Flyers Top 20 Prospects – July 2019

 

By Dan Silver (@dsilver88)

The Flyers Pipeline – Still Among NHL’s Best

For the past six years, the Philadelphia Flyers philosophy when it comes to drafting has been pretty simple – keep the current picks, trade for additional picks, and don’t move prospects for rental players.

Combine that thought process with a good scouting department that has consistently hit on first round picks and found gems in the later rounds, and the Flyers farm system remains the deepest in the league.

The key move that impacted the current list of top prospects was the June 2017 trade of Brayden Schenn to the Blues, as the two 1st round picks that the Flyers acquired in that trade turned into the top two players on my list.

There may be a few organizations with more elite potential among their top two or three prospects, but no other pipeline can boast at least 20 players who have legitimate potential to play in the NHL some day.

My Rankings Approach

As always, the players that are eligible for my top 20 Flyers prospect list are the ones still considered rookies by NHL standards. As a refresher, here are those 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.

That means that despite playing a decent chunk of NHL games last season, Phil Myers is still eligible. It also means that guys like Sam Morin are pretty close to no longer being eligible for the list.

When compiling my list, there are a few factors that I weigh more heavily than others:

Upside – in general, I give a lot of weight to players that have high upside. For example, if there is a player who might not make the NHL but if things come together he could become a 2nd line forward, I’ll likely rank him higher than a player who is a surefire 3rd or 4th line NHL player

Performance compared to same age group – this one is very important, and you’ll see me mention it a lot in the player write-ups. I think it is crucial to evaluate how a player is performing in a specific league compared to players of the same age. For example, on the surface Ronnie Attard scoring 30 goals as a defenseman in the USHL is very impressive, but when you consider that he was mainly playing against guys that were younger than him, it becomes a lot less impressive

My own viewings – I’m not a professional scout, but I still try to watch as much video of these players as I can. I make it a point to attend Flyers development camp each year and especially enjoy the tournaments, as you can get a real sense of how these prospects fit in against one another. Of course, you have to be careful as it’s a small sample size, but combined with viewing them during their league seasons, I think it can be very helpful.

“Elite Prospects” – you’ll notice that each of my prospects has a clickable link with their name that takes you to their homepage on the fantastic Elite Prospects website. This is far and away the best site for doing prospect research, they have all the stats you need along with fantastic articles and content.

Tier 1 – Creme de la Creme

Farabee

#1 Joel Farabee

19yo – Winger – 6’1″ – 175 – acquired 2018 Draft (Round 1)
Previous Ranking – 4
Flyers ETA – 2019-20
NHL Upside – 1st Line Winger

Determining who to put as the top prospect in the Flyers system was far and away the hardest decision of my rankings process, as there are two potential all-star caliber forwards in the system.

Ultimately I went with Joel Farabee over Morgan Frost because all things considered, I thought that Farabee had a more impressive 18-year-old season than Frost. And that’s saying a ton because in his post-draft season, Frost put up 112 points in the OHL with a 1.67 points-per-game clip, 0.11 higher than the next highest 18-year-old.

However, Farabee drastically outperformed his age group in the NCAA, scoring 17 goals and 19 assists in 37 games for Boston University. That was eight more goals than any under-19-year-old NCAA’er, six more points, and 0.11 more points-per-game.

The NCAA is traditionally a harder league for 18-year-olds to succeed in than the Canadian Juniors (comprising the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL), mainly because there are exponentially more players older than 20 in the NCAA than the Canadian Juniors.

What Farabee did as a freshman was downright staggering, starting with his first collegiate goal, which was an ultra-impressive shorthanded tally.

Farabee is also the best pure shooter in the Flyers farm system – look at this laser.

Representing the United States at the prestigious World Junior Championships, Farabee scored a hat trick in one of the first games of the tournament.

And he flashed his speed and play making ability on this rush against Sweden.

Farabee is a tremendous all-around talent. He is a terrific skater, an elite shooter, a very good passer with high end hockey IQ, strong in the defensive zone, and tenacious on the puck. Because he does so many things so well, he has a very high floor – I can’t see him being any worse than a 2nd-line NHL winger.

However, I am a big believer that not only is Farabee going to be a 1st-line NHL player, but he has the potential to be a franchise type of guy – I think he’s cut in the mold of a Jonathan Toews or a Mark Scheifele, and could see him becoming a perennial 70-80 point scorer who leads by example.

Farabee decided to bypass the rest of his college career and signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers this offseason, and he has a chance to make the NHL roster out of training camp. However, he needs to put on some additional weight and more likely than not will start the season in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. But even if he doesn’t make the Flyers out of camp, I expect to see him up by February at the latest.

Whatever the case, Joel Farabee is as close to a can’t miss prospect as it gets, and is the #1 prospect on my Flyers list.

Frost

#2 Morgan Frost

20yo – Center/Winger – 6’0″ – 185 – acquired 2017 Draft (1st Round)
Previous Ranking – 3
Flyers ETA – 2019-20
NHL Upside – 1st Line Center/Winger

One of the most offensively gifted players outside of the NHL, Morgan Frost has lit up the Canadian Juniors each of the past two seasons.

In 2017-18, the season after his surprise selection by the Flyers in the 1st round, Frost led all U19 players in the OHL with 42 goals and 112 points in 67 games. He was the runner-up for the league MVP award.

As an encore, he upped his points-per-game from 1.67 to 1.88, putting up 109 points in 58 games. From a production perspective, a reasonable comparison can be drawn to Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who averaged 1.77 and 1.93 points-per-game in his same aged seasons in the Canadian Juniors.

I’ve been such a fan of Frost since the Flyers drafted him that I wrote many thousands of words about him in this article back in December 2017, with dozens of videos breaking down his skill set. Also an interview with him in January 2018 here.

I gave the slight nod to Farabee as the Flyers top prospect because he boasts a slightly better all-around game than Frost and has a higher floor with a similar ceiling.

However, if you want to talk about pure play making ability and NHL point scoring potential, Frost is unmatched in the Flyers farm system.

What sets him apart is his vision, creativity, and intelligence with the puck on his stuck.

He’s a sublime passer, as illustrated by this incredible feed on the power play to set up a teammate for an easy goal.

He also is able to make very difficult plays in tight spots – you’ll have to watch this one a few times to fully appreciate it, but what a sensational play in traffic!

Frost is also a very good goal-scorer, as illustrated by this five (yes, five!) goal game he had for Sault Ste. Marie this past season.

Not only did Frost dominate the OHL, but he was terrific for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, leading the team with eight points (four goals and four assists) in the tournament.

Like Farabee, he also scored a hat trick in one of the games.

Frost put on a show at the recent Flyers summer development camp, flashing his plus passing ability and also his insane stick-handling and finishing skills on this shootout goal.

Now that looked like something that Giroux pulls off in NHL shootouts!

Frost is turning pro this upcoming season, and like Farabee, he will have his sights set on getting a roster spot with the Flyers out of training camp.

Being a year older and a bit more physically mature than Farabee will give Frost an advantage, but I do think that in some ways Farabee’s tenacious all-around playing style might help him get to the league faster than Frost.

Last year in camp, Frost struggled mightily away from the puck, and didn’t look NHL ready. However, I am guessing that his confidence will be sky high coming off another spectacular season, and I expect a much improved showing from him.

Giroux played in the AHL for half-a-season as a 20-year-old, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Frost has to do the same, but like Farabee he should be in the NHL no later than February.

Myers

#3 Phil Myers

22yo – Defenseman – 6’5″ – 210 – acquired as undrafted free agent
Previous Ranking – 2
Flyers ETA – Now
NHL Upside – Top Pairing Defenseman

The third and final member of my top tier of Flyers prospects, Phil Myers has everything needed to become a top pairing defenseman in the NHL.

Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015 after an injury-riddled, subpar season in the QMJHL, Myers stock rose meteorically when he put up 45 points and registered a league-best plus-52 rating.

The towering Myers turned pro in 2017 and played very well in the AHL – finally earning his call to the NHL late this past season.

His first goal with the Flyers was a beauty of a shot.

It ended up being the only goal that Myers would score in his 21-game NHL stint, but he made a very good first impression by showcasing all of the traits that make him a potential top pairing defenseman – excellent skating and shooting ability, an instinct for jumping into the play at the right time, and aggressiveness in the defensive and neutral zones.

In fact, the word I always find that fits Myers best is instinctual. When you watch him play, you always get the sense that he is going to make the right decision. He’s aggressive, but at the same time his positioning is usually very good.

Myers is also very gifted offensively, as this goal with the Phantoms illustrates.

I already mentioned his superior skating ability, which is on full display in the below clip – along with some sensational stick skills.

After the NHL season concluded, Myers got a chance to strut his stuff in front of new Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault, who was commandeering the Canadian team at the World Championships.

Vigneault came away impressed.

The Flyers brass think so highly of him that they traded away Radko Gudas and explained that part of the reasoning was they expected Myers to be a fixture as the right-handed defenseman on the 3rd pair. It’s easy to see him slotting in next to Shayne Gostisbehere or Travis Sanheim and forming one of the best 3rd pairs in the league.

The sky is the limit for Myers – if he can stay healthy I fully expect him to take a big step forward this coming season and really help add offense to the bottom half of the Flyers blue line group.

Ultimately, his career trajectory should lead to being the top pair defenseman to compliment Ivan Provorov, but it will likely take a few years to get to that point.

Tier 2 – Electrifying New Additions

York

#4 Cam York

18yo – Defenseman – 5’11” – 175 – acquired 2019 Draft (1st Round)
Previous Ranking – NR
Flyers ETA – 2021-22
NHL Upside – Top Pairing Defenseman

As always, the majority of Flyers fans were clamoring for the team to select a “sniper” in the 1st round of the 2019 draft, especially the case since super scorer Cole Caufield was available when they picked.

While Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher did take a player from the US National Development Team, it was not Caufield, but instead his teammate Cam York.

Once the initial disappointment wore off and fans were able to concentrate on the player they did pick, it became clear that this was a very heady selection.

York is exactly the type of defenseman who excels in today’s NHL – he is a terrific skater and a phenomenal passer who displays elite hockey IQ.

What impresses me the most about York is how he always seems to make the correct decision with the puck.

Here’s two plays where instead of holding on to the puck and trying to rush it up the ice himself, he instead makes a quick pass to a teammate. Neither were flashy plays, but it’s the small, correct decisions like these that really illustrate his hockey IQ.

York is extremely adept at making accurate passes while on the backhand, with two examples below.

Here was a play from development camp where he made a slick (albeit somewhat dangerous) pass on the blue line and then got into excellent position to take a pass and get a shot on net.

And when necessary, York can take the puck himself and score beautiful goals, like this wraparound where he really shows off his skating ability.

York will be attending the University of Michigan next season, and there’s no reason why he can’t be one of the best freshmen in the country. I’d expect him to play 1-2 years in college before turning pro, and his skill set should really help the Flyers down the road. He projects a a top pairing defenseman who should be able to run a power play.

Brink

#5 Bobby Brink

18yo – Winger – 5’8″ – 170 – acquired 2019 Draft (2nd Round)
Previous Ranking – NR
Flyers ETA – 2021-22
NHL Upside – 1st Line Winger

When I was looking at potential players for the Flyers to draft in the 1st round, Bobby Brink was a guy I was very high on, but he probably would have been considered a reach had they taken him in the top 15.

So when he slid into the 2nd round, and Fletcher made a deal to trade up from #45 to #34, I was really hoping they’d snag Brink – and they did!

Despite his somewhat small stature, Brink absolutely destroyed the USHL this past season, with 35 goals and 68 points in 43 games. That led all U18 players in the league by a healthy margin.

At the end of the season, he was selected to represent the US in the World U18 tournament, playing alongside the likes of #1 overall pick Jack Hughes, and York, and he put up an impressive six points in five games.

Brink’s top attributes are his extremely high hockey IQ, his high-end play making ability, his excellent shot, and his tenacity.

Here’s a goal that really showcases his high skill level.

Here are two more plays, the first a goal that shows how smooth of a skater and stick-handler he is, and the second where he out hustles a bigger defender, gets to the front of the net, and sets up a teammate for an easy goal.

Brink also has a deadly shot, and his celebration game is on point as well!

The biggest question mark that people have about Brink is his skating. His first few strides are good, but when he’s in open ice he doesn’t have the prettiest way of skating. Scouts call it an inefficient stride.

I’m not too concerned – his speed is already pretty good, and he has plenty of time to work on his skating before he’s expected to reach the NHL.

Brink is committed to the University of Denver next season, and like York, I would expect Brink to put up pretty good numbers. He’s not quite as polished as York so there may be some struggles along the way, but he’s excelled very quickly at every new level.

Brink has top line NHL talent but I’d expect him to play at least 2 seasons of NCAA hockey before turning pro.

Tier 3 – Surefire Impact NHL’er and Breakout Goalie

Ratcliffe

#6 Isaac Ratcliffe

20yo – Winger – 6’5″ – 210 – acquired 2017 Draft (2nd Round)
Previous Ranking – 6
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 2nd Line Winger

Since trading up in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft to acquire Ratcliffe, he’s done nothing but back up their confidence in him, scoring 41 goals in the OHL two seasons ago and increasing that to a very impressive 50 this past season.

To call Ratcliffe physically imposing is an understatement – there aren’t too many 6’5″ or taller players in the NHL.

But what makes Ratcliffe such an exciting prospect isn’t just his size, but the tantalizing skill set and intangibles that he brings to the ice.

Seriously, 6’5″ players aren’t supposed to have hands like this – take note of how smoothly he shoots the puck between his own legs.

He looks like Giroux on this breakaway beauty!

And one more sensational goal for good measure.

Not only is Ratcliffe an excellent finisher, but he’s also a very good passer.

And I mentioned those intangibles earlier – leadership is a huge part of that.

He served as captain for the Guelph Storm this past season, and Ratcliffe led them to the OHL championship.

One note to Flyers fans though, despite his immense size, Ratcliffe is not a very physical player. It seems that typically when fans of the “Broad Street Bullies” see a guy of his stature, they expect hits and fights. Just don’t be surprised when he doesn’t supply too many of either.

My comparable for Ratcliffe is Eric Daze, a 6’5″ gentle giant with awesome hands who had four separate 30-goal seasons for the Chicago Blackhawks – I think those type of numbers are possible for Ratcliffe.

In terms of an NHL timeline, Ratcliffe is turning pro this season, and figures to start the season in the AHL. It often takes players of his size some time to get comfortable as they move up the levels, and I think the most likely scenario is that he spends the entire season with the Phantoms before joining the Flyers for the 2020-21 season.

But Ratcliffe is so talented that it wouldn’t be a surprise if that timeline gets accelerated.

As a side note, him and Frost have developed a friendship off the ice, and they also were very effective together on the ice at the past development camp, so they could become a very dangerous duo for this organization moving forward.

Ersson

#7 – Samuel Ersson

19yo – Goalie – 6’2″ – 180 – acquired 2018 Draft (5th Round)
Previous Ranking – 9
Flyers ETA – 2021-22
NHL Upside – Starting Goalie

Samuel Ersson had about as good of an 18-year-old season as any European goaltender that I can remember in a long, long time.

Playing against professionals in Sweden’s 2nd-tier Allsvenskan league, he finished 2nd in the league with a .933 save percentage and 4th with a 1.95 goals-against-average.

There were only three goaltenders under the age of 20 in the league, with Ersson the only one who played a majority of his team’s games.

Like Flyers goalies Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom before him, Ersson really shined in the World Junior Championships against the best U20 players from all the major hockey nations.

He’s so calm and collected in net, with tremendous positioning to go along with the cat-like quickness on display in this sequence against the Swiss.

Here are some more nice saves against the Swiss.

And here he is in development camp stoning my Flyers top prospect, Farabee.

And here’s another play involving Farabee, this time the forward sets up a teammate at the World Juniors but Ersson slams the door.

Goalie prospects are notoriously hard to project, which is why many people often rate them separately from skater prospects.

However, I like to integrate them based on potential, and Ersson had such a phenomenal season that I think he’s a top 10 goalie prospect in the entire NHL.

The Flyers organization is blessed with myriad talented young goalies – Hart already excelling in the NHL, Sandstrom (a bit further down on this list) playing for the Phantoms this season, and Kirill Ustimenko playing well in Russia.

Aside from Hart, though, Ersson is the only one with a super impressive full season on his resume, and he’s also the youngest of the group.

Ultimately the Flyers may have to trade one or two of them, but if they move Ersson, the return needs to be pretty big considering how good he has looked.

For this coming season he will step up to Sweden’s top professional league, the SHL, and will play for Brynas – the same team that Oskar Lindblom and Sandstrom spent time with.

As I mentioned, goalie development is rarely predictable, and there are often bumps in the road, so it will bear watching whether or not Ersson can take another step forward with a move up the ladder.

Tier 4 – Likely NHL’ers with Lots of Upside

Zamula

#8 Yegor Zamula

19yo – Defenseman – 6’3″ – 170 – acquired as undrafted free agent
Previous Ranking – 5
Flyers ETA – 2021-22
NHL Upside – 2nd Pair Defenseman

Like Myers, Yegor Zamula wasn’t drafted in his first eligible year, but impressed the Flyers brass so much in the subsequent development camp that he was signed to an entry level contract.

And also like Myers, he had a breakout season as an 18-year-old.

Playing for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, the tall and lanky Zamula finished 7th among all defensemen with 56 points in 61 games. Those numbers put him right on par with the blue liners taken in the 1st and 2nd round of the 2018 draft.

Zamula is a very smooth skater who possesses a lot of skill, as illustrated on this beauty of a goal.

His poise and stick handling ability are on display in the below zone exit.

I mentioned how smooth of a skater he is, as you can tell in this clip from the recent development camp.

Probably the best word to describe Zamula at this point is raw.

He’s extremely talented and possesses attributes that can’t be taught, like superior skating and size, but he needs to bulk up and continue refining his game.

He’ll return to the WHL for one more season before turning pro, and ideally he can build off his 18-year-old season and finish as one of the top scoring defensemen in the league.

He’s probably at least a few years away from being NHL-ready simply due to how much filling out he has left to do, but there is no denying the immense upside  he possesses if everything comes together.

JustSports Photography

#9 German Rubtsov

21yo – Center/Winger – 6’0″ – 185 – acquired 2016 Draft (1st Round)
Previous Ranking – 8
Flyers ETA – 2019-20
NHL Upside – 2nd Line Winger/3rd Line Center

German Rubtsov is one of these players who’s uneven production and injury history make him very hard to pin down as a prospect.

But when you watch him play there’s no denying that he has all of the needed abilities to become a 2nd or 3rd line forward in the NHL – he’s a good skater, he’s very responsible defensively, he has high hockey IQ, he’s an excellent passer, and he has a super high compete level.

Unfortunately the 2016 1st round pick just hasn’t been able to put it all together for an extended period of time…yet.

Things looked great for Rubtsov when he initially came over from Russia during the 2017-18 season to play in the QMJHL. He scored 22 points in 16 games, a great scoring clip for an 18-year-old in the Canadian Juniors.

However, instead of taking a step forward the following season, his production decreased, as he only put up 43 points in 49 games, not what you would expect from a 1st round pick in his 19-year-old season.

He had some injuries, mainly upper body, that may have impacted his season, but as we’ll get to shortly, that seems to be a trend.

My expectations for him as he turned pro this past season were low, considering his mediocre juniors production, but he broke out of the gates on fire in the AHL, scoring six goals and compiling 10 points in his first 14 games.

Included in those goals was this beauty.

Unfortunately, Rubtsov was then sidelined for the rest of the season with surgery on his shoulder, creating a lost season for the Russian forward.

He’s fully recovered now, and looked terrific at the recent development camp, making plays like this one.

One of the nice things about Rubtsov’s style of play is that unlike guys like Frost and Ratcliffe, who you’d want to be on scoring lines, Rubtsov would fit in perfectly as a 4th line NHL’er.

He’s aggressive, great defensively, and a beast the penalty kill.

If Rubtsov is terrific in training camp, there’s a chance that he could grab either the 3rd or 4th line wing spot on the Flyers. That being said, seeing as how he’s only played 14 games in the AHL, I am guessing he will start the season with the Phantoms to prove that he can stay healthy and contribute consistently.

And make no mistake, the most important thing for Rubtsov will be staying healthy, because if he does, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t be an impact NHL player.

Allison

#10 Wade Allison

21yo – Winger – 6’2″ – 205 – acquired 2016 Draft (2nd Round)
Previous Ranking – 10
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 2nd Line Winger

Staying at #10 on the list is another forward who has battled through injuries over the past few seasons, Wade Allison.

Also like Rubtsov, Allison had a terrific 18-year-old season, putting up 12 goals and 17 assists for Western Michigan University in 36 games during the 2016-17 season. That tied him for 16th among all NCAA freshmen in points.

Allison got off to an ever better start as a sophomore, racking up 15 goals and 30 points in 22 games before suffering a season ending knee injury that required ACL reconstruction surgery.

His 1.36 points-per-game average was 6th in the entire NCAA that season, including juniors and seniors – very, very impressive.

One of Allison’s top traits is his absolute bomb of a shot – it’s heavy and accurate.

He’s also got some very good puck and finishing skills.

And here’s a nice move on a breakaway.

The real story with Allison, however, will be how he recovers from the knee injury. He didn’t return to games until midway through his junior season, and never got untracked, only putting up 15 points in 22 games.

During development camp, he said that the knee still isn’t 100 percent and that it’s been a very difficult recovery.

That said, he looked terrific to my eyes in development camp. He’s strong, skilled, and very good with the puck.

Like Rubtsov, if he can stay healthy, Allison projects as an impact NHL player, perhaps on the 2nd line, but he could also fill a 4th line role if needed based on his skill set.

The other story worth watching with Allison is that he’s still unsigned. The way that it works with NCAA players is that once they sign their entry level contract, they forego their remaining college eligibility and have to turn pro. If they don’t sign their contract by the summer after their senior season, they can become free agents and sign with whatever NHL team they want.

So conceivably, Allison could wait until next summer and choose to sign with whatever NHL team that he wants, assuming mutual interest.

My sense from his quotes during development camp is that he still wants to sign with the Flyers organization, but that first he wants to recover fully from the knee injury and provide Western Michigan with a sensational senior campaign.

I’d predict that Allison will have a very good final NCAA season, sign with the Flyers, and and be up in the NHL at some point during the 2020-21 season.

Sandstrom

#11 Felix Sandstrom

22yo – Goalie – 6’2″ – 180 – acquired 2015 Draft (3rd Round)
Previous Ranking – NR
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – Starting Goalie

All the way back to my 2017 list of the Flyers top 10 prospects, I actually had Felix Sandstrom ranked #5, one spot ahead of Carter Hart.

Needless to say, I got a lot of grief for that one!

However, I still believe strongly in Sandstrom’s ability to become a good NHL goalie, but similarly to Rubtsov and Allison, his last few seasons have been derailed by injury/illness.

Drafted back in 2015, Sandstrom immediately began playing for Brynas of the SHL, the top-tier professional league in Sweden. At that time he was the only starting goalie in that league under the age of 19. And he played well, with a 2.61 goals-against-average and a .904 save percentage.

He also represented Sweden at the World Juniors as an 18-year-old, also very impressive.

The following year, as a 19-year-old, he was named Best Goaltender at the World Juniors with a 2.17 goals-against-average and a .915 save percentage, making incredible saves like these.

Unfortunately, his 2017-18 season was a lost one, as he suffered from an illness that still remains a mystery to this day, sometimes referred to as a hiatal hernia.

In any event, he only played in 18 games that season, and presumably still recovering from the situation, this past campaign he only played in 19 games.

The good news, however, is that he really looked good in the latter parts of the campaign, ending up with a 2.16 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage for HV71 of the SHL.

Here was one of the more sensational saves he made during the season.

Also encouraging was the fact that Sandstrom came over and played one game at the end of the season for the Phantoms, making 40 saves on 43 shots in a 4-3 victory.

Sandstrom demonstrates plus athleticism in net, often making acrobatic, highlight-reel saves. He doesn’t possess the superior positioning that Hart displays, but his raw skill allows him to recover quickly if he finds himself in an awkward spot.

He is coming overseas for the 2019-20 season, and projects to be one of the two main goaltenders for the Phantoms.

I am very excited to see his progression, as he has all of the talent necessary to become a reliable NHL goalie.

With Brian Elliott signed for one season to back-up Hart, the hope is that Sandstrom is ready to share the Flyers net at the start of the 2020-21 season and give the team a terrific young goaltending duo.

Tier 5 – Likely NHL’ers with Mid-Range Upside

Hogberg

#12 Linus Hogberg

20yo – Defenseman – 6’1″ – 185 – acquired 2016 Draft (5th Round)
Previous Ranking – 12
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 2nd Pair Defenseman

Linus Hogberg remains one of my favorite under-the-radar Flyers prospects due to how well I think he will adapt to today’s NHL game.

A mid-sized defenseman, he is a very good skater with high hockey IQ, terrific and crisp passing ability, and excellent positioning in the defensive zone.

Playing for Vaxjo in the SHL, Sweden’s top league, Hogberg put up two goals and eight assists this past season for 10 points in 52 games. And while that may not sound very impressive, consider that ranked 2nd among all U21 defensemen in the league.

Alexander Appleyard, a European reporter for The Athletic who covers the Flyers prospects, recently did an interview with Hogberg, and posited the following:

In 2018-19, Högberg established himself as a top-four defenseman for the defending SHL champions, Växjö, often relied upon to shut down opponents’ top players, a role that he managed with aplomb.

While Hogberg isn’t known as a goal-scorer, he can absolutely snipe when needed, like this goal that gave Vaxjo an overtime win.

His speed, skill, poise, and shot were all on display for this beauty.

On this play he makes a very nice move to get down the wall and then shows his vision with a high-level pass.

I have no doubts that Hogberg has all the tools to become a 2nd pairing defenseman in the NHL.

However, the Flyers are in a tricky situation with him.

Upon being drafted, NHL teams have four years to sign a European-based player, and since Hogberg was drafted in 2016, he can become an unrestricted free agent if not signed by next summer.

Here’s a quote from Hogberg in the above-referenced article by Appleyard:

My rights expire next summer, so my goal is to play well enough to earn a contract and come over and fight for a spot…We haven’t really talked about [if it’s better for me to play in Sweden or North America] yet — if I am going to come there or not. Because they have not signed me yet. So they don’t really have input on me coming over if they have not signed me. Right now it is all about me and my agent making decisions.

Reading the tea leaves, quite honestly I am not bullish on the Flyers signing Hogberg, and I have no idea why they haven’t shown much interest yet. Perhaps they think his frame is a bit slight for the NHL, but he’s 6’1″ so that doesn’t concern me very much.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that the Flyers sign him, because I think no matter what team he ends up with, Hogberg is going to be a pretty good NHL defenseman.

O'Brien

#13 Jay O’Brien

19yo – Center/Winger – 6’0″ – 180 – acquired 2018 Draft (1st Round)
Previous Ranking – 10
Flyers ETA – 2021-22
NHL Upside – 2nd Line Winger/3rd Line Center

When the Flyers surprisingly took Jay O’Brien with the second of their two 1st round picks last year, I was at first skeptical, based on his lower level of competition, and then excited, based on what I saw at development camp and the World Junior Championships Summer Showcase.

A year later, due to injuries, a lack of production, and the fact that he’s leaving Providence College after one season, his stock has taken a big hit.

O’Brien has the skill set necessary to become an impact NHL middle six forward – he’s a very good skater with a motor that never stops, he has an excellent shot, and he’s a decent stick handler.

Playing in high school for Thayer Academy for the 2017-18 season, O’Brien put up an insane 80 points in 30 games – but again that was a much lower level of competition as most highly drafted players face in their 17-year-old season.

So the question marks were numerous as he was set to play for Providence as a freshman in the NCAA this past season.

Before that, though, he was very impressive in last summer’s World Juniors Summer Showcase, scoring nice goals like this.

He also flashed physicality, burying 2nd rounder (and Penguins prospect) Calen Addison here.

Unfortunately, his season at Providence didn’t go anything like he expected. He got off to a very slow start playing a bottom line role, and right when his confidence started to increase, he took a hit that resulted in a concussion.

He was out for a month, and was re-injured soon upon coming back.

That’s not to say that he didn’t show glimpses of skill, like the following terrific goal.

Ultimately, however, his final line was ugly, with only two goals and three assists in 25 games.

Additionally, while he was selected to represent the US at the World Junior Championships, he got very little ice time and didn’t put up any points in the tournament.

He did show a few flashes of talent in the tourney, including here.

No matter how you look at it, O’Brien had a rough season, and is now looking at a total reset for the 2019-20 campaign.

He is leaving Providence after one season and will join the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), which is a lower tier Canadian Juniors league than the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL.

It sounds like O’Brien wants to play in the NCAA again (reportedly for Boston University), but if you leave a college team, you usually have to take a year off before returning to the league.

0’Brien has the talent to become an impact NHL player, likely a middle six forward, but he needs to get back on track this upcoming season – hopefully he can stay healthy and regain his confidence in the BCHL.

Vorobyev

#14 Mikhail Vorobyev

22yo – Center – 6’2″ – 210 – acquired 2015 Draft (4th Round)
Previous Ranking – 7
Flyers ETA – 2019-20
NHL Upside – 3rd Line Center

Last season started out in very promising fashion for Mikhail Vorobyev. He was sensational in training camp and earned a roster spot with the Flyers, but things quickly went downhill as he struggled to compete in the NHL, quickly lost ice time, and ultimately was returned to the AHL after seven games.

Given another chance with the big team in February, Vorobyev struggled for another eight games and was sent back down, this time for good.

The Russian center has all the tools to become a 3rd line NHL center – size, defensive responsibility, high hockey IQ, and excellent passing ability.

He scored the first goal of the Flyers preseason last year with this superb shot.

The only regular season goal he scored for the Flyers was, well, quite a gift.

Unfortunately, the talented Vorobyev looked lost for most of his NHL time last season – and he certainly wasn’t competing as hard as the coaching staff would have liked. He needed to do more things like this – showing strength on the wall in an AHL game,

Becoming an NHL player isn’t a linear process for most players – there are often many bumps on the road. However, with the Flyers prospects list filled with so many potential NHL forwards, there is little margin for error.

Vorobyev was just so-so in his time with the Phantoms last season, registering seven goals and 19 assists in 42 games.

This is a pivotal season for Vorobyev. If he wants to play for the Flyers, he will need to have another outstanding training camp, and shine if he’s given another opportunity in the NHL.

Otherwise he is a player that Fletcher may look to trade at some point during the season.

Tier 6 – Likely NHL’ers with Low Upside

Morin

#15 Sam Morin

24yo – Defenseman – 6’6″ – 230 – acquired 2013 Draft (1st Round)
Previous Ranking – 17
Flyers ETA – Now
NHL Upside – 3rd Pair Defenseman

If it feels like Sam Morin has been a Flyers prospect forever, well that’s because it’s almost true.

Paul Holmgren’s final 1st round pick as general manager, Morin felt like a reach at #11 as a replacement for Chris Pronger, who had stopped playing due to injuries after the 2011-12 season.

Six years later, Morin is the only player taken among the top 18 picks in 2013 with fewer than 100 NHL games to his name – he only has eight. And only one 1st-round pick from that summer has played in fewer games than Morin – Morgan Klimchuk who went #28.

All of that said, I am higher than most people on Morin’s potential to become a steady NHL contributor.

A towering 6’6″ defenseman with the muscle to back it up, Morin should have made the Flyers roster out of training camp in 2017. There was a three-way competition for three spots between him, Robert Hagg, and Travis Sanheim.

Hagg inexplicably finished “1st place” the competition and Sanheim also made the team leaving Morin to head back to the AHL.

Things went further downhill as he blew out his knee during the season, requiring reconstructive ACL surgery.

Morin spent a year rehabbing, and was able to come back at the end of this past season, playing five games for the Flyers and two for the Phantoms.

Going back to the 2017 training camp, he demonstrated some decent skill, including this nice goal in the preseason.

In the same preseason, he showed off some speed and play making ability on this rush and set up to Wayne Simmonds.

Make though mistake though, Morin’s bread and butter in the NHL will be his physicality and ability to play a huge role on the penalty kill.

He projects as a 3rd pair defenseman who can clear out the front of the net and help protect Hart and whoever else is in the net for the Orange and Black.

Even though fighting has become less and less prevalent in the league, there is still a place for it, and Morin is one tough customer.

Based on when he was drafted and his age, Morin would have to clear waivers to be sent down to the AHL. As a former 1st round pick who still has some untapped potential, I am guessing that another NHL team would take a shot and claim Morin since they wouldn’t have to give up anything to acquire him.

For that reason, I think it is pretty likely that Morin will start the season with the Flyers as their 7th defenseman, and when the inevitable injury comes along, I think he can be a serviceable 3rd pairing guy who will add size, toughness, and a dash of skill.

Cates

#16 Noah Cates

20yo – Winger – 6’1″ – 175 – acquired 2017 Draft (5th Round)
Previous Ranking – 14
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 3rd Line Winger

Of this tier that I’ve labelled “low upside,” Noah Cates probably has the highest upside.

Drafted out of high school in 2017,  he finished 4th among his age group with 55 points in 60 USHL games as an 18-year-old, and this past season he played an integral part for the NCAA Champion University of Minnesota-Duluth, putting up 23 points in 40 games. That put him in the top 25 scorers among U20 players in college.

Cates is a coach’s dream – he’s a hard worker who can be used in all situations, even strength, power play, and penalty kill.

That become clear during the most recent World Junior Championships, where he played big minutes and all roles for the US team, which won the silver medal. Cates added a goal and two points in his seven games during the tournament.

Here was the goal he scored, coming against the Czech Republic.

Cates has very good skill, which was on display for this sick between the legs goal he scored in the World Junior Summer Showcase.

And here was a nice goal he scored for Minnesota-Duluth this past season.

Cates is a very safe bet to become a bottom six NHL forward who can chip in some offense from time to time. He’s 6’1″, which is nothing to sneeze at, but I think he plays even bigger than that. There’s a very strong, physical element to his game that always stands out to me.

I also believe there is some untapped offensive ability that gives him a shot to become a 20-goal scorer in the NHL.

He’s returning to college for his sophomore campaign, and I wouldn’t be surprised if after a successful season he decides to turn pro for the 2020-21 season.

Aube-Kubel

#17 Nicolas Aube-Kubel

23yo – Winger – 5’11” – 190 – acquired 2014 Draft (2nd Round)
Previous Ranking – 13
Flyers ETA – 2019-20
NHL Upside – 3rd Line Winger

Like Morin, Nicolas Aube-Kubel has been a Flyers prospect for quite some time. He’s a skilled, scrappy winger who has natural goal scoring ability.

A two-time 38 goal scorer in the Canadian Juniors, it was a rough transition to the pro ranks for him, with only 18 points in his first AHL season (2016-17). However, during the 2017-18 campaign for the Phantoms he was one of the team’s best players, putting up 18 goals and 46 points in 72 games.

Last season, Aube-Kubel was a late October call up to the Flyers, and looked solid in a 4th line role, but coach Dave Hakstol inexplicably began cutting his minutes to the point where he was sent back down to the AHL after 9 games.

Aube-Kubel didn’t let it negatively impact his play for the Phantoms, putting up a respectable 16 goals and 30 points in 54 games.

He has everything necessary to become a successful bottom six NHL forward.

Here he is with a crafty stick lift in front of the net followed by a terrific finish.

Here he is flashing his skills on a phenomenal goal.

But perhaps most importantly for his chances to become a reliable bottom six NHL forward, he is tenacious on the forecheck.

Like Morin, Aube-Kubel would have to clear waivers to be send down to the Phantoms this season, and also like Morin there is a decent chance that another team would claim him. Considering that, I think it is likely that he begins the season as an extra roster player for the Flyers, or he could even find himself on the 4th line out of camp.

I am a believer in his skill set and think he can turn into a prototypical above-average NHL 4th line forward.

Laczynski

#18 Tanner Laczynski

22yo – Center/Winger – 6’0″ – 195 – acquired 2016 Draft (6th Round)
Previous Ranking – 15
Flyers ETA – 2020-21
NHL Upside – 3rd Line Center/Winger

Tanner Laczynski has had a very successful collegiate career, putting up 109 points in 102 games over three seasons as a critical part of the Ohio State Buckeyes.

His 2017-18 sophomore season was his most impressive, where his 47 points in 41 games ranked him third among all U21 players in the NCAA.

I’d put him in the same bucket as Cates – they are both very solid all-around players who project as bottom six NHL’ers who can chip in some offense as well.

Laczynski was an important player on the US gold medal winning team in the World Juniors two years ago, trusted by the head coach to play in all situations.

All of that said, he dropped on my list because junior season at Ohio State wasn’t as impressive as his sophomore campaign – his points-per-game slipped from 1.15 to 1.11.

Not a big drop, but you have to factor in that his productivity should have increased with another year of experience and playing against a lot of players younger than him.

Let’s take at some highlights – first this goal where he uses his speed to get behind the defensemen and finishes it off with a nice shot.

Here he flashes some puck protection, taking it from behind the net, wheeling into the high slot, and firing a crafty wrister past the goalie.

Similarly to Allison and Hogberg, if Laczynski doesn’t sign his entry level contract with the Flyers next summer, he can become a free agent. And whereas I believe that Allison actually wants to become a Flyer, I have a feeling that Laczynski would rather try to make an impact on another NHL organization that might not have the same forward prospect depth as the Orange and Black.

Allison has a legitimate reason for wanting to return for another season of college hockey with the recovery from the knee injury, but I see no logical reason why Laczynski  wouldn’t have turned pro after his junior campaign, or even after his stellar sophomore season.

So I might be wrong, but my gut instinct is telling me that he will end up as a solid bottom six NHL forward, but for a team other than Philadelphia.

Ginning

#19 Adam Ginning

19yo – Defenseman – 6’4″ – 210 – acquired 2018 Draft (2nd Round)
Previous Ranking – NR
Flyers ETA – 2021-22
NHL Upside – 3rd Pair Defenseman

Adam Ginning was a perplexing selection in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft – a big defenseman with mediocre skating ability and questionable skill like him doesn’t fit the profile of the types of players that Hextall took during his regime as GM.

That said, Ginning has always been highly thought of in the Swedish hockey community.

He was one of only two 16-year-olds to play in Sweden’s top league (SHL) during the 2016-17 season, with #1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin being the other.

He’s spent the past two seasons in the SHL for Linkoping and has gained a ton of experience for Swedish teams in international play, with 89 games dating back to 2015-16.

Ginning is not going to supply any offense (he has two goals in 88 SHL games), but he continually impresses me with how strong of a defensive game he plays.

Here he is perfectly defending against top pick Brady Tkachuk during the 2018 World Junior Summer Showcase.

Here he is in the same tournament imposing his will against future #1 overall pick Jack Hughes.

And here’s Ginning in this summer’s Flyers development camp doing an excellent job defending Wade Allison.

Ginning will likely be left off a lot of people’s Flyers prospect lists, but I see him as a very safe bet to become a 3rd pair NHL defenseman who can be relied upon to prevent opposing forwards from getting to the net and playing a key role on the penalty kill.

He’s very close to being NHL ready and I could see him making the jump to North America next summer, playing with the Phantoms for a season, and then being a Flyers contributor for the 2021-22 season.

The Final Tier – My Wild Card

Millman

#20 Mason Millman

18yo – Defenseman – 6’1″ – 180 – acquired 2019 Draft (4th Round)
Previous Ranking – NR
Flyers ETA – 2022-23
NHL Upside – 2nd Pair Defenseman

There were a lot of options for the final prospect on my top 20 list, but I ended up going with a player who I believe has the upside to potentially jump into the top 10 for the next update to my list.

The Flyers selected Millman in the 4th round of this year’s draft, and he had a nondescript season for Saginaw of the OHL with three goals and 22 assists in 66 games.

However, Millman was the youngest regular defenseman on the Saginaw roster, which included 2nd round pick Bode Wilde, and his ice time didn’t see an uptick until later in the season.

At the Flyers development camp, I was extremely impressed with what I saw from Millman – he is an excellent skater who moves the puck efficiently and displays a hard, accurate shot.

He scored the overtime winner in the 3-on-3 tournament to give his squad the victory – a slick top-shelf wrister that beat Felix Sandstrom.

Here’s a beauty of a goal from the OHL season where he starts the play with his quickness and elusiveness, dishes alertly to a teammate, and then flashes his plus speed to get into a position to score the goal.

And here’s a compilation of highlights from his season that the OHL put together after he was drafted.

It’s important to remember that these kids getting drafted have predominantly just completed their 17-year-old season and many didn’t get enough ice time to grow their confidence and properly showcase their game to scouts.

Some of the best diamond-in-the-rough selections are these types of players, when maybe there are a few scouts that see a skill set they believe can really blossom with more ice time, and it’s clear that someone within the Flyers scouting ranks saw just that in Millman.

From my viewing at development camp, I believe that Millman will have a big 18-year-old season in the OHL and be the biggest riser on the Flyers prospect list.

The Near Misses

As I’ve mentioned, the Flyers farm system is arguably the deepest in the league, and there are guys outside my top 20 who certainly have a chance to make the NHL. Here’s a list of a few of them along with my reasoning for their exclusion from my list.

  • Wyatt Kalynuk – flashy University of Wisconsin defenseman has put up good offensive numbers but I left him off because a) he’s an overager (now a 22-year-old junior in college) and b) his production stalled between his first and second collegiate seasons
  • Matthew Strome – goal production dropped last season in the OHL, although overall point production went up, and his skating simply hasn’t improved much at all since he was drafted, the skill is there but not sure his skating gets there
  • David Kase – was very close to including this skilled, tenacious Czech winger on the list, but he’s 22-years-old with mediocre AHL production in his first season and also is injury-prone, could still become bottom six NHL forward
  • Kirill Ustimenko – purely based on statistics he has had two sensational seasons in the Russian Junior leagues (MHL) but when you compare his numbers to his own age group they don’t stand out at all, especially this past season, not sure he’s NHL material
  • Ronnie Attard – huge offensive numbers for a defenseman in the USHL this past season but he did it as an overager, if he proves it this coming season at the University of Western Michigan he could enter the top 20
  • Connor Bunnaman – had a surprisingly good first pro season with 32 points in 62 AHL games, but not sure he brings enough skill to become a consistent NHL contributor, could develop into a decent 4th line forward though
  • Carsen Twarynski – also had a solid first AHL season with 24 points in 69 games, plays with physicality and has a heavy shot, both attributes that could make him a good NHL 4th liner
  • Wyatte Wylie – had a productive 18-year-old campaign from the blue line, scoring 47 points in 67 WHL games, but seems unlikely that he will develop into an impact NHL defenseman

**Photo Credits – NCAA, Philadelphia Phantoms, USHL, SHL, CHL, Philadelphia Flyers**

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About Dan Silver

I'm a lifelong Flyers fan and season ticket holder who was born too late to enjoy the Stanley Cups in the 1970's. I'd give anything to have been at the Spectrum for the first Cup win and the game against the Soviet Red Army team. I firmly believe the Flyers will win a Cup within the next decade. One of my professional highlights was working as a play-by-play announcer for the Missouri River Otters minor league hockey team in the now-defunct United Hockey League. That was a real thrill!

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