player for us. He was consistent, in terms of his effort. In terms of his play, he’s got to become more consistent, but I think a lot of that is, it’s a grind.

“You go from playing 40 games, 45 games, 50 games and they’re spaced out and all of a sudden you’re playing as many games as we play in American league. He’s a very intelligent player, he can play all situations. He’s got good size. He made strides, whether he’s ready this year or next year that’s certainly up to him, he’s going to have to come in and prove it. He made a lot of strides last year. I think for him to come over at that age, and be all in, he’s going to be here most of the summer, his commitment level has been good thus far. He just needs to keep growing, keep getting stronger, put a little more pop in his skate.”

 

On Pascal Laberge:

“Pascal is highly skilled. He’s got good size, but he skates well. Really good hands and vision. The consistency part has got to come around. He’s turning pro this year. It’s time for Pascal certainly to take it to another level. As I said, he’s got an awful lot of ability.”

 

On German Rubtsov:

“It’s funny, German is a very good two-way player and he’s a little bit like Coots. I’m not comparing the players — I’m comparing more the [style]. He’s very good defensively. He looks after this [defensive] end first and we need to get a little bit more push on the north side of the game. The south side is very good. Sometimes that’s a bit of a mentality that’s got to change and it doesn’t come overnight. He’s an intelligent player. He has a lot of skill. Again, he’s a very responsive player. He doesn’t cheat the game. He’s never on the wrong side of the puck or the wrong side of his man. We need a little bit more of a push north. Again, it’s a mentality, it’s the way he’s been taught. That part of it, there’s a bit of a transition over here.”

 

On Wyatt Kalynuk:

“You guys probably don’t know much about him, either. He’s a smooth skating defenseman at Wisconsin. He’s a late round pick and he’s taken a step. He’s a very good player at Wisconsin last year. But you watch the way he skates and the way he reads the game and the way he passes the puck.”

 

On James de Haas:

“He was terrific. You guys probably don’t even know who he is, a free agent defenseman. Played for us last year in Reading and Allentown. He looked really good out there today. A bit of an older guy. The stuff he’s taken in the last 12 months, you go ‘Woah!’

“He improved a lot last year. He’s a big, strong, mature guy out there. His leadership in some of the days in some of the activities we had was off the charts. It’s kind of one of the things we look at. We want the older guys to be leaders because next year the guys step up. They learn the value of leadership and how to be a leader. Part of what it’s about too is learning leadership skills. James did a great job. He’s on an American League deal. He signed to a 2 year deal last year. He’s come a long way. He’s a kid. He’s one of those guys under the radar but who knows in a year or two.”

 

On Mark Friedman:

“Friedy had a real strong finish. His start was not great. He was a little bit up and down. But if you just take, it wasn’t just the end of the season, significant part of the end of the season he was a very good player for us. Certainly gives something for him to build on. He’s not tall but he’s a big strong kid. Skill level he’s good. He’s got a wide base. He’s stocky. He’s a battler. Skill level, he’s got a better than average skill level. He shoots the puck well. Friedy needs to be more consistent in his preparation and little things in the game. Professionalism. But he’s come a long way. He’s a pretty good prospect.”

 

On Matthew Strome working with a figure skater over the summer to improve his skating:

“It’s pretty common, figure skaters, power skaters. There’s a lot of figure skaters in it now. My wife was a figure skater and she always tells me she’s better skater than me. She’s right. She could teach skating certainly better than I could. There’s a lot of guys. I think Strome worked with her last year. Our Slava [Flyers skating coach Slava Kouznetsov] is a figure skater. They know how to skate, certainly much better than we do.”

Summation: The Skilled Forwards are Bountiful

I came away from this year’s development camp tournament in awe of the incredible skill that the Flyers top forward prospects possess.

Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, and Jay O’Brien all look like potential NHL 1st line forwards, and Isaac Ratcliffe isn’t far behind.

German Rubtsov and Mikhail Vorobyev would be at the top of most teams’ prospect lists and they are hard pressed to crack the top 10 within the Flyers organization.

Wade Allison and Tanner Laczynski are also both legitimate NHL prospects, and it’s a shame neither could participate in the tournament but both should be fine for their upcoming NCAA seasons.

And if Matthew Strome can continue to improve his skating ability he could become an impact NHL player as well.

When you realize that recent draftees Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick are looking like future NHL stars, it’s downright scary what the Flyers offense could look like a few years down the road.

Oh, and then there’s Carter Hart.

It’s a great time to be a Flyers fan.

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