Breaking Down Philadelphia Flyers' Prospect Depth at Each Position
In less than one month, the Philadelphia Flyers will host the 2014 NHL draft at Wells Fargo Center.
The seven-round affair is the culmination of years of hard work by aspiring youngsters who are looking to reach the game's highest level. It's also an opportunity for NHL squads to continue building toward the future.
For the Flyers and newly appointed general manager Ron Hextall, that means cultivating draft picks and developing talent from within.
But in order to understand Philly's needs moving forward, the Orange and Black must first acknowledge the building blocks it already has.
With that, here's a breakdown of the Flyers' prospect depth at each position.
Scott Laughton, C
2013-14 Statistics: 54 games, 40 goals, 47 assists, 87 points (Oshawa Generals, OHL)
Laughton returned for his fourth season in Oshawa and notched his most impressive scoring campaign at the junior level. Second among all Generals in total points, the Oakville, Ontario, native led the team with 40 conversions. Don't let the robust offensive numbers fool you, though: He still projects as a two-way third-line center at the NHL level.
Jason Akeson, RW
2013-14 Statistics: 70 games, 24 goals, 40 assists, 64 points (Adirondack Phantoms, AHL); 8 games, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points (Philadelphia Flyers, NHL)
After leading the Phantoms in scoring during the regular season, Akeson was promoted to the big club for Philly's first-round playoff series with the New York Rangers. As a third-line winger alongside Sean Couturier and Matt Read, Akeson thrived. He netted a pair of postseason tallies but took an overly aggressive high-sticking double-minor that cost the Flyers Game 1. The 23-year-old forward should stay with the Orange and Black next fall and projects as a 15-goal producer.
Tye McGinn, LW
2013-14 Statistics: 54 games, 20 goals, 15 assists, 35 points (Adirondack Phantoms, AHL); 18 games, 4 goals, 1 assist, 5 points (Philadelphia Flyers, NHL)
After opening the season with the Flyers, McGinn was sent to Adirondack after just six games. He went on to finish second among all Phantoms in goals and third in total points. The Fergus, Ontario, native returned to the big club in late March and managed just one point in 10 outings and didn't dress in a single playoff game. At 6'3", 207 pounds, he has good NHL size and could be a fourth-liner who chips in occasional offense.
Nick Cousins, C
2013-14 Statistics: 74 games, 11 goals, 18 assists, 29 points (Adirondack Phantoms, AHL)
After being chosen in the third round of the 2011 NHL draft, Cousins has still yet to play a regular-season game for the Flyers. He spent the entirety of this year in Adirondack, where he managed just 29 points despite suiting up in 74 games. With the embarrassment of riches that Philly has down the middle, it's unlikely Cousins will join the Flyers anytime soon.
The Flyers have a nice crop of gritty, two-way forwards but still lack game-breakers in their prospect pool. Laughton and Akeson should be full-time Flyers next season, while McGinn will likely pass between Philly and its AHL affiliate. After that though, there isn't much. Look for the Flyers to target a dynamic offensive presence early in this year's draft.
Shayne Gostisbehere, D
2013-14 Statistics: 42 games, 9 goals, 25 assists, 34 points (Union College, ECAC); 2 games, 0 points (Adirondack Phantoms, AHL)
Philadelphia's top defensive prospect, Gostisbehere had a breakout campaign at Union this year, recording nine goals and 34 points in 42 games while guiding the Dutchmen to the NCAA title. In three seasons at Union, the 21-year-old blueliner amassed 22 goals and 82 points in 119 games and has seen both his goals and points total increase from one year to the next. All signs point to him as a regular on Philly's back end next season.
Samuel Morin, D
2013-14 Statistics: 54 games, 7 goals, 24 assists, 31 points (Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL)
Philadelphia's first-round selection (11th overall) last season, Morin still appears at least a year away from joining the Flyers full time. The hulking 6'7", 210-pound blueliner improved in every statistical category this season but still needs to develop his footwork and overall two-way game before joining the NHL ranks. He continued to hone his defensive positioning this season, though, and has remained an aggressive physical presence, which will fit perfectly in Philly for many years to come.
Robert Hagg, D
2013-14 Statistics: 50 games, 1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points (MODO Hockey, SHL); 10 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points (Adirondack Phantoms, AHL)
Playing at the highest level in his home country of Sweden, Hagg didn't excel but held his own. Philadelphia's second-round pick (41st overall) last season amassed just six points in 50 games with MODO while averaging a little better than 13 minutes per game. A physical defender, he struggled to keep up at times with the more seasoned talent but excelled with Team Sweden at the World Junior Championships, where he routinely faced some of the world's most dynamic young forwards and helped Sweden capture a silver medal.
With Kimmo Timonen pondering retirement and Erik Gustafsson on his way to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Philadelphia will need to infuse some new talent into its defensive corps next season. Gostisbehere is the most likely candidate, but Hagg could be in the mix as well. The Swedish blueliner isn't flashy, but his solid overall defensive game could be just what the Flyers are looking for in a depth defenseman next year.
Morin is still at least a year away, but Mark Alt (Philly's second-round pick in 2010) could be called up if Philadelphia's back end is hit with injuries.
The Flyers did not have a single defenseman who played regular minutes last season who was originally drafted by the team. Mercifully, that should change sooner rather than later as the Flyers, at long last, have some promising defensive depth in their prospect pool. Still, look for Philadelphia to supplement that depth in the middle rounds of this year’s draft.
Anthony Stolarz, G
2013-14 Statistics: 35 games, 25-5-2, 4 shutouts, 2.52 GAA, .926 save percentage (London Knights, OHL)
An otherwise productive season for Philadelphia's top goaltending prospect was marred during the playoffs when Stolarz was handed an eight-game suspension for a slash to the back of the head of Windsor Spitfires' forward Joshua Ho-Sang. That proved to be the last action the Jackson, New Jersey, native saw this season after a 25-win regular season.
At 6'6", 220 pounds, he is a monster in the net who moves surprisingly well for a goaltender of his size. Inconsistency issues linger, though, and it's doubtful the former second-round pick will be a serious contender for the backup position next year.
Cal Heeter, G
2013-14 Statistics: 44 games, 16-25-2, 4 shutouts, 2.65 GAA, .912 save percentage (Adirondack Phantoms, AHL)
All things considered, Heeter had a fairly respectable season for an Adirondack Phantoms squad that finished with the fourth fewest victories in the 30-team American Hockey League. He split time between the pipes with former NHL netminder Yann Danis, and the Ohio State product posted better numbers than the 32-year-old veteran.
At 6'4", 195 pounds, the St. Louis native possesses good size and, like Stolarz, moves remarkably well post to post. He possesses a good glove and demonstrated a penchant for timely saves during his collegiate career. Still, Heeter is occasionally too aggressive when challenging shooters and needs to continue to improve his rebound control if he's to make it to the next level.
With Ray Emery set to hit free agency this summer, the Flyers need a backup netminder. At this moment, neither Heeter nor Stolarz appears ready to absorb NHL minutes. With that, Philly will likely fill that void via free agency as it allows its prospects to continue to develop.
Boston College product Thatcher Demko is extremely tempting in the first round of this year's draft, but with decent depth at the position at present, don't expect the Flyers to claim a goaltender in any of the early rounds. In all likelihood, the Orange and Black will nab a project netminder in the later rounds and hope to stumble upon a diamond in the rough.