By Dan Silver (@dsilver88)
The NHL’s Best Prospect Pool
Since taking over as the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers in May 2014, Ron Hextall has transformed one of the NHL’s least impressive prospect pools into its best.
And if you don’t want to take it from me, take it from Steve Kournianos, a respected draft analyst, who wrote this about the Flyers farm system in his 2018 draft preview:
“The Flyers have the NHL’s best prospect pool. Period….Their farm system is overflowing with talent, to the point where there won’t be any room for them in either Philadelphia or their AHL affiliate in Lehigh Valley. You can make the argument that the players at bottom of the Flyers’ prospect depth chart are superior to the entire farm system of most NHL teams.”
What have been the keys that have allowed Hextall to build this incredible prospect pool?
It really comes down to two things – keeping and accumulating draft picks, and superior talent evaluation from the team’s scouts.
There are seven rounds in the NHL draft and there have been five drafts since Hextall took over as GM. In those five years, the Flyers have made eight 1st round selections and 37 picks overall.
They kept all of their 1st round picks, and acquired extra ones in 2015, 2017, and 2018 – selecting Travis Konecny, Morgan Frost, and Joel Farabee.
In terms of the talent evaluation piece, teams are expected to hit on their early picks, but hitting on mid-to-late round selections can really help grow a team’s farm system. Of my list of the Flyers top 20 prospects, nearly half of them, eight to be exact, were acquired outside of the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd rounds. Included among that group are forwards Oskar Lindblom and Mikhail Vorobyev, who look like surefire middle six NHL’ers, and defenseman Philippe Myers, who has top pairing upside.
When you look at the former Flyers prospects who have graduated to the NHL over the past few years, it makes the fact that they still have arguably the league’s best pipeline that much more impressive.
Ivan Provorov, 21, looks like a potential Norris Trophy candidate as the league’s best defenseman. Nolan Patrick, 19, and Konecny, 21, already look like impact top line NHL forwards. Travis Sanheim, 22, probably deserved better treatment from Flyers Head Coach Dave Hakstol last season and should ultimately slot in as a second-pairing defenseman.
Combine those four players with the below list of prospects and it’s clear to see why the Flyers have all the tools necessary to become a juggernaut in the very near future!
So let’s get right to the list, with a reminder that I considered all players who still qualify as NHL rookies, basically anyone with fewer than 25 games with the Flyers last season.
One final note, I have listed the age that each player will be when the upcoming season starts – so in some cases the age I list is not their current age.
Tier One – The Elite Prospects
#1 – Carter Hart
20yo – Goalie – 6’2″ – 185 – 2nd Round 2016 Draft – Previous Ranking – 1
Flyers ETA 2018-19 – NHL Upside: Vezina Trophy Winner
There is a strong case to be made that Carter Hart is the best North American-based goaltending prospect in the history of hockey.
This season he became the first Western Hockey League (WHL) player to win three end-of-season Top Goaltender Awards and perhaps even more impressively he also became the first to win two Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Goaltender-of-the-Year Awards, which comprises all three Canadian junior leagues.
His numbers were downright silly – leading the WHL with a 1.60 goals-against-average (GAA) and a single-season record .947 save percentage. For point of comparison, his closest competitors in each category among WHL goalies who played in more than 20 games was a 2.77 GAA and a .914 save percentage.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) April 13, 2018
Oh, and did I mention that he helped lead Team Canada to the gold medal at this year’s World Junior Championships?
Yeah, he did that too.
Stylistically, what’s so impressive about Hart is how easy he makes everything look. His positioning is sublime, his movements are highly quick and efficient, and he is extremely consistent.
Players want to play in front of a goaltender who exudes confidence and always makes it seem like he is in control, and that’s exactly the way that Hart plays the game.
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 2, 2018
Hart has absolutely nothing left to prove, and he will be turning pro this season. In all likelihood he will start the season with the Flyers American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
However, if he excels in the AHL and either of the Flyers goaltending duo of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth struggle or get injured, there is a realistic chance we could see Hart in the Orange and Black this season.
The Flyers haven’t been able to find a franchise goaltender since Bernie Parent led them to Stanley Cups in 1974 and 75, but Hart has all the tools to become an elite presence between the pipes.
#2 – Morgan Frost
19yo – Center – 5’11” – 185 – 1st Round 2017 Draft – Previous Ranking – 2
Flyers ETA – 2019-20 – NHL Upside: Top Line Center
There was not a Flyers prospect whose stock skyrocketed this past season as much as Morgan Frost. He went from unheralded late 1st round pick to one of the best forward prospects in the world.
One of the reasons that he was viewed as a reach when the Flyers took him at 27th overall were his modest point totals for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) – scoring 20 goals and 62 points in 67 games.
Presumably, the Flyers believed that when Frost received a bigger role and more power play time, his production would take a steep increase.
But no one predicted this!
Frost finished the season with 42 goals and 70 assists, finishing second in the OHL with 112 points.
He demonstrated elite playmaking ability throughout the season, making passes that most other players wouldn’t dream of even attempting.
🚨 🚨GOAL! 🚨 🚨
This … pass … we literally cannot EVEN. 😱 pic.twitter.com/OVQVW8WlXy
— Soo Greyhounds (@OHLHoundPower) November 25, 2017
And while he gets more accolades for his passing ability, Frost is a tremendous goal-scorer as well.
— Soo Greyhounds (@OHLHoundPower) December 16, 2017
What really stands out about Frost that separates him from most of his peers is the incredibly high hockey IQ that he possesses. This equates to something like thinking three moves ahead of the competition, and he combines this with terrific puck skills and passing ability to improve all the players around him.
Morgan Frost is a phenomenal playmaker and this clip from yesterday’s #Flyers development camp 3v3 tourney displays that. He outmuscles the bigger Carsen Twarynski, draws two defenders to him, and slides a perfect pass to a teammate pic.twitter.com/WFcVA6eNNU
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 3, 2018
I dedicated an entire article to Frost this season – check it out if you want to see highlights of his skills on full display.
In recent years, a number of 18- and 19-year-olds have made the Flyers roster. From a points perspective, the closest match would be Konecny, who scored 101 pts in the OHL at the same age as Frost and then made the Flyers the following season.
While Frost has a reasonable chance to make the team, Hextall has repeatedly talked about how Frost really needs to get stronger and bulk up in order to play in the NHL. He came to the recently concluded development camp weighing in at 185 pounds, the same playing weight as Claude Giroux.
However, it seems more likely than not that the team will send Frost back to the OHL for one more season, during which he would likely get an opportunity to play for Canada in the World Junior Championships.
One interesting wrinkle, though, is that the Flyers didn’t sign a third-line center in free agency, as many surmised, leaving the door slightly ajar for Frost to impress at training camp and take that role.
Either way, expect to see Frost in a Flyers uniform no later than the 2019-20 season and make no mistake that he has the talent to immediately become one of the team’s biggest offensive contributors.
#3 – Philippe Myers
21yo – Defense – 6’5″ – 210 – Undrafted Free Agent – Previous Ranking – 3
Flyers ETA 2018-19 – NHL Upside: Top Pair Defenseman
Philippe Myers’ story is fairly well known among Flyers fans, but let’s detail it one more time.
During his draft eligible 2015 season, the towering defenseman struggled with injuries for a bad Rouyn-Noranda team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and finished with 8 points and a minus-14 rating in 60 games.
His performance was so bad that no team drafted him.
The Flyers invited him to their September training camp and were so impressed with his tools that they signed him to an entry-level contract.
The following season with Rouyn-Noranda, Myers scored 17 goals, added 28 assists, and compiled an astounding plus-52 rating.
And just like that, he went from undrafted free agent to one of the best defense prospects in the world.
His progress has been steady and upwards, but the main lingering concerns are about his inability to stay healthy for a complete season.
During his final year in the QMJHL he dealt with a few concussions, including one while representing Canada at the World Juniors, and last year, his first as a pro with the Phantoms, he was limited to 50 regular season games with nagging lower body injuries.
When he’s in the lineup, however, Myers demonstrates the potential to be a top-pairing NHL defenseman – a rare, rare commodity.
Oh man this Phil Myers end-to-end rush. Doesn't lead to a shot but it was great nonetheless. pic.twitter.com/nhgxRVDnrU
— Brad Keffer (@brad_keffer) December 31, 2017
He has all of the desired traits in a top NHL defenseman – size, skill, speed, tenacity, and strong play in the defensive zone.
— Flyers Prospects (@futureofphilly) March 12, 2017
Myers is an absolute workhorse as well. He was able to stay healthy for the Phantoms playoff run, and most notably played 66 minutes in their five-overtime win against Charlotte. It was the longest AHL game of all time and it seems likely that Myers’ 66 minutes represented the most single-game minutes ever for a professional hockey player in North America.
If he can stay healthy, Myers projects as one of the top four long-term defensemen for the Flyers, in addition to Provorov, Sanheim, and Shayne Gostisbehere.
With a good showing in training camp, it’s certainly possible that he could make the team to start the upcoming season. But even if he doesn’t, it’s highly likely he will be up by February at the latest.
Tier Two – The Potentially Elite Prospects
#4 – Joel Farabee
18yo – Left Wing – 6’0″ – 165 – 1st Round 2018 Draft – Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA 2020-21 – NHL Upside: Top Line Winger
A new addition to the list, Joel Farabee was selected with the 14th overall pick in the recently concluded NHL entry draft.
He has all of the tools that Hextall looks for in a prospect – elite hockey IQ, strong two-way play, a high level of skill, and tremendous character.
Playing this past season across two teams with the United States Development Program (USDP), Farabee put up monster numbers, scoring 48 goals and compiling 116 points in 88 games.
— USHL (@USHL) March 15, 2018
Farabee’s motor never stops running, he’s tenacious on almost every shift and creates a ton of scoring chances for both himself and his teammates.
Lest you think he’s just a playmaker, he also has a downright deadly wrist shot.
Next up is a US-born player a lot of #Flyers fans are clamoring for at 14 – Joel Farabee
He’s a smart, skilled, two-way player who can really snipe, as demonstrated with this beautiful wrister pic.twitter.com/dugvnfKUl7
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) June 1, 2018
That right there is an elite level shot.
I saw Farabee in person for the first time at the recent Flyers development camp tournament, and came away in awe of how smoothly he does everything on the ice.
Joel Farabee scored 4 goals yesterday at #Flyers development camp 3v3 tourney – here are some plays where you can see his immense skill
On this one he smoothly shields the puck from a defender, swoops behind net, and perfectly sets up teammate. Carter Hart makes 2 great stops pic.twitter.com/0hC2sYrKJQ
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 3, 2018
Checking in at 6’0″, 165 pounds, Farabee is going to have to put on a lot of weight before he can contemplate turning professional, but I highly doubt that will be an issue for him.
This upcoming season he will be a freshman at Boston University, one of the best hockey programs in the NCAA.
I expect him to be one of the best freshmen in college hockey and take a major step towards becoming an impact NHL player.
#5 – Jay O’Brien
18yo – Center – 5’11” – 180 – 1st Round 2018 Draft – Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA 2020-21 – NHL Upside: Top Line Center
After the Flyers took Farabee with the 14th pick, many fans surmised that Hextall might take a defenseman at 19.
However, as Hextall has made a habit of doing early in the draft, he surprised almost everyone by taking a relatively unknown player, a high-school center named Jay O’Brien.
Most top North American prospects spend their draft-eligible season playing in the Canadian Juniors, the US Juniors or with the USDP. Those are the leagues that garner them the most exposure.
O’Brien, however, played almost his entire draft-eligible season with Thayer Academy, a prep high school in Massachusetts that boasts notable alumni such as Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte, their current coach. Competing against clearly inferior players, O’Brien put up an obscene 43 goals and 80 points in 30 games.
The problem for most scouts is how do you judge a player who is in that kind of situation where they aren’t playing against top competition?
Hextall indicated after the draft that their scouts took several visits to Thayer during the season and it’s very clear they became infatuated with O’Brien’s skill.
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) September 22, 2017
I went into the Flyers development camp tournament very excited to see O’Brien live for the first time, and he didn’t disappoint.
For my money he was the most dynamic player I saw – he skates with a low center of gravity, a high level of skill, a motor that never stopped running, and seemed to always want the puck on his stick.
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 2, 2018
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 3, 2018
Watching O’Brien play, I was reminded of a few players over the years. The first would be his fellow Thayer Academy alumni Roenick, and the second would be Islanders incredible Calder Trophy winner Matthew Barzal.
There’s no guarantee that O’Brien will be anywhere as good as those two, but his skill set is immense and I see a potential first line center in the making.
He’ll attend Providence College as a freshman this upcoming season and like Farabee, I expect him to put up big numbers. He’s going to be very fun to follow!
#6 – Isaac Ratcliffe
19yo – Left Wing – 6’6″ – 200 – 2nd Round 2017 Draft – Previous Ranking – 10
Flyers ETA – 2019-20 – NHL Upside: Top Line Winger
Among players included on my most recent January list of the Flyers top 15 prospects, the biggest riser was Isaac Ratcliffe, moving up five spots. And “moving up” suits the big man as in the 2017 NHL Draft the Flyers traded a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round pick to move up into the early 2nd round to snag him.
Ratcliffe rewarded the Flyers faith in him by finishing 6th in the OHL with 41 goals as a member of the Guelph Storm. The only 18-year-olds in the OHL who scored more goals were fellow Flyer Frost and Nick Suzuki, a 1st-round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights.
The tools that Ratcliffe possesses are immense – he’s a towering winger who has very good speed, excellent hands, and a terrific shot.
Here’s a great example of why I’m so excited about #Flyers prospect Isaac Ratcliffe
When’s the last time you saw a 6’6” hockey player do something like this?
His skill set oozes top line winger potential pic.twitter.com/aGpZSVNP7Y
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 9, 2018
Ratcliffe can also terrorize goalies with wristers like this – and how about the speed to create the chance? pic.twitter.com/POpVkUzROO
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 9, 2018
When you have a 6’6″ player who can do the types of things that Ratcliffe can, it’s quite obvious that there is top line NHL potential there.
To my eyes, he was the most improved player from last year’s development camp tournament to this year’s. He was much more of a presence on the ice, playing good defense, showing good vision and puck skills, and burying goals on Hart.
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 2, 2018
Ratcliffe will likely head back to Guelph for a final season of OHL hockey, and he’s already been named team captain. Additionally, he’s been invited to Canada’s World Juniors summer camp and has a legitimate chance to make the team.
If he continues his rapid improvement, it’s easy to see him making the Flyers for the start of the 2019-20 season, perhaps as a perfect winger to complement fellow 2017-draftee Frost on the third line.
Tier Three – The Very Good Prospects
#7 – Oskar Lindblom
22yo – Left Wing – 6’2″ – 200 – 5th Round 2014 Draft – Previous Ranking – 4
Flyers ETA Now – NHL Upside – 2nd Line Winger
Last season, Oskar Lindblom was only two NHL games away from graduating off this list, playing 23 games, but he is still considered a rookie by the league.
The fact that he dropped from 4th on my January list to 7th on this list isn’t an indictment on him – it’s simply a reflection of the higher upside of all six guys I’ve ranked above him.
Taken in the 5th round of the 2014 NHL Draft, he’s the perfect example of Hextall hitting big on a late-round pick.
During the 2016-17 season Lindblom scored 47 points in 52 games for Brynas of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), representing the league’s 6th highest single-season point total ever from a player under the age of 21. For sake of comparison, some of the guys below him on that list are Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Sedin, Markus Naslund, and Nicklas Backstrom.
Lindblom is the type of complementary winger that teams need to make sustained playoff pushes. He’s a very strong two-way player with high hockey IQ and a real scoring touch around the net.
Oskar Lindblom (@oskarlindblom) pots his 10th goal of the season, a power-play goal, to give the #LVPhantoms a 2-0 lead over the Checkers in the first period tonight. #PurplePower! pic.twitter.com/LeMTL3rGFv
— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) December 30, 2017
In his first full season in North America, the Swede put up a respectable 34 points in 54 games with Lehigh Valley before getting called up to the Flyers on February 20. Immediately given a middle six role, Lindblom created a ton of scoring opportunities during his first dozen games, but was incredibly snake bit.
Finally on March 18 he collected his first NHL goal!
— NHL (@NHL) March 18, 2018
Lindblom finished with two goals and four assists in his 23-game regular season stint with the Flyers before wearing down late in the season and he wasn’t a factor in the playoffs against the Penguins.
He did finish the season on a positive note, however, scoring four goals and adding three assists in 11 playoff games for the Phantoms.
By virtue of the Flyers bringing back James van Riemsdyk, it’s almost a certainty that Lindblom will spend his first full NHL season as the team’s third-line winger, and he should also get some time on the second power play unit.
While he may not have the upside of fellow left wingers Farabee and Ratcliffe. Lindblom’s floor is very high. He should be a key cog in the Flyers middle six for years to come.
#8 – Mikhail Vorobyev
21yo – Center – 6’2″ – 210 – 4th Round 2014 Draft – Previous Ranking – 7
Flyers ETA 2019-20 – NHL Upside: 2nd Line Center
As a prospect, Mikhail Vorobyev is very similar to Lindblom – based on his size, high hockey IQ, responsible two-way play, and excellent passing ability, he has a very high floor as a middle six NHL center, but lacks the offensive upside of centers like Frost or O’Brien.
Also like Lindblom, the big Russian was a late-round steal by Hextall and Co., selected in the 4th round of the 2015 NHL Draft.
During his 18- and 19-year-old seasons, Vorobyev played in arguably the second-best professional league in the world, Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
While his KHL offensive stats left a lot to be desired – 14 points in 72 games – when he played against opponents his own age, Vorobyev shined.
Representing his country in the 2017 World Junior Championships, Vorobyev led the entire tournament with 10 assists in seven games.
To put that into perspective, the WJC assist leaders the three years prior were Jesse Puljujarvi, Connor McDavid, and Teuvo Teravainen – all first-round picks. Obviously McDavid is a superstar and Teravainen just put up a 64-point season in the NHL.
After looking almost NHL-ready in training camp last year, he spent the entire season with the Phantoms, putting up a respectable nine goals and 20 assists in 58 games.
Someone call the police! 🚔👮🏻♂️👮🏻♀️
Mikhail Vorobyev straight robbed that dude of the puck before setting up the captain Colin McDonald for his 8th goal of the 2017-18 season near the end of the first period today. pic.twitter.com/icXVXyVcIR
— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) April 8, 2018
If you want to see full season highlights of Vorobyev, you can do so here.
To me, he’s almost the perfect 3rd or 4th line NHL center. He’s a big, strong, two-way pivot who doesn’t make many mistakes and is very adept at creating scoring chances for his wingers.
This coming fall he will be in a battle for a center spot with the Flyers, and I’d be perfectly content with seeing him slot in as the team’s 4th line center to start the season.
The Flyers cupboard is so stocked with NHL quality centers right now (Couturier, Patrick, Laughton, Frost, O’Brien, Vorobyev) that it’s going to be very interesting to see how the roles play out in the years to come. Of those guys, Vorobyev is probably right behind Couturier and Patrick in terms of being a pure center, whereas Laughton, Frost, and O’Brien’s skillsets could play on the wing.
No matter what happens, Vorobyev is going to be a very solid NHL player for a long time to come.
#9 – Nicolas Aube-Kubel
22yo – Right Wing – 5’11” – 190 – 2nd Round 2014 Draft – Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA 2018-19 – NHL Upside : 2nd Line Winger
Many prospects who were very good in juniors and then really struggle in their first year of professional hockey become lost in the shuffle, so to speak.
That’s pretty much what happened to Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who after scoring 38 goals two straight seasons in the QMJHL, could only muster nine in his first season at Lehigh Valley.
However, this past season marked a dramatic turnaround for the skilled winger, as he finished with 18 goals and 46 points in 72 games.
What makes those numbers much more impressive is that he saw very little time on the power play, and his 44 even strength points ranked 6th in the entire AHL.
AK = Abra Kadabra or Aube-Kubel?
— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) November 26, 2017
Aube-Kubel ties it up in the third! pic.twitter.com/C3gen2oWdF
— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) March 17, 2018
As the clips illustrate, Aube-Kubel is a very skilled player – he’s fast, a good stickhandler, and has a hard and accurate shot.
One element of Aube-Kubel’s game that he has to rein in is the aggression, as he was suspended three separate times for questionable hits.
There’s no doubt that his tenacious playing style will take him far with Flyers fans, but he needs to be more disciplined in order to stay in the lineup.
He’s an under-the-radar prospect for the Flyers who has a chance to eventually develop into a 20-30 goal scorer in the NHL. For the upcoming season, he has a very good chance to make the team out of training camp and play an important role on the 4th line and help out with the penalty kill.
#10 – Wade Allison
20yo – Right Wing – 6’2″ – 205 – 2nd Round 2016 Draft – Previous Ranking – 5
Flyers ETA 2019-20 – NHL Upside : 2nd Line Winger
Wade Allison remains a bit of a wild card for me in terms of his NHL upside simply because he hasn’t played in international competition and it’s often harder to judge how NCAA success translates to the professional game.
That being said, he absolutely tore it up this past season for Western Michigan University, scoring 15 goals and adding 15 assists in 22 games.
Unfortunately, his season ended abruptly in mid-January when he suffered a knee injury that required surgery to repair his ACL.
However, over a full season his 1.36 points-per-game average would have placed him 6th among all NCAA players and, more impressively, 1st among sophomores and freshmen.
🚨 Wade's 🌎 again!
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) November 5, 2017
— USHL (@USHL) April 3, 2016
Allison can beat goalies in a myriad of ways – he boasts a tremendous wrist shot, slap shot, and can also stickhandle down low with his tremendous hands.
His skating ability could stand to improve, but based on his skill set and NCAA production there is certainly a chance that he could become a middle six NHL scorer.
All indications are that he will be returning to Western Michigan for his junior season, and assuming he stays healthy, he could challenge for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player.
If Allison indeed has a season like that, he should be able to compete for a spot with the Flyers to start the 2019-20 season.
#11 – German Rubtsov
20yo – Center/Wing – 6’1″ – 190 – 1st Round 2016 Draft – Previous Ranking – 6
Flyers ETA 2019-20 – NHL Upside: 2nd Line Winger/3rd Line Center
German Rubtsov is one of the trickiest of the Flyers prospects to evaluate. He seemingly has all the tools to become an impact NHL player – he’s a very good skater, an excellent stickhandler, a flashy finisher, displays a high hockey IQ and compete level, and has a well-rounded two-way game.
He was impressive in spurts for Russia at the recent World Junior Championships.
Awesome finish from #Flyers 2016 1st Round pick German Rubtsov!
2-0 Russia pic.twitter.com/lI1mHjPW4F
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) December 29, 2017
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) December 26, 2017
But for whatever reason, he has yet to put up the sustained offensive production over the course of a full season to reflect that skill set.
He split the 2017-18 season between two teams in the QMJHL – Chicoutimi and Acadie-Bathurst – putting up 43 points in 49 games.
That 0.88 points-per-game average from the then 19-year-old Rubtsov trailed behind all four Flyers 18-year-old prospects playing in the Canadian Juniors who were taken a year later than him in the 2017 NHL Draft.
That’s not good.
What makes his lack of production this past season all the more mystifying is that during the 2016-17 season he averaged 1.38 points-per-game in an admittedly small 16-game sample size for Chicoutimi.
So what could be some of the reasons for his decline in production this past season?
The start of his season was delayed due to paperwork issues, and getting a late start can certainly affect an athlete. Once he began playing, he scored 11 points in 11 games for Chicoutimi before being traded to Acadie-Bathurst.
He then experienced some nagging injuries for a juggernaut Acadie-Bathurst team that went on to win the ultimate prize in the Canadian Juniors, the Memorial Cup. Because they were so stacked, it’s certainly plausible that Rubtsov didn’t get the playing time he would have gotten on a lesser squad.
Additionally, it appears he was the only Russian player on the team which could have been somewhat isolating for him.
I don’t think these reasons can wholly explain why a 1st-round forward only scored 0.88 points-per-game in his final season in the QMJHL, but they mitigate it some.
For what it’s worth, each of the last two summers, Rubtsov has been one of the most impressive players at the development camp tournament, displaying all his skills and serving as a good reminder as to the upside that he still carries.
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 2, 2018
Rubtsov will be turning pro this upcoming season for the Phantoms, and to be quite honest I think he’s going to go through some struggles.
I could see him taking a similar path as Aube-Kubel where people get down on him after a subpar first year in the AHL and then he rebounds in a few years and once again becomes a top prospect.
He has all the skills to eventually become a middle six forward in the NHL, more likely as a winger than as a center, but he’s going to have to really work to put it all together.
#12 – Felix Sandstrom
21yo – Goalie – 6’2″ – 200 – 3rd Round 2015 Draft – Previous Ranking – 9
Flyers ETA 2019-20 – NHL Upside: Starting Goaltender
In the rankings I constructed last summer, I was probably one of the only people in the world who had Felix Sandstrom ahead of Hart.
At that point, Sandstrom, who is a year older than Hart, was coming off a season where he was named Best Goaltender at the World Junior Championships, helped take Brynas to the SHL finals, and to my eyes was the much more impressive of the two during the development camp tournament.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 5, 2017
This past season, they took wildly divergent paths.
As I covered at the start of my rankings, Hart had arguably the best season in the history of the Canadian Juniors whereas Sandstrom struggled with injuries the entire season and only ended up playing in 18 games, posting wholly unimpressive numbers.
What clouds the issue is that there’s been an air of mystery around exactly what kind of injury he was dealing with. Reports out of Sweden were that he had something called a hiatal hernia.
However, at the Flyers recent development camp he clarified the situation to reporters, saying that it was an illness in his throat and stomach connected to the mononucleosis that he battled during his draft year in 2014-15.
The really encouraging sign to me was that once again, Sandstrom was absolutely incredible during the development camp tournament.
Between him and Hart, Sandstrom is the one who appears larger in net, and he also flashes his plus athleticism more.
He made a number of sensational saves during the tournament, none of which I got on video, but this one was pretty good going post-to-post.
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 2, 2018
Sandstrom will head back to Sweden this upcoming season to play for HV71 in the SHL, and let’s keep our fingers crossed that he can stay healthy and have his best professional season yet.
If that occurs, he’ll be right back in the mix for a spot as one of the goaltenders for the Flyers come the 2019-20 season.
Tier Four – The Solid Prospects
#13 – Tanner Laczynski
21yo – Center – 6’0″ – 195 – 6th Round 2016 Draft – Previous Ranking – 12
Flyers ETA 2020-21 – NHL Upside – 3rd Line Center
Tanner Laczynski is the type of player that coaches love to have on their team. He’s a very defensively-responsible center who plays with a lot of grit and displays a high hockey IQ.
Lest you think he can’t produce offensively, the Ohio State center put up 17 goals and 47 points in 41 games this past season. His 1.15 points-per-game average was 17th in the NCAA and 5th among sophomores.
— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) April 6, 2018
He was too old to play in the most recent World Juniors, but a few years ago he was a key role player for the United States team that took home the gold medal.
— Flyers Prospects (@futureofphilly) July 19, 2017
It appears that Laczynski will head back to Ohio State for his junior year, and there’s no reason that he can’t be one of the best players in all of college hockey.
Considering how deep the Flyers are at forward – both in current players and prospects – it’s unlikely that Laczynski will end up as a middle six player, but eventually he could be a perfect fit on the 4th line.
#14 – Kirill Ustimenko
19yo – Goalie – 6’2″ – 210 – 3rd Round 2017 Draft – Previous Ranking – 11
Flyers ETA 2021-22 – NHL Upside: Starting Goaltender
2017 marked the third straight draft that Hextall selected a goaltender within the first three rounds, and the early returns on Kirill Ustimenko are nearly as promising as Hart and Sandstrom.
This past season, playing for MHK Dynamo in the Russian Juniors (MHL), he ranked 2nd among all 2017-drafted netminders in goals-against-average (1.81) and save percentage (.929).
Obviously it’s not entirely fair to compare players across a multitude of leagues, and the MHL is a lower scoring league than most.
That said, by any measure Ustimenko had a very successful season .
I was able to see him in person for the first time at the recent Flyers development camp tournament, and he struggled. However, having been to three of those tourneys in a row, the older goalies always look more comfortable and confident.
Ustimenko will stay in Russia for the upcoming season and hopefully get a chance to represent his home country in the World Junior Championships.
Perhaps he can follow in Hart and Sandstrom’s footsteps, shine on the world stage, and cement himself as another very promising goalie prospect for the Flyers.
#15 – Sam Morin
23yo – Defense – 6’6″ – 230 – 1st Round 2013 Draft – Previous Ranking – 8
Flyers ETA 2019-20 – NHL Upside – 2nd Pair Defenseman
The final 1st round pick before Hextall took over as general manager, Sam Morin has had a tumultuous path in trying to lock down an NHL spot, with last year being perhaps the biggest bump in the road to date.
Going into the season, the Flyers had two spots open for rookie defensemen – and the general consensus was that Morin was the frontrunner for one of the spots with Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg expected to compete for the other.
Goals like this during the preseason only seemed to solidify that point of view.
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) September 26, 2017
Then a funny thing happened.
Based on his steady defensive style, Hagg, who was drafted in the 2nd round the same year the Flyers acquired Morin, grabbed the first of the two available defense spots, leaving Sanheim and Morin to fight it out over the second spot.
Of course, it it was an actual fight, there’s little doubt who would have won.
At 6'7 and 227lbs why would anyone want to fight Sam Morin?! pic.twitter.com/nQtPJEnxoP
— From The Faceoff (@FromTheFaceoff) December 10, 2016
Unfortunately for Morin, the Flyers ultimately went with Sanheim and his immense offensive upside for the final spot, leaving big Sam disappointed and back in the AHL.
To make matters worse, Morin battled injuries the entire season, playing in only 18 games before seriously injuring his knee in the playoffs. He underwent surgery to repair his ACL and is expected to be out until at least February 2019.
Morin brings a lot of needed traits to the ice – he’s a very good penalty killer who can dole out massive hits and protect his teammates when needed. However, that skill set isn’t quite as valuable as it used to be with the NHL moving away from an “enforcer” mentality.
That’s probably a bit unfair to Morin, as he is an above average skater and can display offensive skill from time to time.
He’s probably the perfect type of bottom pair defenseman to eventually fill in behind Gostisbehere, Provorov, Sanheim, and Myers, but he needs to come back healthy and prove that he can stay healthy.
#16 – Linus Hogberg
20yo – Defense – 6’1″ – 180 – 5th Round 2016 Draft – Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA 2020-21 – NHL Upside – 2nd Pair Defenseman
If Sam Morin is a defenseman from “yesterday,” then Linus Hogberg is a defenseman for today’s NHL.
The Swedish blueliner is a smooth, effortless skater with very high hockey IQ. He’s not a very physical player, but he has a high level of skill and plays the game with a lot of confidence.
To put things into perspective, during the 2016-17 season for Vaxjo he played in more games (35) than any other under-19 defenseman in the SHL and this past season he was one of the only three under-20 dmen to play in more than 40 SHL games (42).
The other two?
Recent first overall pick and potential superstar Rasmus Dahlin and 2017 1st round pick Erik Brannstrom.
That’s quite a telling statement and is reflective of the poise, maturity, and skill with which Hogberg plays.
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) July 30, 2017
He was selected to represent Sweden in the World Junior Championships but was mainly relegated to a 7th defenseman role.
I was very impressed with him at the recent Flyers development camp tournament – similarly to Vorobyev, he simply looked like he was more in control and more confident than many of his peers.
And in last year’s development camp tournament he scored the OT game winner in the championship.
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 11, 2017
Hogberg has signed on with Vaxjo for another season, and I imagine after that he will come overseas and play for the Phantoms for the 2019-20 season.
I think he has all the tools to be a successful NHL defenseman and could see it coming together for him to start the 2020-21 season.
#17 – Adam Ginning
18yo – Defense – 6’4″ – 205 – 2nd 2018 Draft – Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA 2020-21 – NHL Upside – 2nd Pair Defenseman
After taking forwards with both of their picks in the 1st round of the 2018 NHL Draft, many expected the Flyers to take a defenseman with their 2nd round pick.
And they did.
However, the type of defenseman they took was a surprise to most, as Adam Ginning is by most accounts a pretty low upside type of pick – ie. not a typical Hextall selection.
One of the draft guides that had him higher than most was Grant McCagg’s Recrutes, which ranked the physically imposing Ginning 39th.
“Ginning is one of the more effective shutdown defencemen in the draft, and may be picked higher than his upside would suggest if there is a team looking for a bottom-pair/penalty-killing stalwart on its back end.”
-Recrutes Draft Guide
That description sounds a lot like Sam Morin – so it’s entirely possible that the Flyers feel the need for that type of defenseman in their system and are growing increasingly concerned about Morin’s injuries piling up.
With Provorov, Ghost, Sanheim, and Myers, the team’s top 4 dmen could be set for years, and a physical force like Ginning could fit in well behind that group to make life hard for opponents.
The Swedish hockey federation loves him, as he was chosen as the captain for their under-18 tournament teams and also led the way in ice time. Ginning also played in 28 SHL games for Linkoping, the 2nd most (behind Dahlin) of any under-18 defensemen.
His first (and only) goal of the SHL season was a beauty.
Adam Ginning svarade för karriärens första SHL-mål säsongen 2017/2018! I seriens näst sista match mot Brynäs kryssade sig backen fram mellan Brynäsförsvaret och skrev in sig i målprotokollet när @LHChockey vann med 5-1. Här kan du se målet om och om igen! #shl #tillbakablick pic.twitter.com/CWD4xBHHJE
— SHL.se (@SHLse) May 24, 2018
Based on the amount of experience he already has internationally, I’d expect Ginning to play a major role for Sweden at the next World Junior Championships.
He will likely spend another year or two in the SHL before coming overseas and potentially joining the Phantoms or Flyers as a shutdown defenseman.
#18 – Matthew Strome
19yo – Right Wing – 6’0″ – 200 – 4th Round 2017 Draft – Previous Ranking – 14
Flyers ETA 2020-21 – NHL Upside: 3rd Line Winger
Based on the prevailing narrative that you see on social media about Matthew Strome, you’d think that he literally can’t stand upright on skates.
From the instant the Flyers drafted him in the 4th round in 2017, all we heard was that he vastly needs to improve his skating.
Make no bones, I would certainly agree with that assessment.
However, we’re talking about a player who finished 13th in the OHL with 37 goals, and was one of only seven under-19’s to hit that mark.
— Flyers Prospects (@futureofphilly) November 13, 2017
Philadelphia Flyers prospect Matthew Strome scored an insane lacrosse style goal 👀🔥 pic.twitter.com/kemQwPfy23
— Bar South N Celly™ (@BarSouthNCelly) November 28, 2017
As you can see, Strome is an excellent stickhandler with a deft scoring touch in and around the net.
In a lot of ways he reminds me of a bigger version of the Penguins Patric Hornqvist – they’re both mediocre skaters who are able to use their size to get to the scoring areas and then use their skill to score goals in bunches.
Strome, whose brothers Dylan and Ryan were both taken in the 1st round of their respective drafts, can also dish out the big hit from time to time.
— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) October 9, 2016
To address the elephant in the room, I absolutely do agree that he needs to improve his skating to have a chance at becoming an impact NHL player. He’s working with a figure-skating coach to do just that and hopefully sees the fruits of those labors.
Additionally, he hasn’t stood out to me at either of the last two Flyers development camp tournaments, which is a bit troubling because given the smaller “half-court” set up they use you’d think he might excel.
Strome will head back to Hamilton for his final season of OHL hockey and I’d expect him to build on his goal totals – 40-45 certainly seems within reach with his skill set.
He does have a higher ceiling than some of the prospects ranked around him on this list, but, due to his skating issues, he also has a lower floor.
#19 – Maxim Sushko
19yo – Right Wing – 6’0″ – 180 – 4th Round 2017 Draft – Previous Ranking – 13
Flyers ETA 2020-21 – NHL Upside: 3rd Line Winger
Taken one pick behind Strome in the 2017 draft, Maxim Sushko also slots in one spot behind him in my list of Flyers prospects.
Cut in the same mold as a Laczynski or Michael Raffl , Sushko had a tremendous season.
He averaged a point-per-game for Owen Sound in the OHL (60 points in 60 games), making early noise with a four-goal game.
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) October 15, 2017
Sushko then had a phenomenal World Junior Championships as the captain for Belarus, putting up eight points in six games.
Phenomenal play by #Flyers prospect Maksim Sushko to force a turnover behind net and set up a teammate in front for the goal
2-0 Belarus looking to upset the Czechs pic.twitter.com/6lPdC0HuSk
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) December 30, 2017
Sushko is a very solid all-around player who is above average in most facets of the game. It really was fun watching him do everything for Belarus in the WJC.
If he keeps progressing it’s easy to see him becoming a bottom six NHL forward trusted by his coach in all situations.
He’ll head back to Owen Sound for his final season of junior hockey before likely joining the Phantoms for the 2019-20 season.
#20 – Wyatt Kalynuk
21yo – Defense – 6’1″ – 185 – 7th Round 2017 Draft – Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA 2020-21 – NHL Upside: 2nd Pair Defenseman
Drafted as a 20-year-old over age player in the final round of the 2017 draft, Wyatt Kalynuk flew under a lot of people’s radars this season.
Playing for the Wisconsin Badgers, the freshman defenseman put up 25 points in 37 games – a really impressive output.
And he has a habit of scoring incredible end-to-end goals.
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) January 21, 2018
— USHL (@USHL) March 12, 2017
At this year’s Flyers development camp tournament, I was really impressed with Kalynuk. He flashed a lot of high-end skill – the type of skill that makes him a real dark horse to become an impact defenseman at the NHL level.
He was also one of the only players to beat Hart in the shootout.
— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 3, 2018
Kalynuk strikes me as the type of player whose confidence is really on the rise, and I think he could be one of the leading point-producing defensemen this coming season in college hockey.
Honorable Mentions – Carsen Twarynski and Mark Friedman
I know, I know, it seems a little insane that I went 20 players deep on this prospect list and feel the need for a few honorable mentions.
But I do!
Twarynski was a 3rd round pick in 2016 who has steadily improved his game and put up an impressive 45 goals last season in the WHL. He will be turning pro this coming season and has all the traits needed to be a very good bottom six NHL winger – he’s big, strong, good defensively, and as an added bonus has a very good shot. He very well might be the most effective rookie this coming season on the Phantoms over Rubtsov.
Friedman was a 3rd round pick in 2014 and played three seasons at Bowling Green State University before joining the Phantoms last season. He’s a somewhat undersized defenseman at 5’11” but is feisty and plays with a lot of grit. He’s also skilled with excellent skating ability and a very good shot. It was a bit of a rough transition for him to the professional game as he scored only two goals and 16 points in 65 AHL games, but I’d expect him to take a big step forward. He could eventually become a good bottom pair NHL defenseman.
That’s a Wrap!
If you made it all this way, thanks for sticking with me! I hope you enjoyed the list. It’s quite a bit of fun for me to put this together and has increasingly served as a reminder of just how incredible the Flyers farm system has become.
The organization has so many potential NHL’ers stockpiled that their depth at every position is going to be strong for many years to come.
In this salary cap era it is incredibly important to have contributors on entry-level contracts – meaning that while guys like Giroux, Voracek, Provorov, Couturier, JvR, Ghost, Konecny are making big money it’s crucial to have important contributors like Patrick, Hart, Frost, Myers, etc… who can be top performers while making under $1 million/year.
It’s a delicate balancing act, but the fact that Hextall has kept a talented older core while amassing the deepest and most talented prospect pool in the NHL will give this franchise a very good chance to win a Stanley Cup within the next five years.
Buckle up and enjoy the ride!