Philadelphia Flyers: Top 10 Prospects in the Flyers' System
For the first time in a long time, the Philadelphia Flyers are stocked with up-and-coming youthful options at virtually every position.
After struggling through one aging defenseman after another, and after enduring a series of free-agent forwards in the twilights of their careers, the Flyers are well stocked with young talent that should guide them for many years to come.
And while the short-term success of the NHL as a whole is in question with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire on September 15, both the short-term and long-term success of the Flyers seem well established.
With that, here are the top 10 prospects in the Flyers' system.
10. Blake Kessel, D
At 6'2", 210 pounds, Kessel has the size to be a stout defender on the back end and the smooth skating abilities to contribute on the offensive side of things.
In his first season with the Flyers farm team, the Adirondack Phantoms, Kessel notched a goal and 17 assists in his first 56 games at the American Hockey League (AHL) level. In three years at the University of New Hampshire, the Verona, Wisconsin native tallied 21 goals, 57 assists and 78 points in 114 games.
Originally drafted 166th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2007 NHL Draft, Kessel signed with Philadelphia as an unrestricted free agent last summer.
As the younger brother of Toronto's Phil Kessel, he's got hockey in his veins. Blake's likely still a year or two away from cracking the Flyers roster but he boasts the offensive upside to eventually contribute to Philly's defense and power play.
9. Jason Akeson, F
Another first-year Phantom last season, Akeson really enjoyed his first year in Adirondack leading all Phantoms in scoring with 55 points.
A small forward at 5'10", 190 pounds, Akeson has put up points at every level at which he's played. During the 2010-11 season, the Orleans, Ontario native tied for the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) lead in scoring with 108 points.
In his three-plus seasons with the Kitchener Rangers, Akeson averaged better than a point-per-game registering 68 goals, 186 assists and 254 points in 201 games.
There aren't a ton of offensive openings in the Flyers lineup in the foreseeable future, but players with Akeson's offensive abilities always find their way onto an NHL roster one way or another.
8. Oliver Lauridsen, D
At 6'6", 220 pounds, Lauridsen is a massive tower of strength on the back end.
Originally drafted 196th overall by the Flyers in the 2009 NHL Draft, Lauridsen spent last season in Adirondack where he tallied just three goals and seven points.
But the impact for the hulking Danish defenseman won't be seen on the offensive end. Rather, Lauridsen has the size and reach to become a shutdown stay-at-home blueliner.
While Kessel has the tools to contribute regularly on the offensive side, Lauridsen has the potential to contribute just as much at the other end by shutting down the opposition's top players.
7. Scott Laughton, F
The 20th overall selection in this summer's draft, Laughton is seemingly still a number of years away from breaking into the NHL.
But even though he's still a few years away, Laughton will be contributing in Philadelphia for many years to come. Already drawing comparisons to former Flyers captain Mike Richards because of his tenacious play at both ends of the ice, Laughton won't be a tremendous offensive contributor, but he'll find plenty of other ways to help the Orange and Black.
The Oakville, Ontario native plays bigger than his 6'0", 170-pound frame would suggest, and his blue-collar style of play should land him in a Flyers sweater sooner rather than later.
6. Niko Hovinen, G
The Flyers seem to always have questions in the goaltending department.
Hovinen may not necessarily be the answer, but he certainly will give Philadelphia a solid option in the years to come.
At 6'7", 200 pounds, Hovinen is a monster in the net and has the ability to fill the cage even when he's down in the traditional butterfly stance. Originally taken with the 132nd overall pick by the Minnesota Wild in the 2006 NHL Draft, the native of Helsinki, Finland has played in Finland in each of the last five seasons.
With still eight years remaining on the monstrous deal signed by Ilya Bryzgalov last summer, there doesn't appear to be an opening in the Philly goal crease any time soon. That said, openings in the Flyers' goal crease tend to come about more often than Philly would like.
5. Brandon Manning, D
Part of Philadelphia's surplus of young defenders, Manning appears to have all of the elements to become a successful NHL defenseman.
At 6'1", 195 pounds, Manning has the size to keep up with fellow NHL blueliners and the forwards that they're tasked with keeping in check. Moreover, Manning has shown that he possesses the offensive potential to contribute with the big club as well.
In 46 games in Adirondack last season, the Prince George, British Columbia native notched six goals, 13 assists and 19 points. During the 2010-11 campaign, Manning outpaced all Chilliwack Bruins defenders in scoring with 21 goals and 53 points.
With just one year remaining on the three-year, entry level contract inked by Manning in November 2010, the 22-year-old blueliner will need to make an impact this year to encourage the Flyers to keep him around.
4. Eric Wellwood, F
Wellwood showed a glimpse last season of what he's able to offer the Flyers.
He is a gritty depth forward who plays with tremendous energy and speed and can contribute with occasional offense.
In 24 games with the big club last year, Wellwood notched five goals and nine points. Unfortunately, the Windsor, Ontario native's production ran dry in the postseason.
With as much forward depth as the Flyers have, Wellwood won't need to contribute much offensively to stick around, but he will need to continue to play a shutdown role while drawing penalties and contributing on the penalty kill.
3. Marc-Andre Bourdon, D
After a rash of injuries last season, Bourdon was rushed into the Flyers lineup sooner than expected. And for the most part, Bourdon held his own.
In just 45 games last season, Bourdon notched four goals, three assists and seven points to go along with 52 penalty minutes. The St. Hyacinthe native found himself on the outside looking in come playoff time, but that was simply the result of a return of healthy bodies rather than a mark against Bourdon's play.
At 6'0", 225 pounds, Bourdon is a solid blueliner who should be a depth defenseman for the Flyers this season and could potentially crack Philly's top-four defenders in the years to come.
2. Erik Gustafsson, D
Like Bourdon, Gustafsson found himself in an NHL sweater earlier than expected when the Flyers suffered a series of defensive injuries last season.
And with the team's defensive depth in jeopardy after injuries to Andrej Meszaros and Andreas Lilja, Gustafsson should factor into Philly's defensive scheme once again this season.
At 5'10", 180 pounds, Gustafsson is a smaller defenseman who uses his solid skating to put himself in the right defensive position to counteract his lack of size.
In 30 games last season, Gustafsson didn't contribute much offensively (one goal, four assists), and it's likely that trend will continue, as the Swedish native will likely be a depth defenseman for the Orange and Black this season.
1. Brayden Schenn, F
It should be no surprise to see Schenn at the top of this list.
In the three seasons since the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native was drafted with the fifth overall selection, Schenn has regularly been among the league's top prospects.
He cracked the Flyers roster full-time in December of last season and notched 12 goals and 18 points in 54 regular season games. Schenn then exploded in the postseason and recordedn nine points (including three goals) in 11 games.
With Jaromir Jagr gone via free agency and James van Riemsdyk shipped to Toronto for Brayden's older brother Luke, the younger Schenn should have plenty of chances both at even strength and on the power play to produce offense.
The opportunities will be there for Schenn. What will the highly touted Schenn do with them?