Strong Top Four Followed by Tons of Depth

By Dan Silver (@dsilver88) with guest analysis from Ted Brown (@ThatGuy11920)

Tumultuous Season

It goes without saying that this has not been the best of seasons for the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans. Halfway through the NHL campaign, the team sits with one of the worst records in the league and it appears a virtual certainty that they will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in the past seven seasons. The Flyers haven’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2012, when they defeated the Penguins in a wildly entertaining series and then got stomped by the Devils in the second round.

As chaotic as it has been on the ice, it’s been pure anarchy off the ice. On November 26, general manager Ron Hextall was fired. Less than a month later, on December 17, head coach Dave Hakstol was fired and Phantoms coach Scott Gordon was named the new interim Flyers head coach. And with the team wallowing at the bottom of the standings, it seems only a matter of time before new general manager Chuck Fletcher starts making trades with an eye on the future.

Prospect Pool Remains Very Strong

One of the lasting marks that Hextall’s regime will leave on the Flyers organization is arguably the deepest prospect pool in the league. During his five-year reign as GM, he stockpiled draft picks, only making one trade that involved moving draft picks for players in return. That came when the team had no healthy goalies and he was basically forced to trade for one – Petr Mrazek. Meanwhile, he acquired more than 15 additional draft picks in return for players.

Hextall oversaw five drafts – 2014 through 2018 – and the fruits of those drafts include a handful of talented young players currently on the Flyers roster, comprising Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Carter Hart, and Nolan Patrick.

Moreover, as you will see in this article, Hextall’s tenure left the organization with a wealth of promising prospects. He acquired all but one of the top prospects comprising my updated top 20 list. In fact, there are so many NHL-caliber players in the Flyers system that they will invariably have to trade a number of them because there simply won’t be enough room on the roster.

It’s a great problem to have.

Special Analysis from Ted Brown

I thought it would be beneficial to have another viewpoint on these prospects aside from my own, so I’m very happy to say that my friend Ted Brown has agreed to add his thoughts to mine. Ted is a terrific hockey mind who contributes to a number of hockey sites, including PhillyIsFlyer. He comes at things from an analytics-based perspective and spends much of his free time watching Flyers prospects – and prospects in general.

As you will see, at the bottom of each of my prospect write-ups there is a section with “Ted’s Take,” and if you enjoy what he has to say, please make sure to follow him on Twitter @ThatGuy11920 where he has links to many of his articles.

Preface to the Prospects List

As a point of reference, here is a link to the list that I put out in July, after the draft and before the season started. I typically like to do these lists twice a year, once after the draft but before the season starts, and once midway through the season and after the World Junior Championships.

As a reminder, I use the NHL rookie eligibility rules:

To be considered a rookie, a player must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. Any player at least 26 years of age (by September 15th of that season) is not considered a rookie.

http://www.nhl.com/ice/page.htm?id=26377

Also, my list generally favors players with a high ceiling/low floor to those with a medium ceiling/medium floor. As players get older, many lose some luster in terms of their ceiling, and they may drop in my rankings accordingly. I’m really looking for guys that could become special players when I order these rankings.

Without further adieu, let’s get to my updated Philadelphia Flyers top 20 prospect list.

Tier 1 – Elite Prospects

#1 Carter Hart

Photo: Heather Barry ©

20yo – Goalie – 6’2″ – 180 – acquired 2016 Draft (2nd Round)
Previous Ranking – 1
Flyers ETA – Now
NHL Upside – Vezina Trophy Winner

If you are a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers – Carter Hart needs little to no introduction. He is, quite simply, the player that many are looking to as the savior of the organization.

It’s understandable because it’s the perfect storm of circumstances.

You’ve got an organization that hasn’t had a franchise goaltender since Bernie Parent helped the team win back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 1974 and 1975, and whose fans constantly lament how terrible the goaltending has been.

And you’ve got a prospect with arguably the best goaltending resume to ever come out of the fabled Canadian Junior leagues – becoming the first player to ever win two Goaltender-of-the-Year Awards, setting a single season save percentage record (0.947), and leading his country to gold at the World Junior Championships.

That’s a lot of pressure for a 20-year-old kid.

So far, so good for the budding superstar. With injuries felling both Flyers goalies heading into the season – Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth – and the team unable to find a suitable replacement, on December 17 they did what many fans thought unimaginable this soon – they called up Hart.

I say unimaginable because it’s extremely rare for 20-year-old goalies to get their chance in the NHL. As it’s viewed a crucially important position that comes with a ton of mental pressure, teams generally bring goalies along very slowly. After finishing up junior hockey and turning pro, most goalies spend at least a few seasons learning their trade in the American Hockey League (AHL) or an overseas equivalent where they can break in against lesser talented pros than what they’ll see in the NHL.

Over the past 20 years, the Montreal Canadiens Carey Price is pretty much the only goalie who went straight from the Canadian Juniors to the NHL – and he had several bumps along the way. Now aged 31, Price has had an incredible career including winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender, along with six All-Star appearances.

Back to Hart, though.

Before getting the call in December, he hadn’t even been particularly impressive in the AHL, with a 3.05 goals-against average and a 0.901 save percentage in 17 games. However, he had gotten off to a rough start and was playing very well just prior to the call up.

Since joining the Flyers roster, he has looked every part of someone who could eventually develop into one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. His biggest strengths are his ability to track the puck, his superior positioning, and his unflappable nature, which is so important considering the inevitable ups-and-downs of the position.

He won his first few starts, currently boasts a 0.916 save percentage, and has made saves like this:

And when I talk about his ability to track the puck and his superior positioning, here’s a perfect example:

One of the nice side effects of the Hart call-up is that, in addition to how good he has looked, he’s energized the fan base. Just listen to the roars after this (fairly routine) save during a crucial 3-on-5 penalty kill against the Predators:

There can be no doubt that goalie prospects tend to be fickle creatures – some starting off promising but completely falling off due to injuries or mental issues, some not realizing their potential until into their 30’s, some just never panning out.

However, it is extremely impressive what Hart is doing as an historically-young goaltender in the NHL and it bodes very well for his future. The Flyers may have finally struck paydirt in their never-ending quest to find a franchise goalie.

Ted’s Take: “Hart already has a finely-tuned technical game. Acrobatic and athletic saves aren’t a big part of his repertoire because his sound positioning makes them a rare necessity. Hart’s rebound control is improving and he’s getting more comfortable at the NHL level. He’s giving fans glimpses of what he can be in the future: the ever-elusive franchise netminder.”

#2 Philippe Myers

Photo: Heather Barry ©

21yo – Defenseman – 6’5″ – 210 – acquired as undrafted free agent
Previous Ranking – 3
Flyers ETA – 2018-19
NHL Upside – Top Pair

If I had my druthers, Phil Myers would have already been called up to the Flyers. I would argue that as of today he would be no worse than the 4th best defenseman on the team.

The towering, right-handed Myers has had a meteoric rise since being passed over by every team in the 2015 draft and shortly thereafter signing with the Flyers.

Playing with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) at the time, he went from scoring eight points with a minus-14 rating during the 2014-15 season to putting up 45 points and a staggering plus-52 rating the following campaign. To put the icing on his juniors career, in 2017 he represented Canada at the World Juniors – an incredible achievement for an undrafted player.

Myers has all the talent in the world – he’s big, strong, fast, boasts a tremendous hockey IQ, is a terrific passer, is very instinctual in the defensive zone, and possesses a very hard and accurate slap shot.

Honestly there’s very little not to like about him – the sky is the limit. Here’s a great example of how dynamic he can be:

And here’s that big slap shot I referenced:



Myers is in the midst of a very good season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the AHL affiliate of the Flyers. He has seven goals and 17 assists, with those 24 points ranking second among all AHL defensemen under the age of 22.

He’s also managed to stay healthy, which has been an issue for him in seasons past – that’s a very good sign as many players seem to mature out of nagging injuries as they get older.

As far as I am concerned, Myers has very little to prove in the AHL and should join the Flyers blue line as soon as possible. One day I foresee a top pairing of him and Ivan Provorov with both being considered elite NHL defensemen.

Ted’s Take: “The past month has seen the most consistent play out of the towering defenseman in the AHL. He’s choosing more wisely when to rush the puck up ice and his reads in the defensive zone are getting better and better. He’s knocking on the door for a call-up.”

#3 Morgan Frost

19yo – Center – 6’0″ – 185 – acquired 2017 Draft (1st Round)
Previous Ranking – 2
Flyers ETA – 2019-20
NHL Upside – Top Line

Morgan Frost oozes offensive creativity out of every pore. He is one of the best passers in the Canadian Juniors and has dominated the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) each of the past two seasons.

With only 62 points in 67 games during the 2016-17 season for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, he was a bit of a surprise selection when Hextall announced his name during the first round of 2017 NHL draft.

Then he went out and put up 112 points in 67 games the following season, finishing second in OHL MVP voting.

You can be sure that no one is questioning the pick any longer.

Many thought that he would be a candidate to make the Flyers roster out of this past preseason, but aside from the rookies game against the Islanders, where he excelled on the power play, Frost didn’t do much to stand out.

He was sent back to the OHL and, despite his team losing a lot of firepower from last season, he’s increased his scoring rate to a sublime 1.86 points-per-game (65 in 35), best in the league.

In addition, he had the honor of representing Canada at the recently concluded World Junior Championships, where he led the tournament by averaging 1.60 points-per-game, finishing with four goals and four assists in five games.

He scored a hat trick in Canada’s first game against Denmark, including these two beauties:

Frost is a supremely gifted offensive player. He has arguably the best vision and creativity of any prospect I have seen in a long time. He consistently makes passes that leave you in awe, marveling at his ability to see plays develop that no one else sees.

He has also come a long way as a goal scorer. He already was a terrific stickhandler but he’s developed a wicked one-timer from the right side which should eventually become a huge weapon for the Flyers – think Claude Giroux but from the opposite side.

In fact, the similarities between Frost and Giroux are a bit eerie. They have the same physical build, both were drafted by the Flyers in the 20’s, both weren’t picked by Canada for the World Juniors until they were 19-years-old, and their point-per-game scoring rates during their final juniors seasons are very similar – 1.93 for Giroux and 1.86 for Frost.

We can all agree that if Frost becomes even three-quarters the NHL player (and leader) that Giroux is, it will be a great thing for the Flyers organization.

Last year I put together an article dedicated to Frost and his offensive exploits – featuring a ton of videos. I highly recommend that you check it out if you want to see more highlights of what makes him so special.

If there’s a knock on Frost, it’s that while he’s a very good skater, he tends to slow down when the puck is on his stick. That’s not an issue at the OHL level but when he turns professional it will be. He’s going to have to get better at making plays while going full speed, and I think there will be an adjustment period for him.

That being said, I’d say it’s 50/50 if he starts the 2019-20 season with the Flyers or the Phantoms, but even if it does end up being the Phantoms, he should assuredly be up by the middle of the NHL season.

While he has played center to this point in his OHL career, there’s a chance the Flyers move him to wing. He plays a very good two-way game and is responsible defensively, but playing the wing might allow him to take greater advantage of his immense offensive tool box.

Ultimately, he projects as a first or second line NHL forward who will be a huge weapon on the power play and should put up gaudy point totals.

Ted’s Take: “Frost has the highest upside of any Flyers forward prospect. His hockey IQ stands out on nearly every shift. Frost’s vision allows him to find seams in coverage that aren’t readily apparent to many forwards his age. Playing with more pace (which he is showing more this season) and getting stronger are areas for improvement. “

#4 Joel Farabee

18yo – Winger – 6’1″ – 175 – acquired 2018 Draft (1st Round)
Previous Ranking – 4
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – Top Line

Every time I watch Joel Farabee play I come away more and more impressed. Selected with the 14th overall pick in the most recent 2018 NHL draft, he has all of the tools to become one of the top all-around players in the league.

One of the first things that grabs you when you watch Farabee play is how relentless and tenacious he is on every shift. That was on full display for his first goal in the NCAA for Boston University, a shorthanded one to boot:

Not a bad move to finish it off, either.

Two more of Farabee’s assets are on full display in this clip from the recent World Junior Championships – his speed and his playmaking ability:

He blows past the Swedish defender and then makes a sensational behind-the-back pass to set up a great scoring chance.

One of the more underrated parts of Farabee’s game is his wrist shot. Probably because he’s such a good playmaker, that fact that he can snipe with the best of them tends to get overlooked.

Take a look at this wicked wrister:

Morgan Frost wasn’t the only Flyers prospect to score a hat trick in the World Juniors, as Farabee accomplished the same versus Kazakhstan.

Insofar as I can tell, there are zero weaknesses with Farabee’s game. The USA system has relied upon him to be one of their best players over the past few years, and he’s excelling at Boston University – currently third among all freshmen with 16 points in 19 games.

I honestly struggled with who to rank higher – Farabee or Frost. All things considered, Farabee’s all-around game is more advanced for his age than Frost’s was last season. However, Frost has a twinge more offensive upside. In the end it was very close but I gave Frost the nod.

Don’t kid yourself, though, Farabee may wind up as the more valuable NHL player.

The Flyers are very lucky to have both in their organization. Expect Farabee to play one more season in the NCAA before turning pro for the 2020-21 season.

Ted’s Take: “The other forward prospect who has 1st line NHL upside. The little things are where he excels. A relentless forward who never takes a shift off. His shoot-first mentality is something that the pipeline needed more of.”

Tier 2 – The Potentially Elite Prospects

#5 Egor Zamula

18yo – Defenseman – 6’3″ – 165 – acquired as undrafted free agent
Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA – 2021-22
NHL Upside – Top Pair

I’m guessing that this is the point in these rankings where some of you may go, “Wait what? Who is Egor Zamula?”

Well, allow me to introduce you if that is the case.

Similar to Myers, Zamula was not drafted during his first year eligible, which would have been 2018. This was somewhat understandable as the Russian blueliner only put up 2 goals and 16 assists in 69 Western Hockey League (WHL) games.

The Flyers clearly had him listed somewhere on their draft board because they invited him to their July development camp, where he impressed them enough to earn an entry-level contract.

And similar to Myers, Zamula has absolute terrorized the Canadian Juniors in the season following the draft.

In 42 games for the Calgary Hitmen (same team Travis Sanheim played for), Zamula has put up nine goals and 30 assists. Those 39 total points places him third in the WHL among defensemen under the age of 19. The only two with higher totals are Ty Smith and Calen Addison, who were taken in the first and second rounds of the 2018 draft, respectively.

His point totals are all the more impressive considering he got off to a slow start with zero points in his first eight games.

Zamula is tall and lanky with a frame that he will assuredly be able to pack a lot of muscle onto.

He’s also a very skilled hockey player, as illustrated on this sweet goal:

Pretty slick celebration after the goal as well!

In today’s NHL, one of the most important components of being an effective defenseman is the ability to use skill to create controlled breakouts from the defensive zone. The Flyers currently have a few guys who can do this very well (ie. Provorov, Sanheim, Ghost, eventually Myers) but also have a few who struggle with it (Hagg, MacDonald, Gudas, Folin).

In the below clip you can see Zamula clearly has the necessary skills to accomplish controlled zone exits:

His pass at the end of the sequence wasn’t actually all that great, but focus on the two moves he made to quickly put himself in a position to make a nice pass and you can see the potential that he brings to the table.

After my top four prospects, I really struggled with who to put in the #5 slot – it seems like most of the guys with the highest ceiling have either been battling injuries or simply haven’t performed to their potential this season.

I went with Zamula because based on what he has done in the WHL as an 18-year-old, he clearly has the potential to become a top pairing defenseman in the NHL. It’s going to take time and he probably won’t be NHL-ready until 2021, but make no mistake, Zamula is immensely talented and his prospect status will only continue to rise.

Ted’s Take: “Zamula’s style of play is tailor-made for the modern NHL: an asset in transition, disruptive in the Neutral and Defensive Zones, and is even showing legitimate offensive upside this season. Packing on muscle without hurting his skating ability is needed. “

#6 Isaac Ratcliffe

19yo – Winger – 6’5″ – 200 – acquired 2017 Draft (2nd Round)
Previous Ranking – 6
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 2nd Line

Isaac Ratcliffe has had a pretty good season already, and as I’ll get to, he’s set up for a monster second half which could leave him as one of the top goal scorers in the OHL.

The towering winger’s numbers have improved – he’s averaging 0.77 goals-per-game and 1.20 points-per-game this season for the Guelph Storm compared to 0.61 and 1.01 last season.

His 30 goals ranks top ten overall in the OHL and he’s hovering around the top 25 in terms of points-per-game among players under the age of 20.

It’s also very possible that Ratcliffe will go on an absolute tear over the second half the season. Guelph just traded for Nick Suzuki, one of the top players in the OHL, and in his third game with his new team, he assisted on all three of Ratcliffe’s goals, including this beauty.

When you talk about Ratcliffe and his NHL potential, it’s really all about the immense level of skill that he brings to the table combined with his huge stature and wingspan on the ice.

Here are a few examples of those skills on display:

It’s very rare to see the combination of size and skill that Ratcliffe possesses, which makes him such an intriguing prospect.

He reminds me a bit of Eric Daze, the 6’5″ winger who became a perennial 20-to-30 goal scorer for the Chicago Blackhawks from 1995 to 2003. However, Daze was nearly a goal-per-game player in the Canadian Juniors and Ratcliffe isn’t close to that production.

A mild concern with Ratcliffe is that he really struggled in the most recent World Junior Championship Summer Showcase and never really made a push to make the team. It would have been great to see him playing with Frost in that tournament, but alas.

Ratcliffe clearly has the potential to develop into a very dangerous goal scorer in the NHL – I see his upside as a second line winger scoring 20-30 goals a season.

He brings a lot of leadership to the table as well, selected to serve as Guelph’s captain this season.

Ratcliffe will be turning pro next season, and expect him to start out with Phantoms as he adapts to the pro game. If he excels, he could be a Flyers call up during the 2019-20 season, but a more realistic timeframe would be seeing him in Orange and Black for the start of the 2020-21 season.

Ted’s Take: “Ratcliffe skates well for a big man. He’s a plus puck carrier who is great in transition. Like Farabee, Ratcliffe loves to shoot the puck. Puck protection and first step quickness will be key for his continued development.”

Tier 3 – The Very Good Prospects

#7 Misha Vorobyev

Photo: Heather Barry ©

22yo – Center – 6’2″ – 210 – acquired 2015 Draft (4th Round)
Previous Ranking – 8
Flyers ETA – 2018-19
NHL Upside – 2nd Line

In a season full of blunders from the Philadelphia Flyers, I would rank their handling of Misha Vorobyev right up there.

The strong, steady Russian center was one of the team’s best players in training camp, drew rave reviews from Hextall and Hakstol, and somewhat surprisingly was named the opening night third line center.

All along, Hextall had maintained that young players had to earn their way onto the team, but then when they make it, it should be considered for the season and not just for a trial period.

He scored his first NHL game in the Flyers second game of the season, albeit a fluky one:

However, after Vorobyev struggled early in the season, Hakstol benched him, and Hextall said, “He hit a little bit of a wall, and he needs to get through it.

The problem with that, of course, is that the head coach didn’t give him a chance to “get through it.”

Instead, he was kept out of the lineup to the point where Hextall had no choice but to send him down to the AHL, where he has remained to this point.

Make no mistake, Vorobyev is the prototypical NHL center. He is big, strong, very responsible in all zones, has terrific hockey sense, and is a very good passer. Additionally, he’s become a more effective goal scorer over the past few years – something that wasn’t previously in his game.

Last season was his first with the Phantoms, and he put up 29 points in 58 games. This season he has slightly increased his points-per-game output to 0.56.

His value as an NHL player is in his rock solid his game is – here’s a good example:

Vorobyev is the type of player who will flourish when surrounded by capable goal-scoring wingers, as illustrated when he led the 2017 World Juniors with 10 assists in seven games.

He is more than capable of becoming a very good third line NHL center, with the potential to develop into a second line type. And if the Flyers have Couturier, Patrick, and Frost down the middle, he would be a well above-average fourth line center.

I remain very high on Vorobyev despite what happened at the beginning of the season, and would like to see him get another chance with the big club sooner rather than later.

Ted’s Take: “A cerebral center who thinks the game at a very high level. The best passer on the Phantoms. Consistent production has been a bit of a struggle since being demoted to the AHL. Would like to see him shoot a bit more.”

#8 German Rubtsov


20yo – Center/Winger – 6’0″ – 185 – acquired 2016 Draft (1st Round)
Previous Ranking – 11
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 2nd Line

One of the highest risers on my list, German Rubtsov is a real enigma as far as I am concerned. The season after being selected in the first round, he came over from Russia (after struggling there) and looked like a stud in the Canadian Juniors, putting up 22 points in 16 QMJHL games.

Everyone was very excited for his potential.

The following season, with expectations that he would take a big step forward, his production substantially dropped off – going from 1.38 points-per-game to a pedestrian 0.88.

After that down season most folks were not nearly as excited about his potential.

You can count me among that group, as I couldn’t fathom how such a skilled player could regress so much from a production perspective in his 19-year-old season in the juniors playing against mainly younger players. I was not expecting much from him this season as he made his professional debut with the Phantoms.

Then the AHL season started and he made plays like this:

It wasn’t just the one goal, though.

Rubtsov scored six goals and added four assists for 10 points in his first 14 AHL games – that 0.71 points-per-game clip put him among the top 20 in the league among players under 21-years-old.

From a talent perspective, Rubtsov is highly skilled, boasts terrific stickhandling and playmaking abilities, and likes to play with a physical edge. He is also very responsible defensively, to the point where it’s possible he’s been focusing too much on that side of his game to the detriment of his offensive development.

Unfortunately, as has been the case with Rubtsov, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. In late November the team announced that he will miss the entire season due to shoulder surgery.

Various injuries have plagued Rubtsov throughout the past few seasons, and it seems like the majority of them are upper body. Let’s hope that he has a successful recovery and is ready for training camp next season, because the dozen games he played in the AHL were very promising.

Ultimately he has the potential to develop into a second or third line NHL forward – playing either center or the wing. Due to the injury he probably will really need to impress to make the Flyers next season, but cracking the lineup for the 2020-21 season seems very much a realistic goal for him.

Ted’s Take: “A player I was this close to writing off prior to the beginning of the season. However, Rubtsov’s work in the AHL made me a believer. He consistently displayed an aggressive offensive mindset that was missing too often in the QMJHL. It’s a shame his season ended abruptly due to injury. “

#9 Samuel Ersson

19yo – Goalie – 6’2″ – 180 – acquired 2018 Draft (5th Round)
Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA – 2021-22
NHL Upside – Starting Goalie

A new addition to both the Flyers prospect pool and to my list, Samuel Ersson has had an absolutely phenomenal season to this point.

Playing against men, albeit in the second tier Allvenskan in Sweden, Ersson has given up a mere 1.84 goals-per-game and leads the league with a phenomenal 0.937 save percentage in 20 games for Vasteras HK.

To put that into perspective, there are only five goalies under the age of 20 in the Allvenskan – and I repeat, he leads the entire league in save percentage.

It’s always a bit hard to judge how goaltenders playing overseas, especially those in lower tier leagues, will compare to their peers in other leagues.

Fortunately, we got to see Ersson play in the World Junior Championships, and he was spectacular.

Check out this four-save sequence against the Swiss:

What stands out to me is how big Ersson looks in the net, along with how quick and compact his movements are. I watched all of the Sweden games and he never looked like he was not in control of the situation.

Here’s another great sequence from him:

Ersson concluded the World Juniors with a sparkling 2.23 goals-against-average and a 0.922 save percentage in four games.

Goalie prospects are hard to predict, as we’ve seen from the stagnation in development from Felix Sandstrom and, to a lesser extent, Kirill Ustimenko, but it certainly appears like Ersson has the potential to become an NHL starter some day.

I’m guessing he will spend the next season or two in Sweden, potentially moving to the top tier SHL, but it will be very fun to track his development.

Ted’s Take: “Positionally sound netminder who has opened the eyes of many with his play in the Allsvenskan this season. I agree with Dan that Ersson is clearly the Flyers second best goalie prospect. Ersson’s 11.28 Goals Saved Above Average (1st among the 14 goalies with 18 GP in the Allsvenskan) is very impressive.”

#10 Jay O’Brien

19yo – Center – 6’0″ – 180 – acquired 2018 Draft (1st Round)
Previous Ranking – 5th
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 2nd Line

Some of you may be thinking to yourself, “Wait Dan, how can Jay O’Brien fall all the way from #5 in your July rankings to #10 only six months later?”

Well, I really struggled on this one, to be honest. My previous ranking of O’Brien was based off a few things – the fact that Hextall and Co. thought highly enough of him to select him 19th overall, my in-person viewing of him at the Flyers summer development camp, and what I saw during the World Junior Championships Summer Showcase.

I saw a fast, dynamic, fiercely competitive player with very good stickhandling and scoring capabilities.

Here are a few highlights from the World Junior Summer Showcase that demonstrate those traits:

I came away from those summer games almost as impressed with O’Brien as I was by Farabee.

Unfortunately, it simply hasn’t translated to much success thus far for O’Brien at either the NCAA or the tournament level.

In 12 games with Providence College, O’Brien has two goals and two assists. To be fair, he has been battling injuries, taking two separate shots to the head that resulted in him missing games early in the season.

And to his credit, while he was not a shoo-in for the US team at the World Juniors, he did make the team. But unlike Farabee, who excelled in the tournament, O’Brien struggled early on in limited ice time and was then stapled to the bench for the team’s final few games.

He did have a few real nice moments in the tournament, one of which I captured below:

Despite his struggles this season, I am still a big believer in O’Brien’s talent. I’m not sure he’s ultimately skilled enough to have a first line NHL ceiling, but I certainly think he could develop into a second line player.

However, for me to move him back up in the rankings I need to see some real improvement in the second half of his college season. It’s probably just a matter of him getting healthy and settling into a groove, but he’s got to go out and do it.

A real good sign was that in O’Brien’s first game back after the World Juniors he scored this beauty of a goal:

O’Brien can vault quickly back up this list if he keeps making plays like that in the second half of his season.

He projects to play at least one more NCAA season before potentially trying to crack the Flyers roster for the 2020-21 season.

Ted’s Take: “O’Brien is having a frustrating season. Two concussions have certainly contributed to some of his early season struggles against NCAA competition. A recent move from center to wing has seen him produce his first points of his collegiate career. A bit of a project. There is boom or bust potential here.”

#11 Wade Allison

20yo – Winger – 6’2″ – 205 – acquired 2016 Draft (2nd Round)
Previous Ranking – 10
Flyers ETA – 2019-20
NHL Upside – 2nd Line

I’ve always had a hard time deciding where I stand on Wade Allison as a prospect.

And it’s not just me, because I’ve seen him ranked by respected pundits anywhere from #6 to #21 on the Flyers prospect list.

One of the major difficulties I’ve faced in trying to rank him is that to be honest, I simply haven’t gotten a chance to see him play live all that often. He has never made an international team and Western Michigan games are rarely televised.

Additionally, he did not really stand out to me at either of the Flyers summer development camps in which he’s participated.

From a statistical standpoint, Allison was simply sensational during the 2017-18 season. With 30 points in 22 games, his 1.36 points-per-game average was actually tops among all NCAA players under the age of 21.

Unfortunately, he suffered a serious knee injury last January and underwent surgery that kept him out for almost a year. He recently returned to action and thus far has four points in eight games.

It should be noted that as of January 13 he’s missed his team’s last two games – hopefully nothing too serious and he returns to action soon.

Those that view Allison as an elite prospect point to the fact that he plays a very heavy game – he’s a big kid who is very strong on the puck and also possesses a bomb of a shot.

He also has quite a bit of skill:

It’s a shame that he missed so much time with the knee injury because if he had built on his incredible sophomore season he could have been one of the most productive players in college hockey as a junior.

In an ideal world he will stay healthy, play strong hockey the rest of the season, have a good summer of training, and challenge for a spot with the Flyers as early as next season.

If he reaches his potential, he could be a second line NHL winger who pots 20-30 goals a season and makes life very difficult for opponents.

Ted’s Take: “Allison is still getting his footing in the NCAA after returning from an ACL tear. Flyers fans will love how mean and nasty he is. Few shifts go by without him making his presence known physically. Has one of the best shots among Flyers prospects.”

#12 Linus Hogberg

20yo – Defenseman – 6’1″ – 185 – acquired 2016 Draft (5th Round)
Previous Ranking – 16
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 2nd Pair

Linus Hogberg is one of my favorite prospects in the Flyers organization – I think he has all the requisite skills to be a very good defenseman in today’s NHL.

The players in the league keep getting faster and more skilled, and one of the results, in my opinion, is that the prototypical NHL defenseman has shifted from the physical type who is great at blocking shots and dishes out many hits (think Radko Gudas and Robert Hagg) to a faster, more skilled type who can make smart plays and passes in the defensive zone to create effective zone exits that lead to counter-rushes (think Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbhere and Travis Sanheim).

Hogberg is clearly more in the latter category.

I’ve attended the last three Flyers summer development camps, and what I try to pay the most attention to are the small things. How naturally does a player accept a pass? When he has the puck, how quick is he making his next decision? How smooth are all of his movements? Do his passes have good pace on them and how often do they reach a teammate in perfect position?

Hogberg has been one of the few players I’ve watched at the camp who does everything well.

Fortunately, what my eyes see has translated into Hogberg becoming one of the best young defensemen in the SHL – Sweden’s top tier professional league.

He plays a pivotal role for the Vaxjo Lakers, who have given up the fewest goals in the league. And while five points in 32 games might not seem all that impressive, it places Hogberg fifth in the league among all defensemen under the age of 21.

Furthermore, by advanced statistics there is an argument to be made that he is one of the best defensemen in the SHL, regardless of age. His Corsi Percentage has hovered around 60 all season, which is tops among all defensemen in the league.

For those unfamiliar with that term, it merely measures how many shots a team allows when a certain player is on the ice versus how many shots a team generates when a certain player is on the ice.

So while Hogberg has been on the ice this season, Vaxjo has accounted for 60 percent of the shots while their opponent has only had 40 percent of the shots while he’s been on the ice.

It speaks to how all of the things that Hogberg does help to generate scoring chances for his team.

Enough of the stats though, let’s get some visuals of how those skills I have been raving about translate to game action.

Here’s an example of Hogberg using his speed, smarts, and puck protection to put himself into a position where he can score on a nice shot:

And here is with a beautiful move and pass that generates a great scoring chance for his team:

Oh, and he also has a pretty deadly wrister:

I hope you can see why I am so excited about Hogberg’s potential to become a very good puck moving NHL defenseman.

It seems possible that he will come to the United States next season and play for the Phantoms, and I think it’s inevitable that he will be on the Flyers no later than the start of the 2020-21 season.

Ted’s Take: “A favorite of mine who plays a brand of hockey that will translate to the NHL. Crisp outlets, the ability to control play in the Neutral Zone, and an above average defensive IQ make this prospect one to watch. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear he has signed his ELC with the Flyers in the coming months.”

#13 Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Photo: Heather Barry ©

22yo – Winger – 5’11” – 190 – acquired 2014 Draft (2nd Round)
Previous Ranking – 9
Flyers ETA – 2018-19
NHL Upside – 3rd Line

Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s development is of the slow and steady type but it is quite clear to me that he is ready for an NHL role.

A second round pick who lit up the QMJHL to the tune of 76 goals in his final two seasons, he struggled in his first year as a professional with only nine goals in 71 games.

However, last year in his second full season in the AHL, 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 league.

I thought he might make the Flyers out of training camp, but he was the final cut. Hextall called him up in late October, but he saw very little ice time under Hakstol and was sent back down after only nine games.

He’s been a very effective scorer for the Phantoms this season with 10 goals and seven assists in 29 games.

Aube-Kubel possesses all the tools to become a very effective third or fourth line NHL winger.

He has tremendous skill and finishing ability, as displayed in this clip:

He’s also very clever, as this play illustrates where he deflects the puck deftly to himself and scores while falling to the ice:

And perhaps most importantly, he plays with a lot of intensity and grit, which this play illustrates:

I would expect that Aube-Kubel will be back up with the Flyers soon, and should settle into a role on the third or fourth line where he can play with a physical edge, be responsible defensively, and contribute 10-15 goals a season.

Ted’s Take: “Hard-nosed forward with some scoring touch. Bottom-six NHL potential. Should contribute more offensively with more playing time in the NHL. It would be a shock if he isn’t called up to the big club over the next few weeks.”

#14 Noah Cates

19yo – Winger – 6’1″ – 175 – acquired 2017 Draft (5th Round)
Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 3rd Line

A new entrant to the list, Noah Cates just keeps becoming a better and better all-around hockey player.

A bit of a project having played most of his draft season in high school, Cates somewhat surprisingly became one of the most trusted players for Mike Hastings, coach of the US team in the World Junior Championships.

It didn’t matter the situation, Hastings had trust in Cates. He played big minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill, and was out there for the final minute during some of their most important games.

Heck, he was playing on a line with the likely #1 pick in the upcoming 2019 NHL draft, Jack Hughes, and was scoring goals like this:

As far as I can tell, the reason for Cates’ rise to prominence has been the way that he has improved pretty much every facet of his game. He is very responsible in the defensive zone and rarely makes bad plays.

He’s become exactly the type of player that a coach can trust, which bodes very well for a potential future role in the NHL.

It certainly helps that he has a very high level of skill, as illustrated by this incredible between the legs goal he scored during the World Juniors Summer Showcase:

Cates is currently in his freshman season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, putting up pretty solid numbers with eight points in 18 games.

I’d expect that he will play at least another season in college, and maybe two more, before turning pro and joining the Phantoms or Flyers.

He has the makings to become a solid third or fourth line winger in the NHL.

Ted’s Take: “Had a good showing at the WJC. I’ve caught a few games of his with Minnesota-Duluth and he really hasn’t stood out much. A player who does all the little things well but rarely displays much offensive flare. Needs to develop more foot speed.”

Tier 3 – The Solid Prospects

#15 Tanner Laczynski

21yo – Center/Winger – 6’0″ – 195 – acquired 2016 Draft (6th Round)
Previous Ranking – 13
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 3rd Line

Tanner Laczynski and Noah Cates are pretty similar prospects.

Both were late round selections, both are playing in the NCAA, both were selected to represent the United States in the World Junior Championships, and both are very solid all-around players who project as third or fourth line wingers in the NHL.

I separated them by a tier simply because Cates being two years younger means he has more projectability and upside to his game.

Additionally, Laczynski’s production has stalled out ever so slightly this season as a junior for Ohio State.

His 47 points in 41 games during the 2017-18 campaign placed him a very impressive third among all players under the age of 21. Based on that I suspected he would be a Hobey Baker candidate this season as one of college’s best players.

However, his scoring rate has actually gone backwards and he’s 29th among under 22-year-old players this season with 20 points in 19 games.

Make no mistake, Laczynski still profiles as an NHL player, but his lack of production this season negatively impacts his current upside.

Here’s a nice example of him finding room behind the defense and sniping one top shelf:

And here’s a beauty of a goal where he illustrates his ability to protect and cycle the puck and surprise the goalie with a quick shot:

The rules for NCAA players drafted by NHL teams is that the team holds their rights until the summer after their graduation. What that means is that the Flyers have until the summer of 2020 to sign Laczynski.

I only bring this up because it starts to get dicey if a drafted player hasn’t signed an entry level contract by the start of his senior season. If the Flyers intend to sign Lacynzki, they really should get on that this summer, or they’ll risk losing him for nothing during the 2020 summer. The same applies to Allison, by the way.

It will be interesting to follow because the team has a ton of very good to solid forward prospects, and there will not be roster spots for all of them. At some point Fletcher will have to move some out instead of losing them for nothing.

I would like to see the Flyers sign Lacynski this summer and have him start the 2019-20 season with the Phantoms, but it will all depend on their true beliefs about him as a player and also what he wants to do.

Either way, Laczynski is a solid prospect who could become a third or fourth line NHL winger in the next few years.

Ted’s Take: “Expected more offensive production from him this season. 10 of his 18 points have come on the man advantage (i.e. 55% of his points production). That is up from the 36% he posted last season. A player who attacks in straight lines and has legit NHL upside. Hopefully more even-strength production is in store during the second half of 2018-2019.”

#16 Wyatt Kalynuk

21yo – Defenseman – 6’1″ – 175 – acquired 2017 Draft (7th Round)
Previous Ranking – 20
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 2nd Pair

Wyatt Kalynuk has done nothing but produce offensively since Hextall took a chance on him with a seventh round pick in 2017.

This season for the Wisconsin Badgers he has seven goals and nine assists in 20 games – those 16 points ranks him 10th among all NCAA defensemen under the age of 22.

And it seems like every highlight of him is an end-to-end rush.

Kalynuk also boasts a pretty darn good slapper from the blue line:

Like Allison, Kalynuk has never played on the international stage, so I have not seen him play live as much as some of the other guys on this list.

However, I’ve been impressed at the development camps with his speed – he’s the type of player who is explosive in every facet of the game.

Plus he was one of the only players to score on Carter Hart in a shootout during the tournament portion of the camp:

I am going to be very interested to see how the next few years play out for Kalynuk. He was drafted as an overager and is going to be a 22-year-old junior at Wisconsin next season, assuming he doesn’t turn pro.

From what I gather, his skill is very raw and he probably will need to polish a number of facets of his game in order to become an NHL player. However, his stats stack up very well with collegiate players of the same age, and he’s shown so much offensive potential that his upside is absolutely that of a second pair offensive defenseman.

No matter where he plays, he is going to be very exciting to watch.

Ted’s Take: “One of the best skaters in the Flyers pipeline. A puck-moving defenseman who showcases a strong offensive upside. I was looking for him to score more at even-strength this season and he’s doing just that. Color me surprised if he isn’t signed by the Flyers at the conclusion of his season with Wisconsin.”

#17 Sam Morin

23yo – Defenseman – 6’6″ – 230 – acquired 2013 Draft (1st Round)
Previous Ranking – 15
Flyers ETA – 2018-19
NHL Upside – 3rd Pair

Sam Morin is far and away the most polarizing of all the prospects on the Flyers.

He was selected 11th overall in 2013, the last draft year that Paul Holmgren was still GM of the team, and it was basically an attempt to replace the toughness that they tried to bring in with the signing of Chris Pronger. Pronger had retired in 2012 due to concussion issues.

To this point, it has not worked out for the Flyers and Morin.

Going into the 2017-18 season, there was a battle between Morin, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg for the final two defensemen spots on the team. And as you know, Morin was left the odd man out, despite having, in my opinion, a better camp than Hagg.

Here’s an example of a nice goal that Morin scored that preseason, in a game in which he also dished out big hits and got into a fight:

After being sent to the Phantoms, he battled injuries, only playing in 15 games before sustaining a serious knee injury that required surgery.

Morin is close to returning to game action, but there are serious question marks about where he would fit into the Flyers plans.

Although he is actually deceptively fast for his size, and has some offensive ability, he’s the opposite of what I was describing when I referred to Hogberg as perfect for today’s NHL.

The most valuable traits that Morin brings to the table are his toughness and his physicality – he’s the type of player who makes it difficult for opponents to find time and space when they are in the Flyers defensive zone.

I mean, take a look at this fight and you can see why no one would want to mess with him:

The question, however, is whether or not that style of play can be successful in the NHL any longer.

Like I previously mentioned, Morin does have some skill – he was close to a point-per-game player in the juniors and put up 19 points in 76 games during his first AHL season.

But compared to guys like Provorov, Gostisbehere, Sanheim, and Myers, he is nowhere close to their talent level. And I would argue that prospects such as Hogberg, Zamula, and even Kalynuk are better suited to today’s NHL.

The rest of this season will be telling. Because Morin is 23-years-old, he cannot be sent to the Phantoms without clearing waivers, and there is no doubt that he would be claimed with his first round pedigree.

Presumably he will either remain on the IR for the rest of the season, serve as the Flyers seventh defenseman, or potentially get traded.

The potential still exists for him to be a valuable part of this team as a third pairing defenseman who can add some toughness and play big minutes on the penalty kill.

It will actually be one of the more fascinating situations to watch unfold over the second half of the season.

Ted’s Take: “I’m not really sure what to make of Sam Morin’s NHL potential. A project pick who really hasn’t shown much growth since being drafted. Straight line speed is good but his lateral mobility is limited. As a result, he can be beaten wide rather easily. Great in the Neutral Zone but a bit of an adventure in his own zone. Third pairing NHL upside.”

#18 Mark Friedman

23yo – Defenseman – 5’11” – 185 – acquired in 2014 Draft (3rd Round)
Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA – 2019-20
NHL Upside – 3rd Pair

Mark Friedman’s development has followed a similar path as Nicolas Aube-Kubel, which makes sense considering they were selected one round apart in the 2014 NHL draft.

Both players have had the slow-and-steady type of growth curve, taking time at each level to adapt and reach a comfort level.

Friedman spent three seasons at Bowling Green in the NCAA, increasing his production each year – from 19 points to 23 to 26.

He struggled in his first year with the Phantoms, putting up 16 points in 65 games, but this season he’s nearly doubled his pace, with 14 points in 37 games.

Friedman has really activated much more often in the offensive zone this season, which is a definitive sign of increased comfort and confidence.

Take these two very well executed give-and-go’s as examples:

He’s a very good skater and when he’s playing with confidence you can see how assertive he is – quickly jumping into the play, making a nice pass, and driving the net for the return pass.

One of Friedman’s calling cards is his physicality, as he’s built like a wrecking ball and plays like one at times:

One of the stats that many have pointed to this season as a sign of his terrific play are the number of penalties that he has drawn. He’s up to 25 penalties drawn on the season and has taken very few penalties of his own. That’s a good sign that he is staying ahead of the play and not chasing it.

While he doesn’t have the raw skill to boast first or second pairing potential, Friedman absolutely could make a solid third pairing NHL defenseman one day.

There’s a chance that he gets called up by the Flyers this season but it’s more likely he will get his first legitimate look to make the team in training camp next season.

Ted’s Take: “Best pure skater on the Phantoms. He’s been the most consistent defensively of the Flyers prospects on the Phantoms (Myers included). Has shown tremendous growth over the last year in the AHL. Wins a lot of puck battles. He should see some time with the Flyers this season.”

#19 Olle Lycksell

19yo – Winger – 5’11” – 175 – acquired in 2017 Draft (6th Round)
Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA – 2021-22
NHL Upside – 3rd Line

The Flyers have been very good in recent years at finding mid-to-late round steals from the Swedish system. Oskar Lindblom, Hogberg, Ersson, and Olle Lycksell all fit that bill.

Last season, Lycksell finished sixth in points-per-game among all SHL players under the age of 19 with seven points in 26 games for a 0.27 scoring rate.

He’s been very solid this season as well, ninth among all under 20-year-old players with nine points in 32 games.

The hallmarks of Lycksell’s game are speed, smarts and scoring touch around the net.

You can see the speed on display here along with a terrific pass to set up a teammate for an easy goal:

Here’s an example of the dangerous shot that he possesses:

It was a bit of a surprise that Lycksell wasn’t named to the Swedish team for the World Junior Championships, especially considering how good he looked in the Summer Showcase.

He will likely spend one more season in the SHL before coming over to play for the Phantoms, and he absolutely has the skill set to one day make the Flyers.

Ted’s Take: “Very smart hockey player. Flashes offensive potential (sporadically) in the SHL. Could be a utility player at the NHL level. Most likely a 4th liner who won’t move the needle all that much.”

#20 Jack St. Ivany

19yo – Defenseman – 6’3″ – 200 – acquired in 2018 Draft (4th Round)
Previous Ranking – Not Ranked
Flyers ETA – 2021-22
NHL Upside – 3rd Pair

Jack St. Ivany has been a real pleasant surprise this season after the Flyers used a fourth round pick on him in the most recent NHL draft.

In a small sample size, he has been one of the most productive defensemen in all of college hockey, and his 0.62 points-per-game average for Yale ranks eighth among all blueliners under the age of 20.

Perhaps even more impressive, despite being a complete dark horse candidate, he was named to the USA World Junior Championship squad.

He didn’t get utilized a ton, but it was undoubtedly great experience for St. Ivany.

From a player profile perspective, he is very solidly built and plays very steady in all facets of the game.

He also has one of the best slap shots of all the Flyers defense prospects, as illustrated here:

He’s also got a pretty good darn wrister:

All things considered, St. Ivany’s physical profile and overall hockey smarts give him a real chance to ultimately develop into an NHL third pairing defenseman.

He will probably need a few more years of seasoning at Yale before turning pro, but he is assuredly a prospect to keep an eye on.

Ted’s Take: “A raw defenseman who has bottom-pair NHL upside. A huge growth spurt over the last few years has understandably affected his skating. Fortunately, his skating has been improving this season with Yale. An aggressive defenseman in all three zones who has added some snarl to his game. Positioning in the defensive zone and skating improvements are crucial areas for further development.”

Near Misses

Here are some of the players who just missed cracking my top 20 list, in no particular order:

Wyatte Wylie – promising defenseman although the NHL upside might not be there

David Kase – has been very impressive for the Phantoms this season, dealing with injuries but could end up as an NHL player

Adam Ginning – big Swedish defenseman definitely has third pairing NHL capability but lacks any real offensive upside

Matthew Strome – Hasn’t taken the step forward this season with either his skating or his productivity that I’d have liked to see – NHL potential in question

Carsen Twarynski – has adapted well to the NHL, boasts a very good shot and plays well defensively, potential to become a third or fourth line NHL winger

Connor Bunnaman – built in the Laczynski and Cates mold, he’s also off to a very nice first season with the Phantoms, could develop into a third or fourth line NHL player

Felix Sandstrom – pains me to leave him off the list as I have been a huge fan, but his pedestrian numbers in the SHL are real cause for concern, really needs to turn it around

Kirill Ustimenko – statistically he has taken a real step backwards this season, save percentage has dipped from 0.929 to 0.916 in the very low scoring Russian junior leagues

Parting Words

If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a nice cold beverage of your choice!

Thanks for sticking with me through my wordy analysis, and I hope you enjoyed it.

The Flyers still boast one of the best prospect systems in the league, although after the top four there is a real drop off in likely high impact NHL players.

However, they will undoubtedly be adding a very good prospect in the upcoming 2019 draft.

From a pure depth perspective, the Flyers probably have more potential NHL players in their system than any other team in the league.

That will actually prove a challenge to Fletcher, as he will need to figure out which players he’s willing to part with and try to extract value for them before them become free agents.

In the end, it’s a great problem to have. It’s also great to have Hart, Myers, Frost, and Farabee, who all project as high impact NHL contributors.

And I’ll see you all in the summer, when I’ll have an updated list ready!

Acknowledgements & Thanks

Thanks again to Ted for adding his insights to the story, remember to throw him a follow on Twitter.

Thanks to Heather Barry for being one of the best Flyers photographers (and people) out there and for allowing PhillyIsFlyer to use her great stuff! Definitely follow her on Twitter!

Thanks to the best prospects website out there – Elite Prospects – which I visit every single day. You can follow them on Twitter @eliteprospects.

And thanks to all the awesome folks and organizations on Twitter who post videos of hockey prospects, they really help us all get a better sense of our favorite club’s youngsters. For this piece specifically, thanks to @NBCSPhilly, @brad_keffer, @LVPhantoms, @HeartofNHL, @TSN_Sports, @TerrierHockey, @TheWHL, @Eriksensational, @Storm_City, @2Murphy8, @ShutdownLine, @futureofphilly, @USHL, @SHLProspectGIFS, @JokkeNevalainen, @RoadLaker, @BroadStHockey, @OhioStateMHKY, @FromTheFaceoff, @TonyAndrock, @cmoresport, @DraftLook, @sfstampede

Throw all those a follow!

And of course, thank you, the faithful reader, for your loyal support!

See everyone in the summer!

Let’s Go Flyers!

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