Ranking the Philadelphia Flyers Prospects with the Highest Upside
In just over three weeks, the hockey universe will turn its attention to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for the 2014 NHL entry draft.
By then, the Stanley Cup will have long since been hoisted and all 30 NHL squads will have their sights squarely set on the future.
For the Flyers, not only will the Orange and Black be hosting the event for the first time in franchise history, but they will also enter the festivities with a decent crop of youthful talent already in their system.
A team that's seemingly been in the mix for every big-name free agent or trade target for the past decade, Philadelphia finally seems committed to building from within. While the Flyers don't appear to possess a truly game-breaking prospect, they have a trio of promising defensemen, a handful of gritty, two-way forwards and an intriguing goaltender.
Here's a look at the five Philly prospects with the highest upside.
It's worth noting this isn't a ranking of the Flyers' five best prospects right now, nor is it a rundown of the likeliest players to be logging regular NHL minutes first. Rather, it's an analysis of Philadelphia's prospects who are projected to contribute the most over the course of their respective careers.
5. Robert Hagg, D
The irony here is that Robert Hagg might very well be logging regular NHL minutes before any of the other four names on this list.
Philadelphia's second-round pick in last year's draft, Hagg is a steady, all-purpose defenseman who doesn't excel in any one particular area of the game.
At 6'3", 203 pounds, the Uppsala, Sweden, native has good size for an NHL blueliner, and unlike most European-born defenders, he actually uses his size to finish his hits.
Playing with Modo Hockey in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this season, Hagg compiled one goal and six points in 50 games before recording one goal and four points in 10 games with the Adirondack Phantoms.
Competing against solid talent in the highly competitive SHL, Hagg held his own this season, finishing with an even rating while averaging a little more than 13 minutes of ice time per game.
His skating appears NHL-ready, as does his defensive thought process. Hagg keeps the game simple, getting pucks in and out when necessary while kick-starting the offense with sound breakout passes.
With Kimmo Timonen pondering retirement and Erik Gustafsson lost to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the Flyers will need to inject some new blood into their defense corps next season.
Having already played at a competitive level in Sweden, Hagg could be ready to make the jump next fall, but don't expect jaw-dropping results.
In all likelihood, he'll fill a depth role on the roster next season and projects as a second-pair defender long-term.
4. Anthony Stolarz, G
Predicting goaltending talent at the NHL level is tricky business.
Just look at the two world-class netminders competing in the Stanley Cup Final. Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick was a third-round selection (72nd overall) back in 2005 while New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist was a seventh-round pick (205th overall) by the Blueshirts in 2000.
Traditionally, goaltenders take longer to develop than forwards or defensemen, and they can sometimes struggle to maintain a high level of consistency after NHL squads get the book on them.
That's why it's hard to get too excited about Anthony Stolarz, even though he appears to have all the tools necessary to be a successful NHL netminder.
At 6'6", 220 pounds, Stolarz is massive even by NHL standards. A butterfly goalie who makes good use of his size, the Jackson, New Jersey, native isn't afraid to challenge shooters. That aggressive approach, coupled with his hulking size, tends to leave opposing shooters with very few options.
In 35 games with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season, Stolarz amassed a 25-5-2 overall record to go along with four shutouts, a 2.52 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
He still needs to fine-tune his post-to-post coverage and needs to avoid mental meltdowns like the one that landed him an eight-game suspension after high-sticking Windsor Spitfires forward Joshua Ho-Sang in the back of the head.
Ray Emery appears headed to free agency, which means there's an opening to be Steve Mason's backup next season.
In all likelihood, the Flyers will fill this void via free agency. Even if they don't, Cal Heeter, who appeared in 44 games with Adirondack of the AHL last season, would get the nod over Stolarz.
As such, Philadelphia's second-round pick from the 2012 draft appears at least another year away from joining the big club. If/when he arrives, it remains to be seen if Stolarz can produce the kind of consistent results required of NHL goaltenders.
3. Scott Laughton, F
The only forward on this list, Scott Laughton highlights a group of gritty, two-way forward prospects for the Flyers who don't pack much of an offensive punch.
Philadelphia's first-round selection (20th overall) in the 2012 draft, Laughton is a strong skater with a tenacious work ethic. He plays a 200-foot game and isn't afraid to use his 6'1", 190-pound frame to finish his checks on the opposition.
As a fourth-year veteran with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL last season, the Oakville, Ontario, native registered his most productive season at the junior level by recording 40 goals and 87 points in just 54 games.
However, don't let those robust offensive numbers deceive you.
As a 19-year-old, Laughton was among the older and more experienced players in the OHL last season. Even though his goal and point totals increased from year to year in each of his four seasons in Oshawa, he just doesn't project as a regular offensive contributor at the NHL level.
After a five-game tryout with the Flyers in advance of the 2012-13 season, Laughton didn't stick with the Orange and Black.
After another two seasons of seasoning at the junior level, though, he should be ready for NHL minutes this fall.
With established centers Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier and Sean Couturier already on the roster, Laughton will be hard-pressed to find time anywhere other than the fourth line. Beyond that, he projects as a third-line center and stalwart penalty-killer.
2. Shayne Gostisbehere, D
Philadelphia's most exciting prospect right now, Shayne Gostisbehere should be with the Flyers full-time next season.
A dynamic offensive defenseman, Gostisbehere finished third among all NCAA blueliners in scoring last season with 34 points and was the driving force behind Union College's run to the 2014 NCAA Championship.
Philly's third-round pick (78th overall) in the 2012 draft, he's a bit undersized at 5'11", 170 pounds, but what he lacks in physical stature he more than makes up for with his ability to read plays and pick his spots to jump up offensively.
An NHL power-play quarterback in the making, Gostisbehere recorded 22 goals and 82 points in just 119 games in three seasons with the Dutchmen.
The 21-year-old defender needs to continue to work on his defensive positioning, but possesses the foot speed to quickly recover—even at the NHL level. He also needs to continue to bulk up, but that will come with time as well.
Last season, the Flyers didn't feature a single defender who logged regular minutes and was originally drafted by Philadelphia. That will change next year and for many to come thanks to Gostisbehere.
1. Samuel Morin, D
Samuel Morin likely won't be the first of these prospects to pull on a Flyers jersey full-time. In fact, he might even be the last.
But if the hulking 6'7", 210-pound blueliner realizes his full potential, Philadelphia will have an awfully special player on its roster.
Philly's first-round selection (11th overall) in the 2013 draft, Morin has all the tools to be a mainstay defenseman at the game's highest level.
At 6'7", he already possesses NHL size, and once he fills out his gigantic frame, he'll be an absolute beast. His defensive positioning continued to improve this season.
His offensive production did too, as the St. Henri, Quebec, native registered career highs in goals (seven), assists (24) and points (31) in 51 games this season with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
Morin inked his entry-level three-year contract with the Flyers last September, but even with Philly's need for added defensive support next season, it's doubtful the 18-year-old will be ready to make the jump just yet.
Instead, he'll likely patrol the back end for the Adirondack Phantoms next year before coming to Philadelphia full-time in the fall of 2015. Once he arrives, however, look out.